Italy hold off North Macedonia comeback to close in on Euro 2024 place

By Sports Desk November 17, 2023

Italy avoided another damaging defeat to North Macedonia to keep their automatic Euro 2024 hopes in their own hands after a 5-2 win in Rome which belied the nerves they suffered in the second half.

The hosts almost squandered a three-goal lead at the interval after Juventus forward Federico Chiesa scored twice to spare Arsenal midfielder Jorginho further agony when he failed to take his shot at redemption from the penalty spot.

It was Jorginho’s last-minute spot-kick miss two years ago in a 1-1 draw against Switzerland which ultimately consigned Italy to a World Cup qualifying play-off and led to North Macedonia’s shock win in Palermo.

But while the 31-year-old, making his first start since June, was fluffing his lines again with the score at 1-0, there was no such profligacy from Chiesa who scored a quick double late in the first half to pave the way for a seemingly comfortable victory.

However, half-time substitute Jani Antonov scored a double of his own to crank up the tension in the Stadio Olimpico before Giacomo Raspadori’s 81st-minute strike eased the nerves and another substitute, Stephan El Shaarawy, scored the fifth in added time.

The win put Luciano Spalletti’s side into second place in Group C and means they now only need a draw against Ukraine in Leverkusen to avoid another dreaded play-off.

It was one-way traffic from the off but Raspadori’s clip past goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski in the 13th minute was ruled out for offside.

Three minutes later Chiesa, who caused Macedonia’s right side numerous problems all night, produced his first key intervention when he collected a return pass from Giacomo Bonaventura and saw his near-post shot denied.

However, from the resulting corner Raspadori’s cross was headed home by Matteo Darmian, his first international goal for eight years.

Chiesa was denied again by defender Jovan Manev before Nikola Serafimov’s handball from Federico Gatti’s close-range header led to Jorginho’s opportunity to banish the memories of two years ago but, having not scored for Italy in three years, he put a poor penalty too close to Dimitrievski.

But Chiesa came to his rescue, drilling home from the edge of the area after Macedonia failed to clear a throw-in from the right and then racing onto a Domenico Berardi through-ball to cut inside on his right foot and see his shot loop up off right-back Manev and over the goalkeeper.

The visitors were missing the injured Aleksandar Trajkovski, who had scored the winner in that play-off against Italy, but appeared to have found another hero in Atanasov.

Introduced for the second half, the 24-year-old scored with their first shot on target with his 52nd-minute header – his first international goal – leading to an unnecessary degree of tension for the hosts.

With 16 minutes remaining the pressure was ratcheted up when Atanasov’s drive from distance took a wicked deflection off Italy defender Franceso Acerbi but Raspadori and substitute El Shaarawy at least ended any fears of the necessity of a must-win final qualifier.

Related items

  • Selby Browne believes TTFA's election of new president an opportunity to restructure football Selby Browne believes TTFA's election of new president an opportunity to restructure football

    With a new president to be installed at the helm of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) on Saturday, Selby Browne, president of the Veteran Footballers Foundation believes it represents an opportunity to reset football in the twin island republic and the wider Caribbean.

    The new administration to be led by either Kieron Edwards of ‘Team Progressive’ or Colin Wharfe of ‘Team Transformation’ unit, will mark first self-governed TTFA in more than four years. This as William Wallace's administration was removed months after he was elected in November 2019, as FIFA intervened and installed its Normalisation Committee in March 2020, citing financial concerns.

    That Normalisation Committee remained in charge until late last month when it made way for the TTFA to elect a new administration. For Browne, who withdrew from the presidential race, football is the catalyst for re-engineering the national socio-structure and delivering economic benefits by creating jobs in sport throughout all communities, with the establishment of a sport industry, both in T&T and the wider Caribbean.

    He recalled that Trinidad and Tobago is one of four Caribbean countries to have participated in the FIFA World Cup Finals competition, the other three being Cuba in 1938, Haiti in 1974, and Jamaica in 1998. T&T participated in 2006 and it is Browne's hope that they will make the next global showpiece in 2026.

    "It is my view this election is two years later than the ideal time required to successfully prepare for the largest football competition, the FIFA World Cup 2026, to be hosted in the CONCACAF for the first time since 1994. The TTFA election will determine the Executive to restructure and develop football in Trinidad and Tobago, while urgently redoubling much required initiatives to ensure qualification for the 2026 World Cup," Browne said in an opinion piece recently published in the T&T Express.

    "Restructuring by a new TTFA is needed in order to develop the best possible product on the football field, creating wider participation, training and development, from grassroots upwards. Highly competitive community leagues, strong well-structured and supported community league teams competing within the zonal level are also necessary so as to provide attractive inter-zonal competitions, all providing the base for the establishment of a privately-owned Trinidad and Tobago national professional league at the top of the football pyramid," he added.

    That said, Browne pointed out two critical recommendations for the new TTFA executive, the first being the appointment of an independent Constitution Committee to review the Articles forwarded by the TTFA Constitution Committee, while the other involves hosting a member and stakeholder consultation to review and contribute to the further development of the strategic plan.

