World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Roberto Mancini has "worked miracles" in charge of Italy and should not be hounded out of the role after their stunning failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

That is the view of former Italy international Antonio Cassano, who described the current Azzurri vintage as "mediocre", citing last year's Euro 2020 triumph as proof of Mancini's brilliance.

Italy suffered a shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia on Thursday to miss out on the World Cup for a second edition in a row, with some pointing the finger of blame of boss Mancini.

However, Cassano, who played 39 times and scored 10 goals for his country, said those critics "should be ashamed".

"Let's face it: our national team is a mediocre team and Mancini took them to the top of Europe last summer, making a miracle, playing in a way never seen before," he told Bobo TV. 

"I am truly sorry for Roberto, whoever asks for his resignation should be ashamed.

"We should all pray that Mancini will remain at the helm of the national team, he is the lifeline of Italy.

"[Ciro] Immobile, [Lorenzo] Insigne... many players seemed to me in difficulty. Italy has a mediocre team and Mancini had worked miracles so far."

The 39-year-old, who last played for his country in 2014, said Italy had been missing a talisman since Christian Vieri left the international stage in 2005.

He said: "Bobo, we haven't had a striker in the national team since you left."

Roberto Mancini will be searching for answers after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, and his mother has helpfully provided one: Mario Balotelli should have been called up.

Speaking on Rai Radio 1 on Friday, Marianna Puolo said Mancini's Azzurri would have benefited from Balotelli's power, and his inclusion could have staved off what played out in Palermo, where Italy lost 1-0 to North Macedonia.

Balotelli, a one-time teenage wonder who now plays for Adana Demirspor in Turkey's Super Lig, has long been a favourite with Mancini, dating back to their time together as player and coach at Inter and Manchester City.

Now 31, Balotelli earned a recall for an Italy training camp at the beginning of this year. He had not been capped by Italy since head coach Mancini played him three times in 2018, which followed a four-year absence from the national team.

There was no room for Balotelli in Italy's squad for the World Cup play-offs, however, and the semi-final defeat to North Macedonia means the four-time champions will miss this year's finals in Qatar, just as they were absent in Russia four years ago.

"We had the game in our hand, but the attack was not great," said Mancini's mother.

"What would I have done different? I would have called Balotelli, because he has incredible physical strength and nobody stops him in front of goal.

"Sometimes he does stupid things, but I would have called him."

Italy had 32 shots but could not find a goal against North Macedonia, who had four and hit the back of Gianluigi Donnarumma's net in stoppage time, breaking Italian hearts.

Puolo agreed with her son's post-match verdict that it would go down at the biggest disappointment of his career.

"Yes, because in his career he has more or less always done well," she said. "I heard him this morning, he was sorry, but we know that these things happen in sport."

Jorginho's 90th-minute missed penalty at 1-1 against Switzerland in Italy's penultimate group-stage qualifier ultimately proved highly costly. Had he tucked it away, Italy would have likely not needed a play-off.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho also missed from the spot in the first game against Switzerland, which finished as a draw, too.

Mancini's mother gave her verdict on Jorginho, saying: "Of course he didn't do it on purpose, poor thing, but if you miss two or three penalties, in the end, you pay for it."

Fabio Capello believes Italy's failure to qualify for back-to-back World Cups is due to a national obsession with following Pep Guardiola's Barcelona blueprint.

Former Milan, Real Madrid, Juventus and Roma boss Capello claims Italian football should have been following the German 'heavy metal' model rather than copying the more intricate noodling of the Spanish style of play.

Capello, who also coached Russia and England, cannot see why Italy would go against their great strengths by trying to match the high technical levels of Spain.

He told Sky Sport Italia: "The explanation is very simple. I have been saying for a long time that we are copying Guardiola's football of 15 years ago."

The 75-year-old Capello said this meant "all sideways passing, no verticality, little physical strength".

Guardiola built a Barcelona team on a possession-based game that was full of nuance, with players drilled to understand and adhere to its intricacies, and they became arguably the greatest club side of all time.

Capello does not see Italian players having the skill set to follow such a formula for success.

