Attention now turned to their world cup qualifying group. Lithuania and Bulgaria seemed easy enough and despite Northern Ireland and Switzerland proving to be awkward opponents over the years, Italy should have enough, especially after winning their first three games.
Come the 5th of September, Italy started to feel a little bit of pressure. A shocking 1-1 draw at home to Bulgaria was followed by a stalemate in Basel, where Jorginho missed a penalty.
The Swiss were suddenly back into the game and heading into the final round of qualifiers, the two were level on points with two games to go. A grudge match at the Stadio Olimpico, which ended in a 1-1 draw, meant Italy had to match Switzerland’s result against Bulgaria to book their ticket for Qatar.
Northern Ireland, a team that was playing for pride at this point, proved their great defensive credibilities and halted the Italian charge at Windsor Park. Switzerland’s thrashing of Bulgaria by a 4-0 scoreline meant that for the second successive campaign, Italy would have to face a play-off.
Sweden proved to be too much for Italy back in 2018 but the Tifosi felt more assured of making it to the World Cup, with North Macedonia and then most likely Portugal in their way.
It would prove to be one of the darkest nights in Italian football. North Macedonia faced 32 shots in Palermo, but only four were on target. With the game going past the 90-minute mark and extra time looming, the unthinkable happened. A strike by Aleksandar Trajkovski travvelled past Gianluigi Donnarumma into the bottom left corner.
Mancini was stunned. Giorgio Chiellini was stunned. A country was stunned. The European Champions would not be at the World Cup. The first question to ask was who was to blame for this catastrophe?
Reaction after the game from their former Manchester City manager showed how hurt he was, stating the defeat to be “the biggest disappointment” he had experienced in football.