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

Zlatan Ibrahimovic acknowledged his shoulder charge on Cesar Azpilicueta was stupid but insisted he would "100 per cent" do it again. 

In the closing stages of Sweden's 1-0 defeat to Spain this month, which meant they would have to go through the play-offs to reach the 2022 World Cup, Ibrahimovic steamed into Azpilicueta and sent him flying to the ground. 

The veteran striker was shown a yellow card that has ruled him out of Sweden's play-off semi-final in March. 

But Ibrahimovic felt it was important for him to stand up for a team-mate and teach the Chelsea defender a lesson. It is not a decision he would change if he had his time again. 

"The other day in the national team, I gave a tackle to [Azpilicueta]. I did it on purpose. I'm not ashamed to say it because he did something stupid to my player. Acting big to my player," Ibrahimovic told The Guardian. 

"It was a stupid thing but I would still do it to make him understand: 'You don’t f****** do that. You don't have balls to do it against me. But I will show you what happens if you do it to me.' That’s why I did it. 

"It's not about missing the play-offs. It's about making the guy understand you don't take the p*** out of somebody laying [on the ground]. You don't attack a dog that doesn't talk. Attack the one able to do something. It's too easy to pick on my team-mates who are 20 years old and very nice guys. I hope he understands now. 

"I'm not afraid to say it to you. I did a stupid thing. [But] I will do it again. 100 per cent. 

"That is what I say about being 'perfect'. Being myself is perfect for me. I don't need filters to ask them what kind of questions you will give me." 

Asked if Azpilicueta had said anything to him after the game, Ibrahimovic replied: "What can he say? He will not say it to me but he will say it to my player – who will do nothing because he's too nice. 

"It was not a good thing by me, but I would still do it. That's me. I'm not ashamed to say it." 

Luis Enrique said Spain's automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has "taken a big weight" off his shoulders.

Alvaro Morata's late goal helped Spain clinch a 1-0 win over Sweden in Seville on Sunday and secured top spot in Group B of European qualifying.

Sweden will go into a play-off next March to reach the tournament while Spain can begin preparations for their 12th consecutive World Cup finals.

Only Brazil (all 21), Germany (18) and Argentina (13) have qualified for more consecutive tournaments than Spain, who have reached every finals since 1978.

"Today has been a very beautiful day. We have suffered a lot, but the players have had faith and have taken their deserved prize," Spain head coach Luis Enrique told a media conference.

"It is an excellent group of players. Not only the 25 who are here but all those who have been coming. 

"We are already in the World Cup and to be honest I have taken a big weight off my shoulders.

"I have felt much more pressure in these last games than in the European Championships or in the Nations League. 

"When you have to achieve something that seems easy or you have to do it because of history, you put pressure on yourself.

"We have worked on the psychological aspect and we have transmitted to the players the necessary confidence. We have generated enough to win the game."

Morata has played 50 games for Spain in all competitions since his debut in November 2014 against Belarus and since then he has netted 23 goals for La Roja.

His winner against Sweden after coming on as a substitute means he has 10 more goals than any of his compatriots during that time and Luis Enrique hailed his impact for La Roja.

He said: "There is not a player that represents more than Morata overcoming adversity and criticism. 

"Morata is always available to help. He is a very versatile player."

Morata acknowledged it is unthinkable for Spain, who won the World Cup in 2010, to not qualify for the tournament.

"Spain has to be in all the World Cups," Morata told RTVE.

"We have worked a lot to achieve the goal.  We have also had bad times together, now every time there are more nerves and more emotion.

"I needed to qualify for the World Cup and win, we are a great group and we deserve to be in the World Cup and we will be there."

Spain qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after a tense 1-0 victory over Sweden that was secured by Alvaro Morata's late winner.

Sweden needed to win in Seville on Sunday to top Group B but will go into the play-offs instead after Luis Enrique's home side saw out a nervy final match of their qualifying campaign to clinch the automatic spot.

Emil Forsberg had two clear-cut goalscoring opportunities for Sweden at the Estadio La Cartuja but was unable to test Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

Morata gave Spain victory with a close-range strike on the rebound with four minutes of the game left after Dani Olmo had seen his effort hit the crossbar.

Luis Enrique wants the home crowd to be the difference for Spain against Sweden in their final qualifier for the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

La Roja moved top of Group B after beating Greece 1-0 on Thursday, taking advantage of Sweden's shock 2-0 defeat in Georgia.

A first-half penalty from Pablo Sarabia was enough to secure victory for Spain in Athens and meant they now have their fate in their own hands, needing just a point to secure qualification for Qatar 2022.

