Manchester United's search for a new permanent manager continues, with Mauricio Pochettino the favourite.

Ralf Rangnick has been appointed on an interim basis until the end of the season, though Michael Carrick is set to preside over a third game as caretaker manager on Thursday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked last month after a poor run of results at the end of a trophy-less tenure.

 

TOP STORY – MANCINI EMERGES AS SHOCK MAN UTD CONTENDER

Former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has emerged as a contender for the vacant Man Utd managerial role, claims The Telegraph.

The current Italy head coach, who led the Azzurri to the Euro 2020 title, is under "careful consideration" by United chiefs, according to the report.

Mancini is contracted with Italy until 2026 on a lucrative deal but may potentially be available to take over from Rangnick pending Italy's World Cup qualification play-offs in March.

 

ROUND-UP

Milan want to sign Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette as soon as possible and will make a move for him in January rather than wait for him to become a free agent at the season's end, according to Sport Italia journalist Rudy Galetti.

Man Utd have been offered the opportunity to sign Brazil attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho by Barcelona, reports Sport.

- Sport also claims Barcelona have a "total agreement" to sign Man City's Spanish forward Ferran Torres, although they want the English champions to lower their asking price of £60million.

Ajax are looking to do a deal with Tottenham to sign Dutch forward Steven Bergwijn on loan, according to De Telegraaf.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus have pulled out of the race to sign Monaco's Aurelien Tchouameni, with Chelsea leading the contenders.

Roberto Mancini admitted Italy would rather not have to do battle with Portugal for a place in the 2022 World Cup if they get past North Macedonia.

The European champions were on Friday drawn to face North Macedonia in a semi-final next March after missing out on automatic qualification for the tournament in Qatar.

Italy will come up against either Portugal or Turkey in a decisive showdown if they avoid a semi-final upset.

Euro 2016 champions Portugal were consigned to a play-off spot in dramatic fashion as Aleksandar Mitrovic's last-gasp strike saw Serbia through as Group A winners.

Italy boss Mancini is confident his side will qualify, but gave an honest reaction to the prospect of trying to deny Cristiano Ronaldo what could be his last trip to a World Cup.

He said: "We are always confident and positive. Macedonia had a good qualifying group, we will have to play a great match. Then we will see what happens in the final.

Asked about the prospect of coming up against Portugal, he said: "We would have liked to avoid them, in the same way Portugal would have gladly avoided Italy."

The draw also threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine.

Russia will host Poland, with the winners playing either Sweden or the Czech Republic. 

Italy or Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the two most recent European champions were drawn in the same play-off path.

Roberto Mancini led Italy to a Euro 2020 triumph earlier this year, yet the Azzurri failed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup, with Switzerland progressing instead.

Portugal, Euro 2016 winners, also fell short, finishing three points behind Serbia in Group A.

And now one of the heavyweights will fail to appear in Qatar, with both teams drawn together in Path C of the play-offs, which will take place in March.

Italy were drawn in a semi-final against minnows North Macedonia, who are aiming to make their first appearance at a World Cup, while Portugal will face Turkey.

Should they progress, Portugal will have home advantage in the Path C final to determine which team progresses to Qatar. While Cristiano Ronaldo could well be fighting to play in his final World Cup, the Azzurri will be aiming to avoid missing out on the tournament for a second successive time.

Path A threw up the possibility of Wales going up against Scotland for a place in the finals, should they overcome Austria and Ukraine, who went unbeaten in a qualifying group that also included reigning world champions France, respectively.

In Path B, Russia will host Poland and Sweden will play the Czech Republic. 

The winner of Russia v Poland will host the Path B final.

Play-offs draw in full

Path A

SF1 – Scotland v Ukraine

SF2 – Wales v Austria

F1 – Winner SF2 v Winner SF1

Path B

SF3 – Russia v Poland

SF4 – Sweden v Czech Republic

F2 – Winner SF3 v Winner SF4

Path C

SF5 – Italy v North Macedonia

SF6 – Portugal v Turkey

F3 – Winner SF6 v Winner SF5

Robert Lewandowski can consider himself hard done by. The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, world football's most prestigious individual accolade is back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony set to take place on Monday.

