North Macedonia shocked the footballing world after knocking out the European Champions Italy out of this years FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The Azzurri were beaten 1-0 following a last-gasp goal by Aleksandar Trajkovski in their playoff semifinal. The forward picked up a loose ball in the 92nd minute, drove forward and fired a sensational winner from outside the area past a diving Gianluigi Donnarumma.
The goal sparked wild celebrations by the North Macedonia bench, while Italy’s players and coaching staff sunk to their knees in front of their home fans. It means Italy have failed to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup, ensuring the Azzurri will endure at least 12 years between appearances at football’s showpiece event.
As expected Italy dominated possession but failed to penetrate the resolute North Macedonia defense. Their 32 shots on goal compared to just four for its opponent failed to break the deadlock until Trajkovski’s effort from outside the area.
It was North Macedonia’s only real opportunity after Italy missed a number of chances and had several others saved by visiting goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski.
Mancini’s side started brightly and Marco Verratti kept them ticking, but they struggled to translate their possession into clear-cut chances. North Macedonia came to Italy with a defensive game-plan and they threw everything in the way of the ball.
North Macedonia had just 34% possession and four shots over 90 minutes, but they took their opportunity against the run of play. As a goal kick bounced up inside the Italian half, Trajkovski, who used to play for Palermo, chested the ball away from two blue shirts and set off towards Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goal.
The Paris St-Germain keeper had virtually nothing to do for 90 minutes, but he was too slow to react to Trajkovski’s fizzing effort as it nestled into the bottom corner.
The visitors, ranked 67th in the world, will face off against Portugal for a spot in Qatar World Cup, who beat Turkey 3-1.
Just like five years ago, at the final whistle the Italy players fell to the ground in disbelief and disappointment — with several of them in tears — as the opposition celebrated wildly.
Italy also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Sweden in a two-legged playoff the previous November. Missing two straight World Cups is an unprecedented low point for the four-time champion, especially just months after winning Euro 2020 over England.