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."

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."

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.

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."

Roberto Mancini has been backed to stay on as head coach by FIGC president Gabriele Gravina despite Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. 

The Azzurri succumbed to a sensational 1-0 defeat to North Macedonia in a play-off semi-final in Palermo on Thursday, ending their hopes of securing a place in the tournament in Qatar this year. 

Having missed out on a spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Italy will not feature in two successive editions of the competition for the first time in their history. 

However, with Mancini having led the team on a 37-game unbeaten run that included Euro 2020 glory and only ended last October, Gravina still believes he is the right man for the job. 

"I hope Mancini will continue with us. He has a commitment to the project," Gravina told Rai Sport. 

"I hope, like all the other Italians, that he will dispose of the waste from this elimination and remain at the helm to continue our work. I still have a lot of energy. 

"I'm sorry, I'm truly embittered for all our fans. The great joy of the previous summer remains, but also the great bitterness of this defeat. We didn't expect it. 

"The guys were splendid and will continue to be so. They gave our country an extraordinary dream just a few months ago. However, tonight's defeat makes us understand there is something we need to do."

Gravina wanted the previous round of Serie A fixtures 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. It doesn't help, but I don't want to cause a controversy," he added. 

Italy have failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup following a shock 1-0 defeat by North Macedonia on Thursday.

For the first time in their history, the Azzurri will miss out on successive finals after Aleksandar Trajkovski struck a stoppage-time winner at Renzo Barbera.

Roberto Mancini's side triumphed at Euro 2020 just eight months ago, defeating England on penalties in the final to claim their second title.

But four years after their playoff defeat by Sweden denied them a place in Russia, they will be absent in Qatar after suffering their first ever loss on home soil in a World Cup qualifier.

It is fair to say it has been quite the journey from one World Cup qualifying failure to another.

Swede success

Despite finishing behind Spain in their qualifying group, Italy were heavy favourites to overcome Sweden in a two-legged playoff.

However, Jakob Johansson struck the only goal of the opening leg to set up a tense climax in Milan.

The Azzurri dominated their opponents, but the Swedes stood firm to deny them a place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958.

Euro 2020 glory

Failure to qualify for Russia culminated in the departure of Gian Piero Ventura, who was replaced in the hot-seat by Mancini.

Despite winning just one of his first six matches in charge, things eventually clicked into gear for the former Inter and Manchester City coach, who oversaw a perfect qualifying campaign for the delayed Euro 2020.

The Azzurri came flying out of the blocks; topping Group A with maximum points before seeing off Austria, Belgium and Spain, before holding their nerve to overcome England on penalties for a second European crown.

The record-breaking run

In fact, Italy did not look back after a 1-0 defeat by Portugal in the Nations League in September 2018.

The Azzurri subsequently embarked on a record-breaking 37-match unbeaten run across all competitions spanning three years.

The streak came to an end following a 2-1 defeat by Spain in the Nations League semi-finals last October.

North Macedonia mayhem

Despite going unbeaten in qualifying, four draws from their last five matches meant Italy had to settle for second place in Group C and another playoff berth.

Once again, the Azzurri were red-hot favourites to overcome North Macedonia, who are seeking their first appearance at the finals as an independent nation.

But despite 32 attempts on goal, the hosts were unable to make their superiority count in Palermo, and were punished right at the death as the visitors stunned the four-time world champions.

Roberto Mancini described Italy's shock World Cup qualifying play-off exit to North Macedonia as the antithesis of the Azzurri's Euro 2020 triumph.

Only eight months have passed since Mancini's men defeated England in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley to be crowned European champions.

But tears of joy were replaced by howls of agony in Palermo on Thursday as Aleksandar Trajkovski's 92nd-minute strike earned the minnows a memorable victory and a final against Portugal in pathway C of UEFA qualification.

For head coach Mancini, the chain of events since that day in London – including his side's failure to qualify from Group C – is difficult to fathom.

"Just as the Euros was the most wonderful experience of my life, this was the biggest disappointment," he told Rai.

"We can't say anything but this is football. Sometimes incredible things happen.

"Maybe we shouldn't have been there, we did everything to win it. Some matches are like that and it's difficult to talk about it. 

"The victory at the Euros was absolutely deserved, we played great football. Then some of the luck we had in that tournament turned into complete bad luck, as some unbelievable things happened from September onwards.

"We dominated the group, all we needed was one of those moments to go well, but neither of them did. Tonight, it feels almost as if conceding a goal at the 92nd minute was fitting.

"This is a group of fine players and I am sorry for them."

The loss is sure to lead to questions over Mancini's future, with even his Euros triumph unlikely to buy him much favour after a desperately disappointing defeat, which means Italy have failed to qualify for consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.

But Mancini said it would be wrong to discuss such matters so soon after the event.