Lewandowski, who scooped The Best FIFA Men's Player award for 2020 and has had another sensational year for Bayern, is among the favourites on a 30-man shortlist.

Will it finally be his time, or will old voting habits die hard to put Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in pole position? Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses the credentials of the Ballon d'Or favourites.

Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)

Has anybody outperformed Bayern star Lewandowski in 2021?  While there was no repeat of the treble-winning heroics of the 2019-20 campaign, he has been in astounding form and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 as Die Roten were crowned champions for a ninth straight campaign.

With 25 to his name already across all competitions this term, Lewandowski leads the way for goals from players in Europe's top five leagues, nine clear of anyone else. When taking the whole year so far into account, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 41 games, putting him 16 clear of nearest challengers Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland. Unsurprisingly, his scoring rate – a goal every 65 minutes – is comfortably the best of any player to net 10 or more in 2021.

 

Lionel Messi (PSG, Argentina)

It has been a momentous year for Messi. He finally achieved success on the international stage, leading Argentina to a Copa America triumph. Following that, he was expected to sign a fresh deal at Barcelona, but we all know how that turned out. Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the 34-year-old marked his final season in Spain with one last trophy, the 2020-21 Copa del Rey. 

Across 39 appearances in 2021 for Barca and PSG combined, Messi has 32 goals, nine assists and 81   chances created. But it is Messi's triumph with Argentina that really puts him in the running for a seventh Ballon d'Or.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Portugal)

Like Messi, Ronaldo – a five-time Ballon d'Or winner – made a big move of his own in 2021, returning to Manchester United after three seasons at Juventus. The 36-year-old has already scored 10 goals in his second spell at Old Trafford. While the team's struggles are well known – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job after last week's dismal defeat at Watford – Ronaldo's strike against Villarreal on Tuesday took him to 799 career goals for club and country, a remarkable feat.

While it has not been the finest year at club level for Ronaldo, with Juve missing out on the Serie A title, albeit winning the Coppa Italia, he did become the record goalscorer in men's international football, scoring his 110th and 111th goals in a double against the Republic of Ireland in September to overtake Ali Daei (109); the forward now has 115. His agent, Jorge Mendes, told France Football: "All these achievements, which represent the greatest performance in football history, should be pivotal in awarding the trophy, as he continues to demonstrate that he is, without doubt, the best world football player of all time."

Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)

Since Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in 2018, Benzema has stepped up to become Los Blancos' talisman. Although a LaLiga title evaded Madrid last season, it has been another fantastic year for Benzema. He earned a recall to the France squad for Euro 2020 and, despite the team's disappointing campaign, his stellar performances caught the eye, before he excelled again in World Cup qualifying and the Nations League Finals.

Indeed, Benzema's goal against Finland last week made him the first France player to score in four successive matches since he did so himself in five games between November 2013 and June 2014. There is no doubting he is a serious contender for this year's award.

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt)

Liverpool star Salah cannot be ignored. Jurgen Klopp has labelled the Egypt forward as the world's best player and, based on the season so far, it would be hard to argue too much with that suggestion, with Lewandowski the only player across Europe's top five leagues to be directly involved in more goals (27) than Salah (24) to this point.

Only four players have topped Salah's goals tally of 32   in 2021, although Liverpool's failure to retain their Premier League crown last season probably counts against the 29-year-old when it comes to this prize.

 

Kylian Mbappe (PSG, France)

While players in their thirties dominate the bookmakers' list of favourites, could this be the year that Mbappe steals the crown? The 22-year-old could well have left PSG in August, but the Ligue 1 giants held firm despite three bids from Madrid, who seem likely to get their man on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

In the meantime, Mbappe is forming a formidable front three with Messi and Neymar, whose own Ballon d'Or hopes seem extremely slim. Mbappe missed the decisive penalty as France slipped out of Euro 2020, but his 37 goals from 47 appearances for PSG across all competitions in 2021 tell their own story, while his shot conversion rate of 24.3 per cent betters that of Salah, Benzema, Messi and Ronaldo.

Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)

An outsider for the award, perhaps, but nevertheless a player who has been widely tipped, Chelsea midfielder Jorginho played a pivotal role the Blues' Champions League triumph and then Italy's Euro 2020 success, although he did miss a penalty in the final shoot-out against England. In fact, he has now missed his past three spot-kicks for Italy, after having scored each of his first six taken for the Azzurri.

Jorginho has already scooped the UEFA Men's Player of the Year award, and it is not too long ago that another deep-lying playmaker in Luka Modric won the Ballon d'Or, even if the competition this time around seems a little too stacked.

 

N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Might Jorginho's Chelsea midfield partner have a shout? Kante is still dominating midfields with his boundless energy five years on from his title triumph with Leicester City. He was already an elite performer before Thomas Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge, but he seems to have gone up another level since the German coach came in.

Across all competitions in 2021, Kante boasts a tackle success rate of 63.2 per cent and has made 193 recoveries. Freed by a box-to-box role in Tuchel's system, Kante has won 151 of 277 duels and registered an impressive 42 interceptions.

Switzerland kept their word and thanked Northern Ireland for helping them to reach the World Cup – by sending the team chocolate.

In one of the sweeter football stories of the week, Switzerland posted a video to social media on Wednesday showing head coach Murat Yakin boxing up some confectionery treats to send to Belfast.

It was their way of showing their gratitude for Northern Ireland's goalless draw with Italy in the final round of European World Cup qualifying group games, a result that, combined with Switzerland's 4-0 win over Bulgaria, saw Yakin's men seal their place at Qatar 2022.

Ian Baraclough's side are to receive 9.3 kilograms of Swiss chocolate in recognition of preventing the European champions from scoring for 93 minutes.

Switzerland had previously promised a gift after initially paying tribute in their post-match celebrations at the team hotel in Lucerne, where they sung Sweet Caroline, the 1969 Neil Diamond hit that has become a staple song at Northern Ireland matches.

The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists drew 1-1 with Italy in their penultimate qualifier, in which Jorginho missed a 90th-minute penalty for the Azzurri. That result ensured they were able to finish two points clear at the top of Group C after the final round of games.

Italy, meanwhile, must now contend the play-offs alongside teams including Portugal, Sweden, Wales and Russia. The draw for the semi-finals takes place on Friday.

Massimiliano Allegri is convinced Italy will make it to the World Cup – but that is the least of his worries as he looks to guide Juventus back into the Scudetto picture.

Juve head coach Allegri takes his side to Lazio on Saturday for what already feels like a highly important game in the context of the season.

Defeats to Sassuolo and Hellas Verona in late October look to have almost scrubbed Juve out of the title frame, and they sit eighth heading into the weekend, already 14 points behind Napoli and Milan. It will take a sharp upturn for them to trouble the early pace-setters.

Lazio are three points better off than Juventus too, and their boss is former Juve head coach Maurizio Sarri, the man who was given the flick by the Turin giants in August 2020 after just one season.

Sarri won the Serie A title in that campaign, but a lack of European success cost him dearly. His successor, Andrea Pirlo, delivered neither, which is why Allegri was summoned to return to the Allianz Stadium top job, having won five league championships in his previous stint.

Italy is consumed by the travails of the Azzurri, with Roberto Mancini's team falling to Earth with a bump after their Euro 2020 success as they failed to earn automatic qualification for the World Cup, with Jorginho's costly missed penalty against Switzerland followed by a draw with Northern Ireland.

They still have a play-off to fall back on, so may well still feature at Qatar 2022, and Allegri spoke about Italy while addressing the focus on putting points on the board.

"Football is good because you can have opinions, you can talk, but in the end it all boils down to the results," he told a news conference on Friday.

"For a missed penalty, they've been massacring them for a week now. We need balance, there are unforeseen events that must be managed, and I believe that in the end they will go to the World Cup."

He is waiting to learn whether Paulo Dybala is available for the trip to Rome, with the Argentine keen to be involved after international duty. Allegri described the forward's calf as "problematic" but did not rule him out.

