Shocked! Stunned! Not just the Italian football fans. But football fans worldwide are still thinking about how North Macedonia defeated the European champions Italy in the playoff semi-finals. Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the second successive tournament after the Euro 2020 winners were stunned by a stoppage-time winner from North Macedonia in Thursday’s playoff semi-final in Palermo.
Italy did not qualify for the World Cup four years ago, missing out for the first time since 1958, but the European champions dominated from the off in Palermo. The hosts became more desperate in their search for a winner after the break. However, as chances continued to come and go before, Trajkovski arrowed in a stunning winner to spark wild North Macedonian celebrations in stoppage time.
It is just eight months since Roberto Mancini’s side celebrated one of their greatest triumphs, beating England at Wembley to win Euro 2020, having been considered outsiders going into the tournament.
The victory means North Macedonia, ranked 60 places below Italy in the FIFA rankings, will now take on Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo in the playoff final on Tuesday with a place in Qatar on the line.
One of the major upsets in the history of football
“It is a huge disappointment,” Italy midfielder Jorginho said. “It hurts, it hurts so much. 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.”
Domenico Berardi had the best of the openings, having been presented with the ball after North Macedonia goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski misplaced a pass, but the Sassuolo forward’s shot was tame, with Dimitrievski getting back to make the save.
Ciro Immobile also wasted a glorious first-half chance for Italy when blazing over the bar from a good position.
Italy had an incredible 32 shots at goal, to North Macedonia’s four, but couldn’t find a breakthrough and was once again left to reflect on what might have been. Missed opportunities were ultimately the story of the Azzurri’s campaign, with Roberto Mancini’s side only in the playoffs after Jorginho missed a penalty against Switzerland last year that would have given them a win to qualify automatically.
“It’s just so difficult to explain,” Italy midfielder Marco Verratti said. “It was a nightmare.
“Looking around the locker room, we had the players to challenge for the tournament itself, yet here we are talking about a disaster. It’s so tough to go from hero to zero.”