How did Italy miss the 2022 FIFA World Cup?
There will be only one former FIFA World Cup winner not taking part in the 2022 renewal of the world’s biggest football competition. Once again at a World Cup, Italy will be noticeable by their absence after failing to get through the qualifiers.
The sting of that will have been even more bitter for the Azzurri as they are reigning European Champions. Italy’s absence will mean a host of Serie A stars will be missing at Qatar 2022. But will Italy be able to find any silver lining to their latest misfire?
Italy’s FIFA World Cup history
Italy are four-time winners of the FIFA World Cup. That is a record which is only bettered by the five titles that South American giants Brazil have claimed. So the Italians have a rich affinity with the World Cup.
Their first title came in 1934 and the Azzurri successfully defended their crown four years later. Brazil and Italy are the only two nations that have ever managed to win back to back World Cup titles.
Italy racked up a hat-trick of World Cup titles at España ’82 before delivering their fourth title at Germany 2006. Along with those titles, Italy have also twice finished as runner-up at World Cups (1970 and 1994). In total, they have reached the final four on eight occasions.
But the 2022 FIFA World Cup will not feature Italy, as things dramatically fell apart for them at the penultimate hurdle.
Italy’s Group Stage campaign
For their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign, Italy were drawn in Group C. They faced Lithuania, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland and Switzerland in there. It was a section of the UEFA qualifiers that the Italians were favourites in football betting odds to win.
They were, after all, the highest-ranked team in the section. After winning their first three matches in qualification 2-0, Italy looked comfortably on course. But then their progress was halted as they were held to a draw by Bulgaria at home and then away at Switzerland.
Italy were still well in contention for the top spot in the group at that stage. However, they never regained momentum, winning only one of their final three remaining matches. After beating Lithuania 5-0 in Reggio Emilia, Italy came up short at home against Switzerland in their following match.
That was a 1-1 draw in November against the Swiss in Rome, Italy having fallen behind early in the match. That was the crucial, big missed opportunity for the Azzurri. Victory in that one would have put them in charge at the top with one game to play.
Going into the final round of qualification matches, Italy needed a win away at Northern Ireland, and hope that Switzerland slipped up against Bulgaria. The Swiss didn’t, winning their home fixture 4-0.
Italy meanwhile, couldn’t find the back of the net in Belfast and were frustrated to a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland. That result saw them finish two points behind group winners Switzerland. With the Swiss boosting their goal difference in their big success over Bulgaria, Italy would have needed to have won by a three-goal margin.
They didn’t come close.
Most Capped Italian Players of all time
- Gianluigi Buffon 176
- Fabio Cannavaro 136
- Paolo Maldini 126
- Giorgio Chiellini 1171
- Daniele De Rossi 117
- Leonardi Bonucci 116
- Andrea Pirlo 116
- Dino Zoff 112
The FIFA World Cup Play-Offs
But their second place finish in the group stage of the UEFA qualifiers wasn’t the end of the road for Italy. They had another bite of the cherry to work their way to a place at the 2022 World Cup.
They were one of twelve teams that went to the World Cup qualification play-offs. Italy’s path saw them placed in a semi-final tie against North Macedonia. It was expected that Italy would win that and move forward to meet Portugal in the play-off Final from that bracket.
The Italians had home advantage in Palermo for their play-off semi-final against North Macedonia. They had kicked off the match as heavy odds-on favourites. Italy controlled the match, but a dogged defensive performance by North Macedonia saw the Italians become increasingly stressed.
The match looked to be heading to a draw at 90-minutes, with the scoreboard reading 0-0. But in the 92nd minute, there came a stunning, famous footballing moment that dominated sports news afterwards. North Macedonia striker Trajkovski controlled a long ball forward, took his time and fired a winner home from 25 yards.
After a tense check by VAR, the goal stood and the final whistle below four minutes later, eliminating the Azzurri. Despite having 32 attempts (five on target) and bossing things with 64% possession, Italy just couldn’t find a way through on the night.
Not a singularity
That was a hammer blow for Italy as far as football results go, in a home match against a team that had never been to a World Cup before. The loss for Azzurri weighed even heavier on the country because it had happened before. Recently in fact.
Italy had only managed a second-place finish in their 2018 World Cup qualification group, behind Spain on that occasion. That sent them to a play-off tie against Sweden which they lost 1-0 on aggregate.
Failure to reach the 2018 World Cup was the first time that Italy had missed out on a place at the tournament since 1958. What is very interesting is that they were the reigning European champions at the time, having won the Euro 2016 Final against Germany.
Italy are the reigning European Champions now after winning the delayed 2020 UEFA European Championship Final at Wembley against England last summer. Once again as the best side in Europe, they aren’t at a World Cup.
Italy’s FIFA World Cup Titles
|2006||France||1-1 (5-3 penalties)|
The reaction to failure and sticking with Mancini
After the failure to reach the 2018 World Cup, there was some major fallout with head coach Gian Piero Ventura getting sacked. A few veterans of the national set-up like Gianluigi Buffon and Daniel De Rossi hung up their boots on their international careers. Even the president of the Italian Football Federation Carlo Tavechhio resigned.
Things have been a little different this time around. Italy have kept faith with current head coach Roberto Mancini, who himself was installed in 2018 to pick up the pieces after that failed World Cup qualification campaign.
Having himself not guiding Italy to the 2022 edition in Qatar, it’s remarkable that Italy have kept faith in them. It’s not hard to picture any other head coach of one of the elite European nations getting sacked after such a huge setback.
Italian Resilience and Euro 2020 Success
But Italy have chosen to do things differently and tap into the resilience that Mancini installed in the side when he first took over. The former boss of Premier League club Manchester City did completely overhaul the national side before. He gave them more of an attacking identity than they had seen in a long time.
There was a tough transition part at first, the change didn’t come easily. But everything that Mancini did since taking over came to a head at the 2020 European Championships. Italy had qualified easily enough for the tournament.
They had won all ten qualification matches and had booked their spot with three matches to spare. Their perfect record in qualification made people sit up and take notice of them. Euro 2020 was held back to the summer of 2021 and Italy thrived.
As joint hosts, they played all three group stage matches at home at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. They beat Turkey 3-0, Switzerland 3-0 and then Wales 1-0 after rotating their squad for that final group stage match.
Italy were playing with high energy, and passion up front. At the back, veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were holding things together. Victories over Austria and then Belgium in the knockout stages put them into a semi-final against old rivals Spain. Italy won by a penalty shoot-out in a tight clash.
The Italians went to Wembley on July 11th, 2021 to face England in the Euro 2020 Final. England took the lead early in the game, but then played into Italy’s hands by sitting back instead of pushing to try and extend their advantage.
Italy were allowed to work their way back into the game and they eventually equalised by Bonucci. For the title, Italy had to face another penalty shoot-out. The Azzurri took it 3-2.
The Italians have resilience and they are one of the great footballing nations in the world. The reaction this time around from Mancini has been to again tear up the playbook and immediately bring in exciting young talent, with a spattering of experienced players hanging around.
It’s been an immediate step into rebuild mode. No hesitation. It is what Mancini did in 2018 when he was handed the job of the national side. Their 2022 Nations League squad, for example, was a relatively inexperienced one.
Inter Milan midfielder Nicolo Barella was the most experienced in terms of caps with 39 as Mancini looked towards putting more trust in upcoming players like Manuel Locatelli.
Italy are in transition once again. The next target for them is now a title defence at Euro 2024. From there their next chance to make it to the World Cup stage in 2026 will come.
This is the first time in Italy’s rich football history that they have failed to make it to consecutive World Cups. A third time would be unthinkable.