"It's a nice challenge, two teams that are floating on the edge of fourth place," Allegri said. "It will be a difficult match."

A sketchy 1-0 victory over Fiorentina, secured by Juan Cuadrado's stoppage-time goal after their visitors were reduced to 10 men, sent Juventus into the international break with a win.

 

"Right now, here you just have to do and not think. We are behind in the standings, talking is of no use at all," Allegri added.

"We just have to think about what to do to try slowly to improve in the attacking and defensive phases, as well as in the standings."

Juve have lost only two of their last 33 Serie A games against Lazio, both since 2017 (W24 D7).

Lazio have conceded at least once in their last 16 Serie A home games against the Bianconceri, their longest streak without a clean sheet at home against a single opponent in the top flight.

Sarri has previously spoken of his difficulty in bringing new elements to Juventus' play during his short tenure, but Allegri feels the current crop are malleable enough.

"Maurizio is an excellent coach and here he won a championship," Allegri said. "You'd have to ask him, he said it and not me. For me the teams are all trainable, it depends on the players you have."

Thomas Tuchel has hailed Jorginho's personality and character as he backed the Chelsea star to recover from a frustrating international break.

Jorginho missed a penalty as Italy drew with Switzerland, a result that left the European champions in need of a victory against Northern Ireland to ensure their spot at Qatar 2022.

However, the Azzurri – who missed out on Russia 2018 after a play-off defeat to Sweden – must now win two more games in March to book their spot at next year's World Cup, after they were held to a goalless draw in Belfast and Switzerland thrashed Bulgaria 4-0.

Jorginho has had a stellar year, helping Chelsea to Champions League glory before winning Euro 2020 with Italy. His efforts saw him named UEFA's Men's Player of the Year in August, while he has also been nominated for this year's Ballon d'Or.

Yet after having scored each of the first six penalties taken for Italy, Jorginho has failed his last three (including in shoot-outs, with the midfielder having squandered spot-kicks against both Switzerland and England at Euro 2020).

Jorginho played 68 minutes of Monday's clash at Windsor Park. Only four Italy players – all defenders – completed more passes than his 53, with 38 of these coming in Northern Ireland's half, while he made more interceptions than any of his team-mates (three).

"If there's a guy to handle this disappointment, it's Jorgi," Tuchel told a news conference.

"I fully trust his personality, his character. For me the most important thing is that when he arrives here he feels safe in Cobham, that he knows that everybody will support him, no matter what happens outside this building, he is our player, he is fully protected and fully appreciated.

"We are super happy that he's back. These things happen during a career, he is not the first one to miss an important penalty and will not be the last one.

"He has enough character, enough difficulties in his career if you know the story, like how he made it to professional football, what obstacles he had to overcome, this is a bump on the road and no more.

"We will do everything so that he feels good and can continue to play on the highest level like he did from day one."

While Jorginho endured a disappointing international break, another Chelsea midfielder enjoyed a first senior call-up.

Having impressed on loan at Crystal Palace so far this season, scoring four league goals, Conor Gallagher was handed his England debut in a 10-0 win over San Marino.

Gallagher, who spent last season on loan at West Brom, only signed a five-year deal at Chelsea in 2020, though Tuchel was asked about plans for the midfielder's future.

"This is too early to talk about it, way too early in public, before we talk with Conor and see his goals and what he wants," he replied.

"This will happen [at the end of the season] because we all agreed it was the best step to join Palace and Patrick Vieira.

"I am not surprised that the national coach loves him because I loved him from day one, there cannot be a coach who does not love guys like this."

Of the possibility of recalling Gallagher in January, Tuchel said: "I have not thought to bring him back earlier, it is important for him to be happy where he is and for him to stay in the moment.

"It's important to be calm at this stage of his career. I don't think it's necessary to change again in January."

Leaders Chelsea play away to Leicester City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Roberto Mancini is "completely confident" Italy can rediscover their cutting edge and seal a 2022 World Cup spot after a goalless draw with Northern Ireland denied them automatic qualification.

The European champions went into their final Group C match at Windsor Park on Monday top on goal difference ahead of Switzerland.

