Defending European champions Italy could now miss the upcoming European Championship after failing to qualify for the last two World Cups after yet another lacklustre performance. Playing under coach Luciano Spalletti for the first time, they were held to a 1-1 draw against North Macedonia in a qualifying match.
While this result marked an improvement compared to last year’s loss to North Macedonia in Palermo, which led to Italy’s elimination from the World Cup qualifying playoffs, it was well below expectations. North Macedonia is ranked 68th by FIFA, making Italy’s performance anything but stellar.
Spalletti, who took over the team at the beginning of the month after Roberto Mancini’s resignation and subsequent appointment as Saudi Arabia’s coach, had limited time to prepare with the squad. Italy have won only one of their three qualifiers, that too, against last-place Malta.
In Group C, Italy currently sits in third place, with England leading with 13 points and Ukraine following with nine. Italy and North Macedonia both have four points, while Malta trails with zero points. The top two teams in each group qualify, with three more teams advancing from playoffs.
Spalletti is known for his attacking style, which earned him recognition throughout Europe when he led Napoli to the Serie A title last season. However, the team’s performance in Skopje was limited in demonstrating that flair due to the poor condition of the pitch.
Italy’s Ciro Immobile, in his first match as captain, scored with a header to put Italy ahead shortly after halftime, but Enis Bardhi equalised for North Macedonia with a free kick in the 81st minute.
In other matches, Ukraine ended England’s perfect start to qualifying with a 1-1 draw, with Oleksandr Zinchenko scoring for the former and Kyle Walker levelling for the latter. Ukraine are playing their home games in Poland due to the war with Russia.
In Group F, Belgium won 1-0 at Azerbaijan with Yannick Carrasco scoring the only goal, while Sweden routed Estonia 5-0. Belgium and Austria lead the group with 10 points, Sweden have six, and Estonia and Azerbaijan have one point each.
In Group I, Switzerland remained at the top despite conceding a last-minute equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Kosovo. Vedat Muriqi scored a brace for Kosovo. Remo Freuler opened the scoring for Switzerland, which also benefited from an own goal by Kosovo defender Amir Rrahmani. Romania and Israel drew 1-1, and Andorra held Belarus to a goalless draw. Switzerland lead the group with 11 points, followed by Romania (9), Israel (8), Belarus (4), Kosovo (4), and Andorra (2).