Italy held by Macedonia 1-1, almost into World Cup playoffs
TURIN, Italy (AP) — Italy all but secured a qualifying playoff spot for next year’s World Cup but it was booed off the pitch after drawing with Macedonia 1-1 on Friday.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini gave Italy the lead shortly before halftime but Macedonia leveled through substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski with 13 minutes remaining.
Italy, which was without Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Andrea Belotti, didn’t have a shot on target after Chiellini’s goal, against a side ranked outside the top 100.
“The second half was disappointing,” Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said. “But we were missing some players and we were tired.
“The jeers at the end were deserved looking at how we played after the break, even if the national team should never be jeered ... we have to help the fans to applaud us, but also the fans have to help us.”
Italy remained second in Group G, five points behind Spain, and can’t be caught heading into the last round of European qualifiers. However, it needs a point against Albania on Monday to ensure it finishes as one of the best eight runners-up from the nine groups.
It could be assured of a playoff berth on Saturday if Bosnia doesn’t beat Belgium.
“Will we go to the World Cup? We’re Italy and we have to be there,” defender Andrea Barzagli said.
“We lacked that conviction and confidence that you always need on the pitch, because that gives you the certainty in your movements.”
Confidence was low after last month’s 3-0 loss in Spain but, despite winning only 3-2 in Skopje last year thanks to a stoppage-time goal, Italy was expected to easily sweep away Macedonia in Turin.
However, the Azzuri struggled to carve out opportunities.
Italy finally broke the deadlock five minutes from halftime from an unlikely source. Lorenzo Insigne sent a ball through to in-form forward Ciro Immobile, who rolled it across the six-yard box for Chiellini to tap in.
Chiellini came to the rescue at the other end moments later with a last-ditch tackle after Leonardo Bonucci gave away possession with a terrible pass.
It was more of the same in the second half with Macedonia content to sit back and wait for an opening.
That came in the 77th minute as Trajkovski, who plays for Italian second-division side Palermo, fired a through ball from Goran Pandev into the far side of the net.