FIFA WCQ: Italy and Portugal drawn in same playoffs bracket
UEFA Euro 2020 champions Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal have been drawn in the same FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying playoffs bracket. Roberto Mancini's Italy will face North Macedonia at home in a playoff semi-final next March. The winner will play away at either Portugal or Turkey for a berth in the World Cup. This means one of Italy or Portugal will miss progression.
Why does this story matter?
A second-place finish for Portugal in Group A of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers (Europe) saw them settle for a playoffs route. Italy also finished second in Group C behind Switzerland to be derived of direct qualification. These two are expected to win their playoff semi-final and face each other in the all important clash. But only one team can make it through.
Italy had failed to qualify for FIFA WC 2018
Four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The Azzurri had missed the tournament for the first time since 1958 after losing in the playoffs to Sweden. Mancini's men, who did exceptionally well to win the Euro 2020 in July, may have to beat Euro 2016 champions Portugal to avoid a second straight failure.
Where did it go wrong for Portugal and Italy?
Portugal ended their qualifying on a poor note. They drew 0-0 against Ireland before being beaten 2-1 by Serbia in their final Group A game. Italy, who claimed the third place in the UEFA Nations League last month, drew their final qualifying game against Switzerland (1-1). Earlier, they had also drawn 0-0 versus Switzerland away in Group C. These results cost them direct qualification.
It's not a great draw, says Italy boss Mancini
Italy boss Mancini reflected on the draw. "It's not a great draw and it could have gone better," the former Manchester City manager acknowledged. "Just like we wanted to avoid Portugal, they would have wanted to avoid Italy," he added. Portugal coach Fernando Santos said, "It's not worth thinking about (Italy). It's important that we concentrate on beating Turkey."
What about the other matchups?
In the 12-team draw, Scotland will take on Ukraine at home. Notably, the winner will play face Wales or Austria away in the final of their bracket. On the other hand, Russia will host Poland and a win will see them face Sweden or the Czech Republic in their bracket final. Russia or Poland will host the final.