Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini came on as a substitute in the closing minutes as Italy chased the elusive goal
Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini said his team-mates were “devastated and devastated” after losing to North Macedonia and failing to reach the 2022 World Cup.
The European champions will miss their second consecutive World Cup after also failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
Aleksandar Trajkovski fired an injury-time winner, prompting contrasting scenes of celebration and devastation in Palermo.
“A big gap will remain in us,” said Juventus defender Chiellini.
“We didn’t concede anything tonight apart from the goal. We created a lot of chances but unfortunately we didn’t score. The disappointment is huge. From September until today we made mistakes and paid for them.”
“I’m proud of a team that gave their all. It is clear that we are devastated and devastated. We hope this gap gives us the impetus to start anew.”
From Mancini’s “Greatest Joy to Greatest Disappointment”
Italy boss Roberto Mancini led his nation to European glory by beating England in the final of Euro 2020 in July, a career highlight for a manager whose side were considered underdogs prior to this tournament.
But the Azzurri finished second in their qualifying group after a disjointed season behind Switzerland and the play-off defeat by North Macedonia now means the European champions will have at least 12 years between appearances at football’s flagship event.
“This summer I had my greatest joy and today is my greatest disappointment,” said Mancini. “It’s difficult to speak.
“I’m really sorry for the players. It’s a team that played very well and deservedly won the Euros last summer. I’m really sorry that they can’t go to the World Cup for the second time.”
“This is football. If you lose, you have to suffer and be silent, there’s nothing to do.
“It’s difficult to comment on a game where we’ve had maybe 40 shots on target [32 times] without a goal and suffered a goal in the 92nd minute. That’s the way it is.
“The players have a great future, they are strong and they have a future with the national team. It’s a difficult moment and that will be in the next few days. It’s the law of football.”
When asked about his own future, Mancini added: “Now it’s too early to talk about the future. We still have to digest this defeat.
“On a human level I can say I love these guys more tonight than I did after the July triumph. The disappointment is huge.”
Italy’s Chelsea midfielder Jorginho took some responsibility for the result, saying: “It’s a big disappointment. It hurts so bad. I think we played well because we controlled and dominated the game but we couldn’t finish it, don’t blame anyone but it’s the reality.
“In the last few games we couldn’t finish and we made some small mistakes that made the difference because the opponent found the goal with just a few tries. It’s difficult because we have to look at reality. We couldn’t finish the work – I’m also involved and it hurts.”
Italy midfielder Marco Verratti added: “It’s difficult to understand what happened because it’s a huge disappointment. Their stoppage-time goal was a real nightmare. This group had a great chance at the World Cup, so it’s hard to accept what happened tonight. We all know we gave it our all, now it’s probably time to ask ourselves some questions.”
The result means Italy, who just lost their remarkable 37-game unbeaten streak in October, are only the fourth team, after Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Greece, to win the European Championship and then fail to qualify for the next World Cup.
Analysis – ‘Italy had a nightmare in qualifying’
Italian football journalist Mina Rzouki on BBC Radio 5 Live
It’s incredible when you see this team that won the Euros with that new style of football and fresh young players on the pitch – and now they had a nightmare in qualifying.
Twenty-seven shots against Bulgaria, they missed penalties in both games against Switzerland and 32 shots to four against North Macedonia. This is a team making 1,001 shots but lacking a number nine worthy of their game.
Italy were a compact side, known for always being in the game and having a certain pride, but today we saw a young side that didn’t seem to make it through the game. Lorenzo Insigne is a great player but when it came down to it he wasn’t there. It wasn’t Ciro Immobile who thought about every step.
‘We know our strengths’North Macedonia meet Portugal in the play-off final on Tuesday
For North Macedonia, the unbelievable prospect of reaching a second consecutive tournament is now just 90 minutes away.
They qualified for Euro 2020 via the Nations League and if they can improve their chances again on Tuesday against Portugal they can look forward to a first World Cup appearance.
And while Italy dominated, the home side rarely bothered keeper Stole Dimitrievski as the home side only had five shots on target.
“I’m very happy for [Aleksandar] Trajkovski with his goal,” said coach Blagoja Milevski. “The game was so prepared, we know Italy are a great team with multiple champions, but we played as we should.
“We know our strengths. Before the game I told the lads to have fun and they did.”
That sentiment was shared by captain Stefan Ristovski, who said he was still “in shock”.
“I’m delighted with the win and I expect a great welcome on my return to North Macedonia,” he said.
“Can we beat Portugal? Yes, we will win. We will do everything to win and we will do it.”
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