But Northern Ireland did the Swiss a huge favour, frustrating an Azzurri side that could not find a way past goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Switzerland had no such trouble as they thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 to move ahead of Italy and secure their place in the tournament in Qatar next year.

Italy only hit the target with half of their 12 shots and ought to have been consigned to defeat when Conor Washington spurned a great chance in the closing stages, Leonardo Bonucci clearing off the line to preserve a sixth clean sheet of the campaign. No other European team have conceded fewer than their two goals.

The Azzurri must get through a play-off semi-final and final to avoid missing out on a second consecutive World Cup, but Mancini believes they will get the job done in March.

He said: "Despite controlling matches, we're struggling to score goals at the moment. We needed to score early on tonight. It's a shame because we should have finished things off sooner in this group.

"We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now and remain completely calm until March.

"We should have won against Bulgaria and had two penalties against Switzerland. These are games that could have finished in our favour. I'm completely confident about the play-offs."

Since beating England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, Mancini's side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those victories coming in qualifying.

European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland.

Jorginho's last-gasp penalty miss against Switzerland last time out meant Italy headed into their final Group C game at Windsor Park level on points with the Swiss, ahead only on goal difference.

And while Switzerland managed to beat Bulgaria on Monday, Italy were frustrated by Ian Baraclough's side in Belfast.

A star of the Euro 2020 success, Federico Chiesa went closest to breaking the deadlock for Roberto Mancini's side as Italy – who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – had to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Lorenzo Insigne's sublime pass put Giovanni Di Lorenzo through inside the opening 10 minutes, though from a tight angle, the full-back's effort was caught between a cross and a shot, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell able to parry away.

That set the tone for Italy, who had plenty of possession and territory but lacked a cutting edge. Matters would have been made more difficult early in the second half if not for Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With Insigne having dragged wide from a presentable chance, Northern Ireland almost took the lead at the other end – Donnarumma making a superb stop to deny George Saville.

Peacock-Farrell judged a difficult Domenico Berardi free-kick, though was beaten by Chiesa's curling attempt soon after. Unfortunately for Italy, it sailed the wrong side of the upright.

Despite Mancini throwing on the cavalry, Chiesa's chance was the closest Italy went, and they were fortunate Leonardo Bonucci was on hand to clear Conor Washington's late shot off the line.

The Azzurri now face two play-off games in March to try and qualify for the tournament in Qatar.

 

What does it mean? Back down to Earth

Italy’s Euro 2020 euphoria will have been replaced by a real concern history could be set to repeat itself. Since their penalty shoot-out triumph over England at Wembley, Mancini’s side have won just two of their seven fixtures, with only one of those coming in qualifying.

The Azzurri lost to Sweden in the play-offs for Russia 2018. This time, they will have to win two games to progress (a semi-final and a final). They will go into pot two in the draw, alongside the Czech Republic, Scotland, Sweden, Wales and the runners-up from Groups D, G and I.

Baraclough’s brilliant defence

Northern Ireland boss Baraclough had a tough ask taking over from Michael O'Neill, but he has retained the resilience and spirit within the squad.

They were out of the qualification picture before Monday’s game, but have gone the entire campaign without conceding a goal at home. Indeed, they have now kept a clean sheet in their past five home qualifiers. It should have been an even more jubilant night, but Washington fluffed his lines late on.

Toothless Italy fall short

Italy have not conceded a single goal in any of their past nine away games in all competitions, but it was at the other end they fell short.

While Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 victory, Mancini must find a way to get his attacking talents firing as they did in the Euros. Only against Sweden (eight), have Italy played more away matches without winning than in Northern Ireland - drawing three and losing once in four games.

What's next?

Neither team will be in action until March, with Italy waiting to see who they will face in the play-offs.

Roberto Mancini insisted Italy must not forget what they have achieved recently as his side prepare for a crunch clash with Northern Ireland.

The Euro 2020 winners sit above Switzerland in World Cup qualifying Group C on goal difference alone, with both teams currently on 15 points after a 1-1 draw between the pair on Friday.

