Italy stumbles into playoffs again in World Cup qualifying

Nov 15, 2021, 12:52 AM | Updated: 3:38 pm
Emerson of Italy reacts during the World Cup 2022 group C qualifying soccer match between Northern ...

Emerson of Italy reacts during the World Cup 2022 group C qualifying soccer match between Northern Ireland and Italy at Windsor Park stadium in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Italy is facing another detour to get to a World Cup final.

The playoffs beckon for the Azzurri — just like four years ago — after stumbling to 0-0 at Northern Ireland on Monday, plunging the recently crowned European champion to a second-place finish behind Switzerland in their qualifying group.

Switzerland leapfrogged Italy with a 4-0 win over Bulgaria.

Italy’s soccer-mad fans might be starting to fear the worst. After all, their country also failed to secure automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup and wound up losing to Sweden in a two-leg playoff, one of the darkest moments in Italy’s soccer history.

This time, the Italians will need to get through two one-leg matchups to advance in a newly devised playoff system. The draw takes place on Nov. 26 and Italy will be at home for its first match because it will be a seeded team.

England, like Switzerland, is heading straight to Qatar.

On the next-to-last night of group play in Europe, England romped to its biggest competitive win — 10-0 over the part-timers of San Marino — to finish top of its group with more goals (39) than any other team in qualifying.

Harry Kane enjoyed himself, in particular, with four goals — all in the first half — to move to 48 for England, five off Wayne Rooney’s national record.

Scotland will be seeded, like Italy, in the playoffs after a 2-0 victory over Group F winner Denmark, whose perfect record in qualifying came to an end.

Poland finished second in England’s group and closed with a 2-1 loss at home to Hungary, and will likely be away in its first match in the playoffs.


Italy and Switzerland went into their final qualifiers on 15 points each in Group C but with the Azzurri having a superior goal difference, the first tiebreaker if they ended tied on points.

That didn’t come into play because while Switzerland swept to an easy win over already-eliminated Bulgaria thanks to goals by Noah Okafor, Ruben Vargas, Cedric Itten and Remo Freuler, Italy became the latest big team to struggle in an intense atmosphere at Windsor Park.

Without injured striker Ciro Immobile and other regular starters, the Italians struggled to carve out opportunities despite dominating possession.

As Switzerland piled up the goals in Lucerne, Italy’s task became even harder and Roberto Mancini’s team nearly lost when Conor Washington’s late effort was cleared off the line.

Mancini has sparked a revival for the Azzurri, culminating in winning Euro 2020 in July, but they could miss out again on soccer’s premier tournament for the second straight time.

“We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now,” Mancini said, “and remain completely calm until March.”


Not since 1964 and a 10-0 win over the United States have the English reached double figures in goals in a match. They’d never done so in a competitive match before Monday.

Harry Maguire, Emile Smith Rowe, Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham and Bukayo Saka joined Kane in scoring for England, while there was also an own-goal by San Marino, the world’s lowest-ranked team — a lineup filled with non-professionals who were using annual leave from their day jobs to play in the qualifier.

Getting near England’s record win, 13-0 over Ireland in 1882, looked on when Saka made it 10-0 in the 79th, by which time the beleaguered hosts were down to 10 men. But there were no more goals.

England finished on 26 points, six clear of Poland.


Scotland is one of four teams sure of being seeded — and therefore playing at home — in the playoff semifinals, along with Portugal, Italy and Russia.

Sweden also looks good for a home match, while Wales will get one, too, with a win over already-qualified Belgium on Tuesday when the group stage of European qualifying is wrapped up.

Denmark dropped points for the first time in qualifying after goals by John Souttar and Che Adams secured a sixth straight competitive victory for Scotland for the first time since 1930.

Also in Group F, Israel finished third after beating the Faeroe Islands 3-2 and Austria beat Moldova 4-1.


More AP soccer: and


Steve Douglas is at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Braylon Sheffield, 14, of Fort Myers, Fla., shows one of the balls given to him by New York Yankees...
Associated Press

Teen from hurricane-hit Florida catches HR, meets Yankees

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — A mother-son trip to a major league game for a Florida family in need of diversion after their home was hit by Hurricane Ian turned into much more on Tuesday afternoon. Samantha Sheffield and 14-year-old son Braylon were in town from storm-ravaged Fort Myers, sitting in the lower deck in left […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Washington Spirit players celebrate after defeating Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL Championsh...
Associated Press

US players ‘horrified’ by report of abuse in women’s soccer

As the United States was preparing for its game Friday against England at Wembley Stadium, players were trying to process an investigation that found emotional abuse and sexual misconduct are systemic in women’s soccer. “We are horrified and heartbroken and frustrated and exhausted and really, really angry,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn. Former acting U.S. Attorney […]
17 hours ago
Fans eat and watch the big screen before the NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in T...
Associated Press

Bowman and Ware to miss Charlotte race with injuries

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Alex Bowman and Cody Shane Ware will miss this weekend’s NASCAR race because of injuries suffered driving the new Next Gen car. Bowman will miss a second consecutive race with a concussion. Ware said he’s skipping Sunday’s race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway because his broken right foot can’t […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Viewers flock to Weather Channel for Hurricane Ian coverage

NEW YORK (AP) — The Weather Channel reached its biggest audience in five years last week when Hurricane Ian made its destructive landfall in western Florida. The average audience of 3.4 million people last Wednesday was more than any other day for the network since Hurricane Harvey deluged Texas with record amounts of rainfall in […]
17 hours ago
Grounds crew members place a tarp over the infield at Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a rain del...
Associated Press

Blue Jays-Orioles game rained out, doubleheader on Wednesday

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays were rained out Tuesday night and are scheduled to play a doubleheader Wednesday to end the regular season. There is little significance to these last two games. The Blue Jays have clinched the top wild card in the American League, and the Orioles are assured […]
17 hours ago
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge ducks down while leading off from third base during eighth inning in ...
Associated Press

Judge shows frustration, still 61 homers with 2 games left

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Aaron Judge slammed his helmet in a rare show of frustration. The New York Yankees slugger is running out of time to hit his 62nd homer. Judge’s homerless streak extended to five games since matching Roger Maris’ 61 for the American League record, with No. 99 not coming close to clearing […]
17 hours ago
Italy stumbles into playoffs again in World Cup qualifying