"We will see. I think everyone is too disappointed right now to talk about the future," he added.

"I have to say, I care more for my lads now than I did in July. This is such a tough moment, my affection for them is immense. 

"It's too early to say what happens next, as there is such disappointment, but at the same time this is a squad of great players with a bright future."

Italy have done all this before.

The Azzurri were World Cup regulars – and contenders – until remarkably failing to qualify for the first time since the 1958 tournament when they were beaten by Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018.

Of course, Italy feared a repeat when they were consigned to the play-off route again for Qatar 2022, but a potential final against Portugal was surely of greater concern than a home semi with North Macedonia.

Sensationally, however, the visitors stunned the European champions in Palermo, where Aleksandar Trajkovski's 92nd-minute blast secured the unlikeliest of 1-0 wins.

It means Italy are yet again featuring on a list of shock World Cup absentees.

ITALY/SPAIN 1958

Until these past two upsets, Italy's only failure to qualify for the World Cup had come in the 1950s. Needing to beat Northern Ireland in their final game of the three-team group, the Azzurri slumped to a 2-1 loss in Belfast. More surprising was the absence of Spain, as a team of legends including Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Suarez missed out on a place in Sweden. A draw with Switzerland and defeat to Scotland meant that 4-1 victories in both return matches were not enough to salvage their hopes.

ENGLAND 1974

England were on top of the world in 1966 having lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on home turf. It remains the Three Lions' only triumph at a World Cup and, eight years later, England were not even at the tournament held in West Germany. In a three-team group with Wales and Poland, a 2-0 defeat and 1-1 draw with the latter meant Alf Ramsey's side did not qualify. Twenty years later, England again disappointed as they failed to qualify for USA '94 under Graham Taylor.

CZECHOSLOVAKIA 1978

Having won the European Championship two years previously with their attractive brand of football, there were high hopes for Czechoslovakia heading into qualifying for the tournament in Argentina. However, battles of Britain proved their downfall as losses in Wales and Scotland scuppered their hopes of adding World Cup glory to their European triumph.

NETHERLANDS 1986

After reaching the World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978, there was a down period for Netherlands, who missed out in '82 and also failed to qualify for Euro '84. A crop of players including Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Marco van Basten were expected to bring about a turnaround in fortunes for the Dutch ahead of the next World Cup in Mexico. However, they had to settle for a play-off against neighbours Belgium after finishing second in their qualifying group, and Georges Grun's header with just five minutes left on the clock saw them crash out on away goals. Netherlands also failed to qualify in 2002 and were not in Russia four years ago.

FRANCE 1994

Les Bleus had failed to qualify for Italia '90 having finished third in 1986. That failure was accepted as something of a transitional period, but a star-studded team featuring the likes of Laurent Blanc, Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona were unable to secure the necessary result against Bulgaria in their final qualifier for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. France led through Eric Cantona but were pegged back by an Emil Kostadinov leveller before half-time. Gerard Houllier's side looked set to cling on to the point that would see them through until David Ginola infamously gave the ball away with an ill-judged cross in the final minute that allowed Kostadinov to make it 2-1 on the break, leaving French hopes dashed.

EGYPT 2010

Incredibly, Egypt's appearance at the 2018 World Cup was their first since 1990. That is despite their 2000s domination of the Africa Cup of Nations, with three consecutive victories between 2006 and 2010. Their failure to reach South Africa 12 years ago was arguably the greatest disappointment. After finishing with an identical record to Algeria, a play-off was needed to separate the two, with Egypt falling to a 1-0 defeat to extend their wait for a return to the global stage.

CHILE 2018

The depth of talent in South America means there are always likely to be notable casualties, but even then the two-time defending Copa America champions would have expected to contend on a global stage in Russia. However, Chile could only finish sixth in an incredibly tight group, without even a play-off to show for their efforts while Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to qualification with a hat-trick against Ecuador – his own participation in the finals having been in question until that point.

Italy were "destroyed" by their shock defeat to North Macedonia, with Giorgio Chiellini saying their failure to qualify for the World Cup opened "a great void". 

The reigning European champions fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to North Macedonia, with former Palermo attacker Aleksandar Trajkovski netting a surprise winner for the visitors in the 92nd minute. 

Italy have now failed to qualify for two straight World Cups. They will not be able to feature on that stage until 2026, with their only win in the competition since they triumphed in 2006 coming against England in the 2014 group stage.

The defeat to North Macedonia marked an incredible turnaround in fortunes for Italy, who won Euro 2020 as part of a 37-game undefeated streak that ended in October – a month after they dropped valuable points against Bulgaria and Switzerland in their World Cup qualifying group. 

Roberto Mancini's side ended up missing out on top spot to Switzerland after two further draws, and their capitulation at the Renzo Barbera was tough for Chiellini to take. 