With only the team that finishes top progressing, slipping to second place would see Italy condemned to the play-offs as the Azzurri flirt with missing the World Cup for the second time in a row.

However, as Italy prepare for their final game with Northern Ireland – who are in third with eight points – Mancini implored his team to remember what they have achieved so far, having previously embarked on a world-record 37 matches without defeat.

"We mustn’t think negative thoughts," Mancini said at Sunday's pre-match news conference. "We know it’s an important match, we’ll go there aiming to win and know that Northern Ireland are difficult to beat here.

"If we do miss out, then we’ve got the opportunity of a make-up exam in March, but we want to go through tomorrow and that is what we must focus on.

"Nobody believed in us when we started this journey three years ago and we know there have been difficult moments along the way. It’s a delicate match tomorrow, but the lads mustn’t forget everything they have achieved already.

"They mustn’t feel so much anxiety, they have to play with freedom and concentrate on what needs to be done."

Italy, however, are by no means a certainty to cruise past Northern Ireland, given the Azzurri have never won in Belfast.

Indeed, a 2-1 loss in 1958 saw Italy miss out on the World Cup that year and Mancini appreciates the difficult task that awaits his team at Windsor Park.

"I don’t go back that far, but I do know the history," Mancini responded when asked about Italy's previous record in Belfast.

"It’s not an issue of scoring many goals, it’s about playing the game. Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal yet at Windsor Park in this group and there must be a reason for that.

"We have to win and if we score lots of goals that’s even better. We certainly won’t go for high balls into the box, as Northern Ireland are rather tall and that’s their bread and butter.

"We must try to play the ball quickly to feet, what we’ve been doing for the last three years, really.

"All the teams have injuries at the moment, but we remain a strong squad and will aim to get a positive result."

Alessandro Bastoni, Davide Calabria and Cristiano Biraghi have all withdrawn from the Italy squad ahead of their crunch World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland. 

Inter defender Bastoni had been struggling for fitness and will not travel to Belfast for Monday's game, with Calabria experiencing a calf problem on Saturday and Biraghi dropping out for personal reasons.

To bolster his defensive options, with veteran centre-back Giorgio Chiellini having left the camp ahead of Friday's 1-1 draw with Switzerland, Roberto Mancini called up Davide Zappacosta. 

Italy sit top of Group C on goal difference so only need to match Switzerland's result at home to Bulgaria when they take on Northern Ireland in order to clinch top spot. 

A draw would have been enough had Jorginho converted a 90th-minute penalty against Switzerland on Friday, but the Chelsea midfielder missed his third successive spot-kick (including shoot-outs) for the Azzurri. 

Italy have won seven of their 10 matches against Northern Ireland, who have been scoreless in the past six and secured their only victory in a World Cup qualifier back in January 1958.

However, the last meeting between the pair in Northern Ireland was a goalless draw at Windsor Park in October 2010.

Roberto Mancini is "sure" European champions Italy will qualify for the 2022 World Cup following their 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

Top spot in Group C will be decided in the final round of games after Jorginho missed a late penalty for Euro 2020 winners Italy in Rome on Friday.

Italy fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer strike after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

The Azzurri – who failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia three years ago – had a glorious chance to seize control on the road to Qatar 2022, however, Jorginho skied his 90th-minute spot-kick over the crossbar.

Automatic qualification is in the balance, though Italy have a slightly better goal difference, so they only need to match Switzerland's final-game result to finish top of the pool and condemn Murat Yakin's men to the play-offs in March and head coach Mancini remains confident.

"They are sorry, it's normal," Mancini told reporters, with Italy to visit Northern Ireland on Monday as Switzerland host Bulgaria.

"And then a penalty like that in the 90th minute, it's clear that they are sorry but nothing can be done now. We will get to the World Cup, I'm sure."

Italy boss Mancini added: "It's complicated but we are two goals ahead. We have to go there, try to play our game and win and hope that Bulgaria will have a great game.

"We have to play our game and win, this is our task. Right now, we must recover our energy, it was a very tough game. We need to be confident, even when things don't seem to go well, they can change.

