Italy finish second place in Group G after Macedonia draw

Pauline Gross
October 8, 2017

Confidence was low after last month's 3-0 loss in Spain but, despite winning only 3-2 in Skopje a year ago thanks to a stoppage-time goal, Italy was expected to easily sweep away Macedonia in Turin.

However, the prospect of deciding their fate in a two-leg tie has made the Italian media and fans jittery and recent performances have added to fears that the unthinkable may happen and Italy could fail to qualify for the first time since 1958.

Such an eventuality could spell doom for a once-proud nation.

Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon believes last month's defeat to Spain has had a lingering effect and demanded his teammates take "responsibility" as the four-time World Cup winners were held to a shock draw by Macedonia on Friday night. Certainly the FIGC is weighing the risks of sacking Ventura immediately and risk a disjointed team effort in Albania against the negatives of fielding a team with little confidence and cohesiveness.

Italy remained second in Group G, five points behind Spain, and can't be caught heading into the last round of European qualifiers.

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Aleksandar Trajkovski cancelled out Giorgio Chiellini's first-half goal as the Azzurri left the pitch in Ventura's old stadium with whistles ringing in their ears. "There was a setback and jeers are never pleasing, as we'd always want to be supported by our fans, but in this case they were justified".

"If Italy play like we did in the second half with Macedonia, we'll struggle in the play-offs", said Italy's coach. We're already playing for the playoffs. "We're Italy and we have to be there", defender Andrea Barzagli said.

The Azzurri, captained by Gianluigi Buffon wearing their traditional blue shirt on his 172nd global appearance, looked sharp in the early stages and should have been ahead inside eight minutes.

"Players like me who have been here for 20 years need to find a way to drag the other boys forward so we can give Italy the best chance of getting to the World Cup".

It was more of the same in the second half with Macedonia content to sit back and wait for an opening.

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