European champions Italy stunned by North Macedonia; to miss World Cup
European champions Italy will not play in the 2022 World Cup after being stunned by North Macedonia in their play-off in Palermo.
Aleksandar Trajkovski picked up the loose ball before driving forward and firing a sensational winner from the outside the area in injury time.
The goal sparked celebrations on the North Macedonia bench as Italy dropped to their knees in front of their home fans.
The hosts dominated possession but failed to penetrate the resolute North Macedonia defence, registering five shots on target from 30 attempts.
The visitors, ranked 67th in the world, are rewarded for their defensive display with a play-off final against Portugal, who beat Turkey 3-1.
Defeat for Italy means they will not play at a second World Cup in a row after failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
The shock of 2022
As the players emerged from the tunnel and the national anthems played, this was billed as a routine victory for Italy.
The mouth-watering prospect of veteran superstars Giorgio Chiellini and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo meeting in the play-off final loomed large.
But it was anything but routine.
Roberto Mancini’s side started brightly and Marco Verratti kept them ticking, but they struggled to translate their possession into clear-cut chances.
North Macedonia came to Italy with a defensive gameplan and they threw everything in the way of the ball, as Visar Musliu caught the full force of a Domenico Berardi volley in the groin.
Berardi was a rare bright spark for Italy but when he was gifted possession by Macedonian keeper Stole Dimitrievski, who had left his goal momentarily unguarded, the Sassuolo forward could not get the ball out of his feet in time to roll it into the net.
That theme continued into the second half as Berardi’s movement again proved to be a threat without the final product.
As he rolled his marker just outside of the area with ease, he could only fire his effort over the bar with just the keeper to beat.
Macedonia had just 34% possession and four shots over 90 minutes, but they took their opportunity against the run of play clinically.
As the ball bounced up inside the Italian half, Trajkovski, who used to play for Palermo, chested the ball away from two blue shirts and set off towards Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.
The Paris St-Germain keeper had virtually nothing to do for 90 minutes, but he was too slow to react to Trajkovski’s fizzing effort as it nestled into the bottom corner.
The journey is not yet complete for North Macedonia, who face Italy’s predecessors as European champions in the final, but this is unquestionably the upset of the play-offs. (BBC Sport)