Italy, the European champion, will not compete in the World Cup. Again.
The unexpected happened in Palermo on Thursday, when the Azzurri were defeated 1-0 by North Macedonia in their playoff semifinal, thanks to a last-gasp goal by Aleksandar Trajkovski.
Trajkovski scored with a shot from outside the box in what was North Macedonia’s only serious chance after Italy dominated the game, missing many chances and having several more saved by visiting goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Italy also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing a two-leg playoff to Sweden. Missing two consecutive World Cups is an extraordinary low moment for the four-time champion, especially after won Euro 2020 just months before.
North Macedonia will play Portugal for a place in the tournament in Qatar on Tuesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s team defeated Turkey 3-1. North Macedonia has qualified for only one major tournament, Euro 2020.
Roberto Mancini was without a number of players who helped Italy win the European Championship last summer and had to deploy a shaky defence, but North Macedonia was rarely disturbed until the very end.
Italy got off to a fast start but couldn’t break through the wall of red shirts.
The Azzurri were granted a golden chance in the 30th minute when a horrible kick from the North Macedonia goalkeeper left Domenico Berardi with an open goal, but he scuffed his attempt and Stole Dimitrievski came out in time to save.
Dimitrievski improved moments later, fingertipping Ciro Immobile’s slanted shot over the crossbar.
Italy was closing in, and Dimitrievski was forced to make another stop, this time tipping Lorenzo Insigne’s effort around the post.
On the stroke of halftime, Enis Bardi threaded a ball through for Aleksandar Trajkovski, but his shot was straight at Giangluigi Donnarumma.
Berardi nearly made amends for his first-half gaffe early in the second stanza, but Dimitrievski saved one of his attempts and curled another just past the left post.
Italy was laying siege to the goal but was repulsed by North Macedonia.
In stoppage time, Trajkovski struck a low shot into the bottom left corner from 25 yards, leaving Mancini astonished on the bench.