Italy players are “destroyed and crushed” after failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar following a last-gasp defeat to North Macedonia, according to defender Giorgio Chiellini.
Aleksandar Trajkovski scored a dramatic 92nd minute winner to stun the European champions in their playoff qualifier semifinal and ensure Italy will not be playing its second straight World Cup having missed out in 2018.
“A great void will remain within us,” Juventus defender Chiellini told Rai Sports.
“We didn’t concede anything tonight apart from the goal. We created plenty of chances, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to score. There is a great disappointment. From September to today, we have made mistakes and we have paid for them.
“I am proud of a team that has given everything. It is clear that we are destroyed and crushed. We hope that this void will give us the push to start again.”
‘It hurts so much’
Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup stunned the world of football.
For Italy fans, the draw to Sweden in 2017 which ensured it missed out will live long in the memory – and not for good reasons.
It was the first time the nation – a four-time winner of the tournament – had not reached the World Cup since 1958.
And after looking so impressive in winning Euro 2020 last summer, qualification for this year’s World Cup in Qatar seemed a formality.
Some stuttering performances – including two draws against Switzerland and a goalless draw against Northern Ireland – though meant it finished second in its qualification group behind Switzerland, heading to the playoffs.
While the high stakes nature of the playoff qualification often makes it unpredictable, Italy seemed to have been handed a favorable draw, being drawn against North Macedonia, ranked 67th in the world.
From the outset of the crunch game in Palermo, the hosts dominated, creating a plethora of chances and having the lion’s share of possession.
Roberto Mancini’s side had 32 efforts on goal, however failed to get on the scoresheet.
And as the game became more desperate, Trajkovski’s stunning solo goal sparked wild scenes of celebration amongst the North Macedonia players and left Italy’s squad with their hands on their heads in disbelief.
After one of the country’s best football achievements just eight months ago at the Euros, Italy’s fans are once again left with a feeling of sadness.
“It is a huge disappointment,” midfielder Jorginho told Rai Sport. “It hurts, it hurts so much.
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“We have always created and dominated matches, but we have not been able to finish teams off. It is not to blame anyone in particular, but it is the reality.
“I don’t know why we haven’t been able to do this. I am also involved in this, and it hurts me to think about it.”
North Macedonia will now face Portugal in the playoff final for a spot at the 2022 World Cup, while for Italy, it is another World Cup where its players will be watching from home rather than taking to the field.