Speaking before the crucial game in Seville, Luis Enrique said: "It is very important to focus on the difficulties we can expect, which will be many. They defend very well. I hope that [the fans] will help us in the delicate moments.

"This will not be a party until the game is over. Our job is to close with a victory, but they are a rival and that will not be easy."

Spain and Sweden drew 0-0 in the group stages of Euro 2020 earlier this year, while the Swedes won the reverse game in World Cup qualifying 2-1 in September, and Luis Enrique was asked if he intends to change his approach this time.

"I am not going to change anything beyond nuances. Sweden defends very well and at the top they have fast people, which causes problems against you. 

"In the European Championship we were better, and I don't think we deserved the defeat in Stockholm. But football does not know about merits or justice, it only knows about results. That is why we need the public because with them, we are stronger and they are weaker."

The Spain head coach was also asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and whether he would prefer to see the legendary striker on the pitch on Sunday.

"That's your problem, that of Sweden and its coach, not mine. I have never met Ibra. I don't know him," Luis Enrique added.

"The truth is that with Ibra the direct game improves, but that is only part of the attack. Ibra boosts Sweden's long game, but we'll see if he comes out when they give his line-up. If he plays we will try to deactivate him, but 100 per cent it will be impossible."

Luis Enrique insisted Spain will be going for the win against Sweden on Sunday even though a draw would be sufficient for his team to win Group B and qualify for next year's World Cup in Qatar.

Spain moved top of the group after beating Greece 1-0 in Athens, taking advantage of Sweden surprisingly losing 2-0 in Georgia earlier on Thursday.

A first-half penalty from Pablo Sarabia was enough to secure victory for La Roja and means Spain now have their fate in their own hands, but Luis Enrique said they will still go for the three points when they host Sweden in Seville in their final group game.

"On Sunday we will go out to win as we do every game against a very difficult opponent, but one that we know very well," Spain head coach Luis Enrique told reporters.

"I hope that the fans will be the 12th player for us."

Luis Enrique was happy with how his team played in Greece and said that he saw improvements from the home side from their first meeting in the group, despite the fact that the reverse game in March finished 1-1.

"Greece has improved a lot since the first game we played in Spain," he added. "Thanks to the attitude and effort of my players, we have taken the game forward against a very hard-working team.

"I think we could have played better. We had a first part of control in which we neutralised their attack.

"I was happy with the attitude of the team. They have not been gripped, which in these games is not easy.

"The players have done a great job, they have overcome difficulties and are ambitious.

"We have a positive dynamic. There are always things to improve, but that we receive support is due to the effort of the team."

Luis Enrique allayed fears about Gavi after the teenage midfielder came off in the second half with what appeared to be a facial injury, saying that he is "fine". The Barcelona starlet was impressive once again, completing 100 per cent of his 43 passes, including 32 in the opposition half.

Spain's game against Sweden will be played at Estadio La Cartuja in Seville, and Luis Enrique emphasised again he wants the fans to roar his team over the line on Sunday.

"In my time as a player we qualified for a World Cup against Denmark in Seville. I don't remember a similar game in my career in which the fans carried us like that day," he said, recalling the qualifier for the 1994 World Cup against Denmark, which Spain won 1-0.

"La Cartuja has to bounce."

Spain boss Luis Enrique insisted no amount of pressure could affect him ahead of his side's key World Cup qualifier against Greece.

The 2010 world champions are in action in Athens on Friday, with an automatic place at Qatar 2022 potentially on the line.

Should Sweden defeat Georgia in the earlier Group B match, Spain will be unable to catch them in top spot if they do not take all three points against Greece.

John van't Schip's side could still clinch a top-two finish if they beat La Roja, whom they held to a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in March.

Yet Luis Enrique does not believe the fear of missing out on a guaranteed place at next year's finals will disrupt their preparation. 

"Luis Enrique was born with pressure," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I've been dealing with pressure since I was 18 years old and I feel comfortable.

"After seeing how the team is training, I can only convey the confidence they give me.

"We've had pressure for every game. I haven't looked for an example in any other game.

"Greece are a really well organised team, that's the truth. In the reverse game we created few chances, fewer than we wanted. They play well and that's why we have to be good in pressing.

"I'll sign now for a game in which we keep the opposition trapped in their box."

For Spain, the game has been compared to their Euro 2020 group match against Slovakia, when a 5-0 win sent them through to the knockouts behind Sweden after they drew their opening two games.

If they win, they will head into their final game against Sweden knowing that finishing top of their group is still in their own hands.

