Northern Ireland vs Italy 0-0: Azzurri Forced to Playoff

The Azzurri‘s poorest showing since Roberto Mancini is in charge costed much to Italy, who failed to break the Northern Ireland wall on Monday night and failed to qualify directly to World Cup 2022.

The game at the Windsor Park in Belfast ended 0-0, while Switzerland triumphantly trampled Bulgaria 4-0 in Luzern to overtake the Azzurri in the last lap and book their ticket to Qatar.

Italy still have a chance to qualify to the World Cup as they will participate in a four-team Playoff round in March 2022. They will be in good company as the likes of Portugal, Netherlands and Sweden also failed to grab the top spot in their groups – but that only risks making things more complicated as they could all be among the Azzurri‘s contenders on the last-minute path to Qatar.

Plus, the incumbent European Champions frankly put together a poor show tonight – one that brought the clock back to the disappointing days of their Qualifiers on the way to Russia 2018, which ended in a shocking elimination at the hands of Sweden.

While full credit must be given to Ian Baraclough’s courageous side, who fought nail and tooth to hold Italy on a goalless draw with a defend-to-the-death approach, Italy failed to pose any significant threat to the Irish goal for the whole second half despite Mancini putting one striker after another into play.

The coach was so furious at full time that he swiftly run into the locker room, refusing to give his traditional post-match remarks to the Italian TV. There is still a chance to qualify and the Azzurri will know the name of their next opponents on November 26.

But tonight, the days of their European triumph suddenly seem so far…


See below The Cult of Calcio’s play-by-play recap of the game:

Full Time: Northern Ireland – Italy 0-0

92′ – Switzerland score their fourth. They totally deserved it. Congratulations to them.

90′ – Three minutes of added time.

89′ – Northern Ireland close to scoring! Washington dribbles past Donnarumma on the counter, but his shot is saved by Bonucci right on the goal line.

88′ – Roberto Mancini is so furious that he runs out of his area to grab the ball and deliver it to his players to accelerate a throw-in. He seems to be the only one still believing.

85′ – A Chiesa cross from the left results in a Belotti header that is deflected in corner by the Irish defense. The subsequent corner kick bears no fruit, however.

81′ – As expected, the Azzurri are exposing themselves to counterattack. Good for them that Stuart Dallas’ shot ends off target.

79′ – Second Azzurri cap for Gianluca Scamacca. The Sassuolo man takes Emerson’s place. Italy are playing with five strikers now but have not had any scoring chance in the last 15 minutes.

78′ – Italy appear nervous and confused. There is no way they can score two goals in these conditions. Gianluca Scamacca is warming up. He may be Mancini’s last card to play…

76′ – Northern Ireland take the luxury of penetrating into the Azzurri’s box from the right flank. Conor Washington’s shot is deflected by Leonardo Bonucci into corner.

75′ – No doubts this time. Switzerland are literally besieging Bulgaria and have finally scored their third goal. As things stand, the Swiss would be ahead of the Azzurri also in terms of goal difference. That means Italy need at least TWO goals.

71′ – Another goal disallowed for Switzerland! This surely is proving to be a thrilling night…

70′ – Northern Ireland have not conceded any single goal at home during these World Cup Qualifiers. That doesn’t seem to have happened by chance as the home side are defending to the death…

68′ – Two more changes for Mancini: Manuel Locatelli replaces Jorginho, while Federico Bernardeschi takes Insigne’s place.

65′ – A shiver runs down the Azzurri‘s spine as Switzerland see their third goal disallowed by the VAR. But still, Italy need to open the scoring…

64′ – It’s Andrea Belotti time! Mancini understood he needs to risk it all and is sending in the Torino striker, who takes Nicolo’ Barella’s place. The Azzurri are thus now playing with a 4-2-3-1 formation.

62′ – Northern Ireland are getting more confident now and have started to press the Azzurri up to the midfield line…

59′ – Second goal for Switzerland! The Swiss are now 2-0 ahead. But with just one goal, Italy would still regain the top spot in the table and the ticket to Qatar. Unless the Swiss score one more…

57′ – Yellow card for Josh Magennis for a tackle on Berardi. From the subsequent free kick, the Sassuolo man goes for a direct shot that causes no concern to the Irish keeper.