"It's hard to explain. There is great disappointment. We played a great match but just couldn't score," Chiellini told Rai Sport. 

"We weren't presumptuous. We were missing something. We made mistakes from September until today and we paid for them. 

"I am proud of this team, but it's obvious we are disappointed and destroyed. We have to start again. 

"It's difficult to comment so quickly. There will remain a great void and I hope this void will give the energy needed to restart. We have to start against to win again and get back to the top of the European Championship and in four years go to the World Cup." 

Veteran defender Chiellini refused to confirm whether the loss would prove to be his final match for Italy, saying "now is not the right moment."

Italy will miss out on a second successive World Cup after Aleksandar Trajkovski's stoppage-time strike gave North Macedonia a sensational 1-0 victory at Renzo Barbera.

Having also failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia, the European champions will not go for glory in Qatar this year after suffering their first World Cup qualifying defeat on home soil.

Roberto Mancini's side dominated the game, but they were made to pay for their lack of a cutting edge in a dramatic finale.

Trajkovski was North Macedonia’s hero, beating Gianluigi Donnarumma from 25 years in the second minute of stoppage time set up a showdown with Portugal for a place in the World Cup.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has dismissed the notion of Russia hosting Euro 2028 as "beyond satire", instead suggesting the tournament be awarded to Ukraine.

Russia launched a bid for either Euro 2028 or Euro 2032 on Wednesday, despite the country's ongoing invasion of their Eastern European neighbour.

That puts the 2018 World Cup hosts against a joint United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland bid for the former, an Italy bid for the latter and a Turkey bid for either event.

"The idea of Russia holding any idea of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire," Johnson said in Brussels, where a Nato summit addressing Vladimir Putin's invasion is taking place.

"I can’t believe that anybody would seriously consider their suggestion."

Johnson appeared to forget that his own country had bid for Euro 2028 when he subsequently suggested the best path would be to hand it to Ukraine, who jointly hosted Euro 2012 with Poland.

"I think the best thing possible would be for the entire Russian forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and hand the tournament to them," Johnson added.

Last year's rearranged Pan-European edition saw Italy triumph over England in a penalty shoot-out final at Wembley Stadium.

Hosts will be confirmed for 2028 and 2032 in September 2023, ahead of the next edition in Germany in 2024.

Roberto Mancini says Italy will not look beyond Thursday's play-off semi-final with North Macedonia as they aim to avoid more World Cup qualifying heartbreak.

Italy, then under the management of Gian Piero Ventura, failed to qualify for the last World Cup for the first time since 1958 after losing to Sweden in the play-offs.

The Azzurri bounced back from that disappointment by winning the European Championships last year for only the second time.

Just eight months on from that triumph, Mancini's men are once again relying on the play-offs to help them reach Qatar 2022 after finishing behind Switzerland in their group.

Should Italy overcome North Macedonia in Palermo, they then face a showdown with either Portugal or Turkey – who meet in Porto on Thursday – in next week's final.

Italy are strong favourites to beat North Macedonia, who are 61 places below their opponents in the FIFA rankings, but Mancini does not consider his side favourites.

"We all start the same; each game is 0-0 and anything can happen in those 90 minutes," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference.

"It's an obvious thing to say, but you have to play each game. I don't think there are favourites in these matches.

"North Macedonia defend well and have good technique. Don't forget they won away to Germany in the qualifiers. We need patience, but it starts from 0-0."

A large core of Italy's current contingent were also part of the squad that missed out on a place at Russia 2018, but Mancini is unsure if that works in his side's favour.

"I don't know if it can act as an advantage," he said. "This is part of the life of a sportsman. There are exciting moments in your career and others of disappointment.

"We just have to be focused on what we have to do. Italy know how to play football and we have to just think about ourselves, not other things."

UEFA has confirmed it received declarations of interest from four potential bidders for hosting rights to Euro 2028 and Euro 2032.

The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland launched a joint-bid for Euro 2028 earlier on Wednesday, while a Russian official remarkably confirmed its own interest in holding either of the two tournaments.

Russia's teams are currently banned from UEFA and FIFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine, but the 2018 World Cup hosts pushed ahead regardless.

Turkey has joined Russia in announcing to UEFA its willingness to stage the European Championship in either 2028 or 2032.

While the two countries are up against the UK and Ireland in the first of the two finals, Italy is the other interested party four years later.

The hosts of the two tournaments will be announced in September 2023.

Will it be Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane? Italy or Portugal – or indeed neither? Can Canada end their long wait, and are the United States and Australia at risk of missing out?

Those questions and plenty more are set to be answered over the next week or so as World Cup qualifying concludes for many nations.