"Instead we should follow Klopp's model, a German-style football," Capello said.

Italy won the delayed Euro 2020 tournament last year, beating England on penalties in the Wembley final, but a 1-0 play-off semi-final defeat to North Macedonia on Thursday knocked them out of contention to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.

Roberto Mancini's team had 564 passes to 309 by North Macedonia, owning 65.4 per cent of possession, and led the shot count 32-4, only to be stunned by a stoppage-time goal from the visitors in Palermo.

The Azzurri will be spectators from a distance for the tournament in November and December, having also missed out on the Russia 2018 finals.

"Macedonia on a physical level were superior to us in terms of dynamism, strength and determination," Capello said. "It is all clear: until we understand that the model to be copied is the German one, we will not move forward, because if we want to do it like the Spaniards, who have a superior technique, we will never be able to do it, we always do it at 50 per cent."

Capello said the Italian team to take heed of the German example were Atalanta, whose results showed it had benefits. They sit fifth in Serie A, having finished third last season, and are through to the Europa League quarter-finals.

"In Europe we play at a different pace, and we are not used to it," Capello said. "At the base there is this wrong idea of ​​football. We are the country of passing back to the goalkeeper."

Gareth Bale took aim at the media again on Friday, responding to scathing recent coverage of him in Spain.

The Wales international was the hero for his country on Thursday after scoring two excellent goals to seal a 2-1 win against Austria and put them just one game away from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar.

However, Bale has rarely featured for Real Madrid, his club side, this season, playing in just five of their 42 matches in all competitions, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Spanish outlet Marca has labelled the winger a "parasite", also accusing him of "sucking" money out of the club.

Bale had described the criticism as "disgusting" after the Austria win, and he took to Twitter on Friday to further express his exasperation, saying journalists needed to be held accountable for the impact of their reports on athletes.

"The Daily Mail shining a light on this piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism by Marca," he wrote.

"At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentlessness of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this, accountable?

"Fortunately I have developed thick skin during my time in the public spotlight, but that doesn't mean articles like these don't cause damage and upset personally and professionally to those at the receiving end of these malicious stories.

"I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people's mental and physical health."

Bale moved to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham in 2013 and has won two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey, four Champions Leagues and three Club World Cups.

"The media expect superhuman performances from professional athletes, and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver," he continued. "Yet instead of commiserating with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouraging anger and disappointment in their fans.

"The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it's as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge.

"I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringently.

"So I want to use my platform to encourage change in the way we publicly talk about, and criticise people, simply for the most part, not meeting the often unrealistic expectations that are projected onto them.

"We all know who the real Parasite is!"

England manager Gareth Southgate said Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup shows how well his team have done since their agonising Euro 2020 final defeat.

The Azzurri were shocked by North Macedonia in the play-off semi-final on Thursday, losing 1-0 in Palermo to a stoppage time goal from Aleksandar Trajkovski, and will now miss their second consecutive World Cup.

Southgate suffered at the hands of Italy last year as he saw his Three Lions team beaten on penalties at Wembley in the final of Euro 2020, but while Roberto Mancini's team were unable to book their place in Qatar, England eased through their group, winning five and drawing two of their World Cup qualifiers since losing to the Azzurri.

Speaking at a media conference ahead of Saturday's friendly against Switzerland, Southgate said: "It was a big surprise [Italy losing]. It's clear that sometimes teams have a cycle. Whether that was the cycle or the after effects of the [Euro 2020] final and the emotion of it and everything else.

"I think that's where our players did so well, to recover from the emotion of the final and to perform as they did in the autumn was absolutely fantastic. I think qualifying is [easily underestimated], so I suspect looking at the results and performances, the way they went, Italy were in that position."

Jordan Henderson joined Southgate in front of the media, and also refused to celebrate the Italians' misfortune, saying when asked if the result made him smile: "Not really, to be honest. I'm just concentrated on what we need to do and teams that will be in the World Cup.

"I think what that does show is how difficult qualification can be. I think sometimes that's taken for granted and it's expected that you qualify for a World Cup or a Euros, so [Italy's loss is] proof that if you're not 100 per cent at it, you can be punished."