52′ – …and now things are taking a bad turn. Switzerland opened the scoring in Luzern and are now ahead of Italy in the Group C table. Italy need to score!

49′ – Northern Ireland’s first chance is the most dangerous of the game so far! Donnarumma had to use his reflexes to push back a tricky George Saville shot. Italy’s defense was caught by surprise as Jamal Lewis received the ball on the left and served his teammate in the middle of the box.

48′ – Another Insigne shot ends wide off target.

46′ – Roberto Mancini makes his first change as Bryan Cristante replaces Sandro Tonali, who was booked in the first half.

The Azzurri were in control for the whole first half but failed to open a breach into the Northern Ireland wall. With Switzerland also being held on a goalless draw by Bulgaria, Italy are still topping Group C of the World Cup 2022 qualifiers. But this is a dangerous game to play…

Italy have been attacking all the way through but the absence of a real center forward was evident and they didn’t have any major scoring chance. Switzerland, on the other hand, collected 12 (!) corner kicks.

Half Time: Northern Ireland vs Italy 0-0

44′ – Switzerland and Bulgaria are still on a 0-0 deadlock, though the Swiss have just squandered a major chance to open the scoring…

42′ – Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to touch the ball.

37′ – Peacock-Farrell saves a shot from Chiesa with his foot but the offside flag was up…

36′ – Italy fail to take advantage of a mistake from the Irish midfield! Domenico Berardi serves Insigne on the counter but the Napoli captain lose the timing and comes up with a weak conclusion.

31′ – Chiesa opens a breach into the Irish defense but his left-foot shot comes out weak and is easily saved.

27′ – Lorenzo Insigne tries his trademark curl shot but the ball is comfortably blocked by goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

25′ – Northern Ireland’s strategy is clear: the Greens don’t have much to ask to this game and are defending with ten men, hoping to snatch a valuable tie against an illustrious opponent.

20′ – The 500 Italian supporters who made it to Belfast try to boost the Azzurri‘s morale by singing their National Anthem Fratelli d’Italia. Their next chant is in honor of Giampiero Galeazzi, a historical, beloved Italian TV commentator who passed away on Saturday.

16′ – Still no news from Luzern, where Switzerland are facing Bulgaria. As things stand, the Azzurri are topping the group and on the right track to book their ticket to Qatar.

13′ – Italy dangerous again from the right chain. Northern Ireland struggled a bit to clear the ball away but somehow managed to defuse the challenge.

7′ –  First chance for Italy! A dangerous Giovanni Di Lorenzo cross from the right is palmed away by the Irish keeper. The Azzurri are showing the right approach to the game.

0′ – Kick-off! The game is on. Italy attacking from right to left wearing a white jersey, while the Northern Irish don their traditional green home kit.

Northern Ireland vs Italy Official Lineups

The official lineups for tonight’s Northern Ireland vs Italy game have been released. There were no last minute surprises, though Roberto Mancini’s formation features a couple of unexpected names that were revealed in the past few days.

In absence of Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti, Mancini will deploy Lorenzo Insigne as falso nueve, supported by Domenico Berardi and Federico Chiesa on the flanks.

In midfield, Sandro Tonali will play his second game as a  starter for Italy.

North Ireland (4-1-4-1): Peacock-Farrell; Cathcart, Flanagan, J. Evans, Lewis; S. Davis; Dallas, McCann, Saville, White; Magennis

Italy (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Acerbi, Emerson; Tonali, Jorginho, Barella; Berardi, Insigne, Chiesa

The Day of Truth for the Azzurri

It is the day of truth for Italy, who face Northern Ireland in Belfast tonight in their last World Cup 2022 Qualifiers game to snatch a ticket to Qatar.

The Azzurri share with Switzerland the top spot in Group C after the two sides ended their direct confrontation last Friday in a 1-1 stalemate.

Italy currently have a better goal difference that Switzerland (+11 vs +9). They need to beat Northern Ireland and hope that the Swiss will not win their game against Bulgaria by two or more goals than the Azzurri do in order to grab the top spot and avoid the Playoff ordeal (last time it didn’t end well for Italy…)

If both Switzerland and Italy tie tonight, Roberto Mancini’s side will go ahead on goal difference.

The stage is set for a thrilling football night and The Cult of Calcio will provide you with live updates from the game in Belfast. So brace yourselves and Forza Azzurri!!!