Italy stumbles into playoffs again in World Cup qualifying
- United Kingdom
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.
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.
AZZURRI AGONY 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.
"We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now," Mancini said, "and remain completely calm until March." ENGLAND CRUISE 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.
England finished on 26 points, six clear of Poland.
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