Just 15 of the 32 participants have so far been confirmed for Qatar 2022, leaving 48 teams battling for the 17 remaining spots.

Fourteen more countries will be assured of a finals berth come the end of next week in what is very much crunch time for those still in contention.

Stats Perform looks at the key talking points.

Egypt seeking revenge in AFCON final repeat

Less than two months on from meeting in the Africa Cup of Nations final, Egypt and Senegal face off over two legs for a place in Qatar.

Senegal prevailed in a penalty shoot-out to claim their first AFCON crown and, buoyed by that triumph, will consider themselves as favourites here.

While both teams boast an array of top-class talent, this fixture is being billed as a showdown between Liverpool team-mates Salah and Mane.

The two biggest stars in African football, only one of the pair will be part of the World Cup later this year – and neither will fancy watching it all unfold from home.

This is not the only grudge match taking place in the CAF section over the next week and a half, as fierce rivals Ghana and Nigeria will also face off in a two-legged play-off.

Cameroon are up against Algeria, Mali take on Tunisia and DR Congo meet Morocco in the other three ties, each of which will be concluded on March 29.

European heavyweights on collision course

Since the play-off draw in the UEFA section took place in November, all talk has centered around a potential meeting between Italy and Portugal for a place in the finals.

The winners of the past two European Championships, either the Azzurri or the Selecao will miss out on the biggest tournament of them all.

It should never have been this way, of course, as both teams were strong favourites to finish top of their groups and qualify automatically.

Italy finished second to Switzerland and Portugal were runners-up to Serbia, meaning the sides must now come through two qualifying ties.

First up for the reigning European champions is a meeting with North Macedonia in Palermo, while Portugal face Turkey in Porto, with the winners of both ties advancing.

Should, as expected, Italy and Portugal come through those semi-finals, the latter will have the advantage of staging the final on home soil five days later.

For Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo, it presents what will surely be his last chance to play at a record-equalling fifth World Cup.

 

Pathways impacted by political events

Path C of UEFA qualifying is undoubtedly the most eye-catching, but there are also some tasty fixtures in the other two sections – not least a possible Home Nations derby.

Scotland and Wales were kept apart in the Path B semi-finals but could meet in the final should they overcome Ukraine and Austria respectively.

However, due to ongoing events in Ukraine, their game against Scotland has been pushed back – likely until June – as has the final involving either Wales or Austria.

In Path C, Russia had been due to face Poland, but the invasion of Ukraine forced FIFA and UEFA's hand and they have been banned from competing.

Poland have therefore been handed a bye to the qualifying play-off final, where either Sweden or the Czech Republic await. That match will be contested next week as planned.

Canada on verge of ending long wait, USA with work to do

The United States qualified for every World Cup between 1990 and 2014, but they missed out on a place at Russia 2018 after an embarrassing loss to Trinidad and Tobago.

Gregg Berhalter's side are by no means assured of one of the three automatic qualification spots in the CONCACAF section this time around, either.

USA sit second with three games to go, but they still have to travel to third-placed Mexico, as well as facing Panama and Costa Rica, who occupy fourth and fifth respectively.

Level on points with Mexico and four ahead of Costa Rica, it could be a tense finale to qualifying for the Stars and Stripes.

That should not be the case for Canada, who are eight points clear of fourth and are all but assured of ending their 36-year wait to make a second World Cup finals appearance.

Brazil and Argentina through, but who will join them?

The drawn-out South American qualifiers are nearing their conclusion and only four of the 10 sides know their fate at this juncture.

It has been plain sailing for Brazil and Argentina, who are assured of an automatic qualifying spot with three games to go, including a rescheduled meeting between the pair.

Behind those perennial World Cup representatives are Ecuador, who have been the surprise package in qualifying and can finish no lower than fifth.

Ecuador will not be content with anything other than a top-four finish, though, and they can make certain of that with victory over Paraguay.

Assuming Ecuador get over the line, that will leave Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia battling it out for progression, which sets up some intriguing fixtures.

Uruguay occupy fourth place, meaning their qualifying aspirations are in their own hands, but they have Peru and Chile – the two sides behind them – still to face.

Socceroos sweating on finals spot

Only four teams advance automatically from the CONMEBOL section, with the team in fifth entering a play-off against the winner of the AFC fourth round in a one-off tie in June.

That may well turn out to be Australia as the Socceroos are five and four points behind top two Saudi Arabia and Japan in Group B with two games to go.

However, those remaining two fixtures are against those nations occupying automatic qualification places, so Australia may yet sneak through.

Iran and South Korea have already made certain of progression in Group A, meanwhile, leaving the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq to compete for third place.

The two third-placed finishers – which, as it stands, are Australia and the UAE – will meet in a one-legged match ahead of that aforementioned play-off with a CONMEBOL side.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.