"It's only one game," said Luis Enrique. "We're not going to make the mistake of thinking it's Sweden. We'll think about Greece – nothing else exists.

"Spain are obliged to try to win every game. The obligation is to win every game and to do it with our weapons. There's always pressure to win.

"I'm really lucky, because after seeing the two training sessions at Las Rozas, I'm more than optimistic. The belief, the rhythm, the quality they have... I feel more than confident and calm when preparing and evaluating this game.

"I'm very fortunate to be the coach of a country that has at least 60 players of international standard, at least for me."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not thinking about retiring from professional football despite needing a physio to watch his every step.

Since returning to Milan in January 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 30 goals and supplied nine assists in 54 games in all competitions. 

However, the striker has struggled with injuries and featured in only half of the Rossoneri's Serie A games in 2020-21, while he was forced to pull out of Euro 2020 duty with Sweden. 

Still, he became the fourth-oldest scorer in Serie A history this season when he struck against Bologna last month and took his domestic league tally to 400 versus Roma a week later.

Ibrahimovic acknowledged he has had to learn to listen to his body more and seek treatment as quickly as he can, though it has not made him think about hanging up his boots. 

"Last season I had more injuries than I usually have and have had before. But it's because I didn't think about taking it easy when I felt something, I just powered on. I have that mentality. I give 200 per cent," said Ibrahimovic. 

"After I turned 30, I noticed the pain does not go away, it just moves within the body. 

"What I have changed is that now I have a physio that follows me everywhere in Italy 24 hours a day. At the very least, he is right there poking. 

"That's the only change I made. As soon as I feel something, I want to take care of it immediately." 

He added: "We always want to play, but I have to find the right balance considering the injuries I've had. 

"You learn something new every day. I get to know by body better with every day that passes. But as my body ages, my head becomes younger and I look more handsome. 

"I haven't set a date to quit. I want to continue as long as possible and not think about when it will end. I don't want to be sad, like someone who quits thinking he could've played again." 

Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016 but has since returned to the fold, making his comeback for Sweden in March. 

An Achilles injury forced him to withdraw from the squad in the previous international break, but Sweden boss Janne Andersson has been impressed by his recovery. 

If Sweden beat Georgia on Thursday, they will go into their final World Cup qualifier against Spain three days later knowing a point will be enough for them to top Group B and book their place in Qatar – assuming La Roja beat Greece beforehand.

Andersson refused to confirm whether Ibrahimovic was ready to play in both games, though. 

"If we're talking about Zlatan and his physique, he has looked surprisingly good. Last night [the Milan derby] I think he looked fit – the matches before that too," said Andersson. 

"A few weeks ago he looked a bit rusty but he has looked great since, so we will see how much I will play him." 

Jamaica winger Blair Turgott scored a hat-trick on Sunday to lead Ostersund FK to a 3-1 victory over IF Elfsborg in Sweden’s Allsvenskan.

Luis Enrique remains optimistic that Spain will book their place at next year's World Cup, but is now focused on progressing via the play-offs rather than topping their qualifying group.

La Roja's hopes of topping Group B were dented by a 2-1 defeat to Sweden on Thursday, leaving them two points behind the leaders and having played an extra game.

It was the first time Spain had lost a World Cup qualifying match since a 1-0 reverse by Denmark in 1993, ending a 66-game unbeaten streak.

At the midway point in the campaign, Luis Enrique believes that topping the group is out of his side's hands and has turned his focus to securing second place and a play-off berth.

Addressing the media ahead of Sunday's meeting with Georgia, the head coach said: "Football is a game of mistakes; individual and collective. 

"There is no single cause as to why we lost the [Sweden] game. It's the sum of everything.

 

"It's no longer up to us. But it's up to us to win our own and be in the play-offs, win it and be in the World Cup. 

"There are two sides. You can always improve, but I try to see the bottle half-full."

Luis Enrique also backed defender Eric Garcia, who came under scrutiny following his performance against Sweden.

"I disagree with the criticism," he said of the Barcelona defender.

"He suffered in the transitions, but also [Aymeric] Laporte, because of the conditions of the Swedes. I'm delighted with their performance."

Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Spain suffered their first defeat in 90 minutes since October 2020 as Sweden came from behind to emerge 2-1 victors at the Friends Arena and take control of Group B in World Cup qualifying. 

The two sides drew 0-0 during Euro 2020 but in front of a vibrant home support, Sweden were far more of a threat going forward this time, with star duo Dejan Kulusevski and Alexander Isak playing decisive roles. 

