Aleksandar Trajkovski’s last-gasp strike earned North Macedonia a famous win in Palermo
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European champions Italy were “destroyed and crushed” after missing out on the World Cup finals again following a 1-0 defeat at home by North Macedonia in Thursday’s playoff semi-final, defender Giorgio Chiellini said.
Italy did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time they failed to reach football’s global showpiece since 1958, and will miss Qatar after Aleksandar Trajkovski’s last-gasp strike earned North Macedonia a famous win.
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“I am proud of a team that has given everything, it is clear that we are destroyed and crushed, a great void will remain within us,” said Chiellini, who replaced Gianluca Mancini in the 90th minute.
“There is a great disappointment, even today we played a good game but we couldn’t score. From September to today we have made mistakes and we have paid for them.”
Midfielder Marco Verratti said North Macedonia’s goal in added time was a “real nightmare”.
“This group had a great chance at the World Cup, we came from the unbeaten record, so it is difficult to accept what happened tonight,” Verratti said.
“We all know that we have given everything, now surely it is time to ask ourselves some questions.”
Manager Roberto Mancini was reeling from the most painful defeat of his managerial career just eight months after guiding the Azzurri to win Euro 2020.
However performance levels have dropped since those balmy nights and after throwing away automatic qualification in November Italy were dumped out in humiliating fashion in Palermo in a fraught play-off semi-final.
“Just like July was the best thing to happen to me in my career, this is my biggest disappointment … I’m really sad for my players,” Mancini told RAI.
“The disappointment is too much for me to speak about my future for now.”
If Mancini was vague on whether he would stay in his job the head of the Italian Football Federation, Gabriele Gravina, was clear that he wanted Mancini to stay on as manager even after a crushing blow for the country’s football.
It was a former Palermo player in Trajkovski who stunned the European champions, his low drive in the second minute of stoppage time setting up a qualifying final with Portugal in Porto on Tuesday for a chance to be in Qatar in November.
“We had two shots and won the game. We won like Italians against the Italians,” said Blagoja Milevski, whose side will have Napoli’s Eljif Elmas back from suspension for their trip to Porto.
Mancini’s side were loudly booed off after a defeat which means Italy will have to wait until at least 2026 to see its national team at a World Cup.
By then it will have been 12 years since the Azzurri’s last participation in the world’s biggest football tournament after they also crashed out in the play-offs in 2017.
Astonishingly Italy will not go to the World Cup despite only losing twice since the start of 2019, to Spain in the Nations League last autumn and on Thursday.
“It’s difficult to talk about a match in which we had 40 shots and they had one or two,” Mancini told reporters later.
“I’m the coach, when in football things go wrong it’s the coach’s fault, so I am responsible.”
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Updated: March 25, 2022, 7:15 AM