"The team always try to do their best, in some moments of the season the players struggle more and the many injuries are a demonstration of this.

"Two goals are two goals; they seem like nothing but they are two goals… and then who says that Bulgaria cannot get a positive result? We are slightly ahead, now we are thinking about winning in Northern Ireland."

Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci has backed Jorginho to remain on penalty duties despite the midfielder's potentially costly miss in Friday's 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

Jorginho fired over the bar from 12 yards in the 90th minute after Ulisses Garcia was adjudged to have nudged over fellow substitute Domenico Berardi inside the box.

The Chelsea man has now missed three penalties in a row for Italy – one against England in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out and two against Switzerland in World Cup 2022 qualifying.

That follows a run of six successful spot-kicks on the spin, and skipper Bonucci is happy for Jorginho to take Italy's next penalty.

"He is our penalty taker and will continue to be," Bonucci told Rai Sport. "Four months ago he scored the decisive penalty against Spain that took us to the Euros final.

"We all make mistakes. Now we must look ahead to our next game if we are to reach the World Cup."

 

Jorginho's miss came after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had cancelled out fellow right-back Silvan Widmer's drive in a gripping first half at Stadio Olimpico.

Italy would have moved three points clear of Switzerland at the top of Group C had Jorginho converted, but instead they remain level on points with their opponents.

Azzurri goalscorer Di Lorenzo joined Bonucci in defending Jorginho's recent record from the spot.

"He may have missed his last three, but he is a great champion and he's our penalty taker," Di Lorenzo told Rai Sport. "We will all support him to get through this moment."

Italy have a slightly superior goal difference to Switzerland, meaning they only have to match Murat Yakin's side's scoreline in the final round of games if they are to qualify automatically for Qatar 2022 and avoid the play-offs.

European champions Italy travel to Northern Ireland on Monday, while Switzerland are at home to Bulgaria in their concluding qualifier.

Despite his side having won just two of their six matches since lifting the European Championship trophy, Roberto Mancini is confident his side can complete the job in Belfast.

"Against Northern Ireland we start with an advantage, and it's not a small one," Mancini said. "If we play well and score the goals we didn't score today...

"It was a difficult game and we were impacted by the goal we conceded. It's a shame that we didn't score in the second half."

Northern Ireland have not conceded in any of their three home qualifiers this campaign, but Gianluigi Donnarumma insisted his side will head to Windsor Park with the mindset of scoring goals.

"It's normal to be angry, but we don't worry too much because in a few days there is another important match," he said. "We need to recharge our energy immediately and we will be ready to have a great match and win.

"We will head into the next game with the right mentality that is needed to win the match and go to the World Cup. Right now we have to think only about winning and about ourselves.

"We will see what happens in the other match in the group afterwards. We have to think about winning and scoring a few goals. Then we will see what happens."

Jorginho missed a late penalty as Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in Friday's eventful contest at Stadio Olimpico, leaving both sides' automatic qualifying hopes for the 2022 World Cup in the balance. 

There was nothing to separate the teams at the top of Group C in terms of points accrued heading into the contest and that is how it remained after a gripping 90 minutes in Rome. 

The Azzurri fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer drive after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

European champions Italy had a glorious chance to win the game in the 90th minute and take control at the summit, but Jorginho skied his spot-kick to set up a tense final round of fixtures. 

Juventus have confirmed captain Giorgio Chiellini has been diagnosed with inflammation of his left Achilles tendon.

Chiellini had to pull out of Italy's crunch World Cup qualifier against Switzerland on Friday and returned to Turin for tests.

Juve are waiting to discover how long the Italy skipper will be out of action.

A club statement said: "The diagnostic tests that Giorgio Chiellini underwent this morning at J-Medical showed inflammation of the muscle tendon junction of the left Achilles tendon. His condition will be monitored daily."

Striker Moise Kean completed the entire session with his Juve team-mates on Thursday after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Defender Mattia De Sciglio continues his rehabilitation from a hamstring problem.

The Bianconeri will be eyeing a third consecutive win in all competitions when they face Lazio a week on Saturday,

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