This afternoon, on a soccer pitch in Palermo, Italy, the nationwide soccer workforce for Italy, the Azzurri, misplaced 1-0 to North Macedonia in a playoff match for one of many final three European slots for the 2022 World Cup.
Time was, the qualification for UEFA was comparatively easy. The eligible nationwide groups have been cut up up into eight teams. Win your group, you’re within the World Cup. Should you completed second, you performed a two-legged tie in opposition to one other second-place workforce to get a berth.
However on this COVID-addled qualification circus, the trail to the World Cup modified dramatically. There have been 10 swimming pools, and people groups made it in routinely. The ten second-place groups joined up with the 2 highest-ranked groups from the Nations League and cut up into four-team single-elimination brackets.
Italy was positioned with Portugal, Turkey, and North Macedonia into an extremely troublesome bracket. Turkey, keep in mind, was a Last 4 workforce on the 2002 World Cup, Italy is the present UEFA champion, and Portugal gained the UEFA title in 2016.
North Macedonia, a federation which was solely organized and FIFA-licensed in 1994 after the nation of Yugoslavia ceased to exist, was an absolute afterthought.
That’s, till this afternoon when a Macedonia ahead named Aleksandar Trajkovski instantly turned himself right into a nationwide hero along with his long-range smash within the 92nd minute of play.
The win despatched North Macedonia into the Path C playoff closing in opposition to Portugal later this 12 months.
Whereas few of us could ever keep in mind precisely who gained Path C, the one headline from the sport is the truth that Italy, a workforce with not solely 4 World Cups in its historical past however the present UEFA trophy, has didn’t qualify for its second consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Many within the Italian tabloid media can be scathing of their contempt of the teaching and the nationwide soccer federation. However I feel the world of soccer is coming to some extent the place groups aside from the so-called “blue blood” groups are repeatedly arising with super world-beating performances.
Consider this: the final FIFA World Cup was contested with out Italy, Holland, Chile, Ghana, and america. All 5 have had some kind of worldwide success the final 20 years, however every workforce laid an egg when the video games have been crucial.
That sample might wind up taking place once more to some necessary groups for this qualification cycle. Portugal, Wales, and Sweden — three groups with famous person gamers of their lineups — are simply 90 minutes from being eradicated within the UEFA cycle. They usually’re the fortunate ones: Hungary, Iceland, and Greece, three groups which have had historic success in world tournaments, didn’t even qualify for the UEFA playoffs.
Elsewhere, Australia, a workforce which gained the 2015 Asian Cup, must win a playoff sport in opposition to the United Arab Emirates so as to get right into a last-chance playoff in opposition to the fifth-place workforce from South America. And in that CONMEBOL qualifying marathon, Colombia (a workforce which was seen as a Last 4 contender at USA 1994) and Chile (winners of consecutive Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016) are additionally on the skin wanting in.
I assume the occasions in world soccer the final couple of World Cup cycles have upset the notion of who’s a contender and who shouldn’t be.