Isak got the swift equaliser after Carlos Soler netted a debut goal early on in a largely enjoyable but undramatic first half. 

The second period was considerably more exhilarating, and it was fine work by Kulusevski that created Viktor Claesson's winner, which leaves Sweden top of the group with nine points, two clear of Spain who have also played a game more. 

Soler's international career was less than four minutes old when he turned in Jordi Alba's pinpoint delivery at the end of a flowing move, but their lead lasted only 63 seconds. 

An error by Soler in the Spain midfield allowed Isak to seize possession and he clinically found the bottom-right corner from 20 yards. 

Spain predictably dominated possession but did not create any other clear-cut chances before the break, while at the other end they needed Unai Simon alert as he blocked Kulusevski's effort from a tight angle in the 36th minute. 

Sweden had a lucky escape just after the restart, Robin Olsen saving from point-blank range when Filip Helander diverted a Cesar Azpilicueta cross towards his own goal. 

They soon made the most of that let-off by going 2-1 up. 

Kulusevski beat Eric Garcia on the left and pulled a wonderful pass back to the centre of the box for Claesson, whose disguised finish found the bottom-left corner. 

Spain piled the pressure on in the final stages, substitute Adama Traore particularly lively on the right, but ultimately Sweden held on for a deserved victory. 

Stephanie Labbe was the penalty shoot-out hero as Canada took gold in their maiden Olympic final appearance following a 1-1 draw with Sweden.

Stina Blackstenius' first-half opener had the Scandinavians ahead but Jessie Fleming restored parity with a spot-kick after half-time when VAR intervened for a foul on Christine Sinclair.

Kadeisha Buchanan proved Canada's last-ditch hero with a clearance off the line to take the game to extra-time before Labbe's two saves secured a 3-2 triumph in the shoot-out.

Kosovare Asllani did the initial work for Sweden's opener, dispossessing Canada midfielder Quinn before rolling to Blackstenius, whose first-time attempt benefited from a slight deflection to find the back of the net.

Sinclair, whose 187 goals for Canada make her the all-time leading goalscorer in international football, nipped in front of Amanda Ilestedt and, after consulting VAR, Fleming levelled things up with a low spot-kick.

Asllani spurned a glorious opportunity to seal gold with a minute to go as she saw her effort cleared off the line by Buchanan, sending the final to extra-time and subsequently penalties with neither side finding a winner in the additional 30 minutes.

Sweden failed with their opening penalty, Asllani hammering into the right-hand post, before Fleming coolly slotted in Canada's first to gain an early advantage.

That lead quickly faded away, however, when Ashley Lawrence saw her effort saved and both Nathalie Bjorn and Olivia Schough converted for the Swedes.

Swedish veteran Caroline Seger had the chance to secure glory with the decisive strike, despite Labbe's save against Anna Anvegard, but she blasted over, sending the shoot-out to sudden death after Deanne Rose found the top right corner.

Labbe produced another stop from Jonna Andersson, teeing up Julia Gross for victory and she made no mistake, finding the bottom left corner to seal gold after consecutive bronzes in 2012 and 2016.

In the men's football, Mexico recovered from semi-final shoot-out heartbreak against Brazil to beat Japan 3-1 in Friday's bronze-medal match.

Sebastian Cordova netted the opener and provided the second for Johan Vasquez before Alexis Vega put the game out of the host nation's reach, despite Kaoru Mitoma grabbing a late consolation.

Sweden have reached the women's football final at the Olympics for the second successive time after beating Australia 1-0 through Fridolina Rolfo's solitary second-half strike.

Peter Gerhardsson's side, seeking to go one better than Rio 2016 when losing to Germany in the final, will face the United States' conquerors Canada in Friday's gold medal match.

USA, who had won 36 games in a row against Canada prior to their surprise 1-0 loss earlier on Monday, will now take on Australia for the bronze medal.

Rolfo was on target twice when Sweden ran out 4-2 winners against Australia in the group stage and went closest to scoring in the first half of this semi-final showdown.

The Barcelona star thumped a shot against the crossbar from the edge of the box, though she did not have to wait much longer to find a breakthrough.

A heavily deflected shot from range bounced awkwardly off the wet surface and a backpedalling Teagan Micah parried it onto the crossbar, with the ball looping back into play.

Stina Blackstenius helped the loose ball to Rolfo and the forward hooked a first-time shot away from Micah from four yards to score what proved to be the match-winning goal.

Australia enjoyed spells on top but a 96th-minute red card shown to Ellie Carpenter for dragging down Lina Hurtig signalled the end of the Matildas' hopes of reaching a first final.

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