Southgate also revealed that the three debutants called up to his latest squad, Kyle Walker-Peters, Tyrick Mitchell and Marc Guehi, are likely to get minutes against either Switzerland or the Ivory Coast in the next week.

"Emile [Smith Rowe] didn't train today, so I would think unlikely he'll be involved tomorrow," he said. "Raheem [Sterling] is absolutely fine, it was a shame to lose Bukayo [Saka, following a COVID-19 test].

"We're going to have debuts this week for sure, whether it's tomorrow or Tuesday."

Italy's humiliating failure to qualify for the World Cup means "profound change" must follow the sorrow, according to Serie A president Lorenzo Casini.

A stunning 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in Thursday's play-off semi-final in Palermo has left Italy knowing they will miss consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.

The Azzurri will be absent at Qatar 2022, just as they played no part in Russia 2018, and there will be a process whereby some are likely to be held to account over such a dire outcome for the four-time winners.

Elation at triumphing at Euro 2020 has been replaced by suspicions that was a flicker of rude health amid serious worries over the health of the Italian game.

Casini said on Friday: "Failure to qualify for the final phase of the World Cup is a failure for the whole of Italian football, which must lead everyone to serious reflection and a profound change in our system.

"Right now I am only experiencing the great disappointment of all the fans. I am very sorry when I think of the girls and boys who are still waiting to see Italy at the World Cup and who must be able to continue growing in the blue dream.

"Serie A clubs and their players have always responded positively to the call of the national team and always will, also because it is about the sporting commitment that unites the country and should always make us overcome every allegiance and every division. The national team belongs to everyone."

Roberto Mancini was backed to stay on as head coach by Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina in the immediate aftermath of Italy's defeat.

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures to be postponed to give Italy more time to prepare for the game, but his request was denied by the league. 

"I'm sorry the boys only met for one day to prepare for the game," Gravina said after Thursday's game. "It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy."

Gareth Bale described the criticism he has been the subject of as a Real Madrid player as "disgusting" after leading Wales into a World Cup play-off final.

Bale has played in just five of Madrid's 42 matches in all competitions this season, totalling 270 minutes on the field – the equivalent of three whole games.

Once the most expensive player in world football, the winger was absent for Madrid's most recent match, a painful 4-0 defeat to bitter rivals Barcelona.

However, Bale was back and back to his best when Wales came calling on Thursday.

The 32-year-old captained his country to a 2-1 win against Austria in their play-off semi-final, scoring two sublime goals – the first a breathtaking free-kick.

Bale appeared to play through the pain barrier in a brilliant display, eventually making way while holding his groin.

The former Tottenham man appeared to enjoy the celebrations, but his tone shifted slightly when asked if he had a message for his critics in Spain.

"No," he told Sky Sports. "I don't need to send a message, honestly. It's a waste of my time.

"It's disgusting, they should all be ashamed of themselves. I'm not fussed. End of."

Bale has come into form at a great time for Wales, scoring five goals in his past four international appearances – more than in his previous 28 games for his country (four).

In European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, only five players have been involved in more goals than Bale's eight (five goals, three assists).

Wales will play either Scotland or Ukraine for a place in Qatar, with that decider at home, where Bale and Co. are unbeaten in 17 games in all competitions.

Blagoja Milevski felt North Macedonia "won Italian style against the Italians" after his side sensationally ended the European champions' bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Aleksandar Trajkovski's long-range stoppage-time strike secured a stunning upset for the underdogs in a World Cup qualifying semi-final at Renzo Barbera on Thursday.

Italy dominated the game in Palermo, but failed to find the back of the net from 32 shots and were made to pay for their lack of a cutting edge.

Trajkovski's brilliant finish was North Macedonia's second shot on target as they set up a showdown with Portugal at Estadio do Dragao next Tuesday for a place in the finals in Qatar.

North Macedonia head coach Milevski felt his team played Italy at their own game.

"We won Italian style against the Italians, a goal from just two shots," he said. 

"I'm very happy for this victory, I'm proud for these guys. All energy from tomorrow will be on Portugal.

