(Palermo) Italy has never missed two consecutive World Cups: Roberto Mancini’s European champions have two play-off games to win to avoid such a historic fiasco and overcome the trauma of missed qualification in 2018.
Posted on March 23
“Our goal is to win the World Cup. But for that, you have to win these two games, ”launched the always very optimistic Italian coach. He is back to the wall for the first time in four years in office, before the play-off semi-final against North Macedonia on Thursday (8:45 p.m.) in Palermo.
To hope to play the qualification in Portugal, at Cristiano Ronaldo, or in Turkey, Italy quadruple world champion (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006) must first avoid the overflow of confidence against the 67e world nation.
Because the chorus of “Magic Nights” which took Giorgio Chiellini and his family to the roof of Europe last summer has since experienced several false notes: the end of three years of invincibility (37 games), in the League of nations against Spain, and above all the direct ticket for the World Cup abandoned to Switzerland.
The fault in particular of two draws against the “Nati” (0-0, 1-1) with two penalties missed by Jorginho, who has become the symbol of the return to normal azzurro, and another against Bulgaria (1-1).
Nine survivors from Sweden
And here is this Italy queen of the draw – crowned in penalties at the Euro – forced to go through perilous play-offs, like four years ago, when it failed in return matches against Sweden (0- 1, 0-0).
An “apocalypse” for the whole country, deprived of the World Cup for the first time since 1958. A burning burn still alive for nine players still present in the group: Bonucci, Chiellini, Immobile, Belotti, Verratti, Insigne, Jorginho, Florenzi and Bernardeschi.
“Since November 2017, the climate has changed, there is more enthusiasm and confidence,” assures Marco Verratti.
“Those who lived the experience of four years ago will have this lucidity to better manage emotions”, also wants to believe the veteran Chiellini, who intends to go to Qatar to “finish in style” with the azzurro jersey.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t have ended up there, but that’s football”, underlines Mancini, “confident” in his players at the origin last summer “of a victory to which no one, but absolutely no one believed”.
Mancini is not worried about the psychological state of his goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, whose March turned sour at Paris SG with his mistake against Real Madrid in the Champions League, or the precarious physique of Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci , in the recovery phase and rather expected for the possible final of these high-risk dams.
Immobile finally radiant?
The coach has only one leitmotif: “the game”. This will require Italy to regain its summer lightness, in a full stadium (30,000 spectators) for the first time in Italy since the start of the pandemic.
In the absence of Federico Chiesa (season over), it will above all be necessary to score. Counting on a Ciro Immobile finally radiant in the azzurro jersey. On the freshness and automatisms of the attacking trio of Sassuolo Berardi-Scamacca-Raspadori. Or on the motivation of Cagliari striker Joao Pedro, born in Brazil 30 years ago and called up for the first time with Italy, because preferred to Mario Balotelli.
Finally, we will have to be wary of this North Macedonia still capable of exploits, even without the “national hero” Goran Pandev, who has retired internationally: the small country of 2 million inhabitants had achieved a huge one a year ago. , in Germany (2-1), before claiming second place in the group ahead of Romania and Iceland.
“We know that they defend well and they have important technical qualities. We have to stay calm, ”said Mancini on Wednesday.
Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas, who scored the decisive goal for the Macedonians in Germany, is suspended on Thursday. But his coach Bobi Milevski, no less confident than Mancini, called him up anyway, thinking of the possible final.
” Everybody is ready. We are not here by chance, we are ready to play a great match, ”he warned.