    "For those of us committed to the development of football in Trinidad and Tobago, we fully understand the need to secure the unequivocal support of the unified TTFA membership to achieve the desired goal. For while the goal is quite easily outlined, there is no short cut, quick fix, or magic wand. Only dedicated can address the large task to be undertaken, which will demand all hands-on-deck in the new TTFA," Browne stated.

  • EFL says Leicester will not face points deduction over PSR charge this season EFL says Leicester will not face points deduction over PSR charge this season

    Leicester will definitely not face a points deduction in this season’s Championship over the Premier League charge they face for allegedly breaching top-flight financial rules, the EFL has confirmed.

    The EFL said its rules as currently written do not give it the power to apply any points penalty that may be ordered by an independent commission formed under Premier League auspices.

    Leicester, who are involved in a three-way automatic promotion battle with Leeds and Ipswich, had sought an interim injunction to prevent any sporting sanction such as a points deduction being applied this season, but that application has been dismissed after the EFL’s confirmation it had no power to apply the penalty in any event.

    A legal decision related to the injunction application published on Friday evening shows the Premier League initially sought an expedited process, and that its lawyers wrote to the chair of its independent judicial panel to say it was imperative the whole case – including any appeal – was concluded before the end of the Championship regular season on May 4.

    The Premier League letter to its judicial panel came after a letter from EFL chief executive Trevor Birch to his Premier League counterpart Richard Masters, prior to the charge being issued, saying the EFL would “seek to respect” any decision ordering a points penalty and apply it to the Championship standings.

    According to the written decision, in the same letter Birch urged the Premier League that, in the event it sought a points deduction in the current season, it should do so urgently to ensure it could be applied before the end of the Championship regular season on May 4.

    The legal decision states that the Premier League wrote to the club’s lawyers on March 26 to say it would no longer seek to expedite the proceedings, because the EFL no longer maintained its position that it would seek to apply any points deduction in the Championship.

    That means the case is extremely unlikely to be concluded until next season, and that any points penalty will only apply immediately if, by the point the hearing concludes, Leicester are a Premier League club again.

    The decision reveals that Leicester had accused the EFL of “conspiring with the Premier League to use unlawful means and to procure or induce a breach of contract by the Premier League”.

    The club are understood to remain extremely disappointed with the way they feel the EFL has acted.

    The Foxes were charged with breaching the top flight’s profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) on March 21 in relation to the assessment period ending with the 2022-23 season, when they were still a Premier League club.

    The club issued “urgent legal proceedings” on March 22 against that charge, and against an EFL transfer embargo.

    Earlier this month, Leicester announced a loss of £89.7million for the 2022-23 season.

  • Dundee boss Tony Docherty declines to get involved in Dens Park pitch row Dundee boss Tony Docherty declines to get involved in Dens Park pitch row

    Dundee manager Tony Docherty kept his “laser focus” on Saturday’s trip to Pittodrie as he dodged questions about the Dens Park pitch and the controversy over the second postponement of their game with Rangers.

    Docherty’s side will clinch a cinch Premiership top-six place if they beat Aberdeen and a draw would suffice if Motherwell get a result against Hibernian at Fir Park.

    Defeat for Dundee would put off confirmation of the make-up of the top and bottom six until the game with Rangers finally goes ahead.

    The match is now scheduled for Wednesday, but alternatives are being discussed between the clubs and the Scottish Professional Football League.

    When asked what state the pitch was in following the latest call-off on Wednesday due to a waterlogged surface, Docherty said in a media conference: “I really don’t know. I’ve not been anywhere near the pitch. We are in the Gardyne training facility and that’s where I have been for the last two days preparing for the Aberdeen game on Saturday.”

    Rangers accused Dundee of “negligence” after the postponement and Hibernian are reported to have complained to the SPFL given Docherty’s side may go into their final pre-split game knowing what they need to achieve.

    The Dundee manager refused to get involved in the furore.

    “In my capacity as football manager, all I can affect is my role as football manager and it’s incumbent upon me to make sure I prepare a team for the matches that are upcoming,” he said.

    “So anything outwith that, I can’t affect other teams, I can’t comment on other teams, I wouldn’t comment on other teams.”

    When asked about the prospect of facing Rangers at a neutral venue next Wednesday, Docherty said: “There is nothing I can do about that, I can’t affect that. I can affect the Aberdeen game and that’s where my laser focus is. Nothing can distract us from that.”

    Dundee’s previous game against Motherwell was the subject of similar uncertainty and talks over alternative venues and dates before it went ahead following a late inspection last Saturday, the visitors winning 3-2 after Dundee went 2-0 up.

    Docherty said: “Of course it can be unsettling because you prepare for every game. We have had five call-offs. You prepare for every game in terms of game plan, selection of players. But players quickly move on and I quickly move on. That’s gone now, that’s in the past.

    “It’s incumbent upon me as manager to make sure there is a laser focus now towards the Aberdeen game and that’s what me, my players and my staff have got. The next game is the most important game and something that we are very focused on.

    “It’s huge testament to this group of players, as the newly-promoted team and the youngest squad in the league… Seventeen of the squad have made their Premiership debut this season, of that 11 are under 21. It’s huge testament to the group that we are a win away from that (top six) and it’s advantage us because it’s in our hands.

    “I need to give them great praise for that and I want to see them sprint across that finish line.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.