"I am very happy for Trajkovski with his goal. The game was prepared in this way, we know that Italy are a great team with several champions but we played as we should.

"We know our strengths. Before the game I told the guys to have fun and they did just that."

North Macedonia have never played in a World Cup and will have to pull off another major surprise in Porto to beat a Portugal side that beat Turkey 3-1 on Thursday.

Cristiano Ronaldo's dip in goalscoring form is of no concern to Fernando Santos, who felt he was "tremendous" in Portugal's World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final success against Turkey. 

First-half efforts from Otavio and Diogo Jota put Portugal in control in Porto, but Burak Yilmaz pulled one back after the hour mark and had a chance to equalise from the penalty spot with five minutes remaining. 

However, Yilmaz missed the target from 12 yards and Matheus Nunes completed a 3-1 win for the hosts in stoppage time, with Ronaldo hitting the bar in the final act of the game. 

The Manchester United forward had five efforts on goal and hit the target with two of them. Diogo Jota (38), who played 20 minutes fewer than Ronaldo, was Portugal's only outfield starter with fewer touches than him (40).  

Ronaldo also failed to find the back of the net in Portugal's draw with the Republic of Ireland and the defeat to Serbia that cost Santos' men automatic qualification for Qatar. 

He has scored just four goals in his past 13 appearances in all competitions for club and country, but the Portugal boss is unconcerned by his displays. 

"Ronaldo is judged on the goals he scores, it's always that way," said Santos. 

"From my perspective, he played a tremendous game, bringing the group together, working and pressing with the intensity of the game. 

"He didn't score, but that doesn't invalidate what was an excellent performance for Ronaldo. He had several opportunities. He didn't convert them, but he opened up a lot of spaces for others and that's something to highlight."

Ronaldo is one of several veterans in the side that it has been suggested should be phased out by Santos to make way for a new generation, but the coach spoke out in defence of the more experienced options at his disposal. 

"The one that everyone is asking to be replaced is the only golden generation. I'm very sorry to say this, but it is the only one that has brought a trophy to Portugal," he said. 

"Now, if you ask me if Portuguese football has a bright future ahead of it, with high-quality players capable of responding at any time, I'd say yes. 

"Portugal have always had great players, but the golden generation is the one that won the gold." 

Jorginho admits his missed penalties earlier in the campaign will haunt him forever following Italy's failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

The Azzurri were crowned Euro 2020 champions just eight months ago after beating England in the final on penalties.

However, Roberto Mancini's side will not be at the World Cup later this year after they were stunned 1-0 by North Macedonia in the playoff semi-finals.

Although the hosts dominated proceedings in Palermo, Aleksandar Trajkovski struck in stoppage time to give the visitors a shock victory.

Having drawn four of their last five games, Italy had to settle for a playoff place after finishing two points behind Switzerland in Group C.

Among them was a 1-1 stalemate with the Swiss, during which Jorginho missed two penalties that would have seen the Azzurri displace their opponents in top spot.

And the Chelsea midfielder revealed his sense of responsibility for his nation’s subsequent failure to qualify.

"It is difficult to explain what happened," he told RAI Sport. "It hurts so much. I'll be honest, I am still incredulous. 

"I don't think we lacked creativity, as we always dominated matches and created so many chances. Unfortunately, we were unable to finish them off.

"We played good football, we won the European Championship last summer, but unfortunately in the last few games, we made small errors and were unable to recover from them. They made the difference.

"It hurts when I think about [the missed penalties], because I do still think about it, and it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

"Stepping up there twice and not being able to help your team and your country is something that I will carry with me forever, and it weighs on me.

"People say we need to lift our heads and carry on, but it's tough."

Meanwhile, team-mate Marco Verratti acknowledged that the reigning European champions were made to pay after failing to turn their superiority into goals.

"It is difficult to understand. I think we dominated this match, and we should've won. We had to win," the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder added.

"This is football, it is fundamental to be clinical and ruthless. It's just so difficult to explain. 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.

"We experienced special times together, and I will always be proud of my team-mates. 

"We have to ask ourselves questions now. There's some bad luck, but you also need to make your own luck."

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