Italy missed a golden chance to qualify for the 2022 World Cup by drawing 1-1 against Switzerland, so their fate is no longer entirely in their hands, writes Lorenzo Bettoni at the Stadio Olimpico.
When Jorginho turned up to take a late penalty kick, not a single soul inside the vibrant Stadio Olimpico thought the Chelsea star would miss his third penalty kick in a row with the Azzurri.
Oddly, that’s exactly what happened. Jorginho sent the spot-kick over the bar, extending a terrible streak that began at Wembley in July during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final penalty shootout against England.
Everybody forgot about Jorginho’s error after the sweet end to the Final, except, perhaps, Jorginho himself.
However, it would be unfair to only blame the Chelsea star for Italy’s draw.
The Azzurri waited for Silvan Widmer’s opener to get into the game, they levelled the score through a Giovanni Di Lorenzo header, but didn’t create much trouble for the Swiss.
In the second half, Roberto Mancini tried everything to unlock the opponents’ defence, including using a false nine and introducing Giacomo Raspadori for the last ten minutes.
Ciro Immobile was watching the game in the stands and was kept busy during the halftime break by Lazio fans who asked him for pics and autographs.
Like it or not, Immobile remains the best centre forward in Italy, and his replacement Andrea Belotti wasn’t fully fit. No coincidence he didn’t manage to stay on the pitch for the whole game.
Although the Azzurri have an obvious problem with their strikers, they are not the reason why Italy failed to get all three points against Switzerland.
What matters now is to snatch a win against Northern Ireland, but the bad thing about tonight’s draw is that Italy’s fate is no longer in their hands.
They are on top of Group C on even points with Switzerland, but with a better goal difference: 11 to nine. Only the group winner books a place for Qatar 2022, while the runner-ups must go through the play-offs, something Italy would want to avoid after what happened in 2017.
Roberto Mancini’s side visit Northern Ireland in the last group stage game, while Switzerland host Bulgaria.
Oddly, a win in Northern Ireland may not be enough if Switzerland trash Bulgaria on Monday. Therefore, the Azzurri must win and score as many goals as possible to keep the Swiss at a safe distance.
If both Italy and Switzerland draw, the Azzurri would go through, if they both lose it will be down to goal difference again.
If their goal difference is the same after Monday’s matches, a list of criteria will determine the group winners. The first two are the ‘greatest number of goals scored in all group matches’ and ‘the greatest number of points obtained in the group matches between the teams concerned.’
Surely, La Nazionale have wasted a big chance to qualify for the World Cup. Had Jorginho scored, a point in Northern Ireland would have been enough to book their flight for Qatar. Now, they need to play, win and score as many goals as possible on Monday.
Somehow, despite their Euro 2020 win, Italy are still unable to get rid of the World Cup shadows. Four years ago, they hit rock bottom by failing to qualify for Russia 2018 with Giampiero Ventura in charge. The former Azzurri coach had announced his retirement only a few hours before kick-off, but the same petrifying feeling as four years ago was still in the air at the Stadio Olimpico tonight.
Italy are in a far better position than in 2017, but they are still unable to blow their World Cup fears away.