Italy warned that another failure to qualify would be “a disaster”.

Italy missed out on the 2018 World Cup after a play-off loss to Sweden and could face a similar decline this time if North Macedonia and then either Portugal or Turkey stand in their way

Italy faces a second World Cup without qualifying

According to Italia 90 hero Toto Schillaci, if Italy didn’t qualify for another World Cup it would be “a disaster”.

The Azzurri lost a two-legged tie to Sweden in November 2017, missing out on their first World Cup since 1958. But now, just eight months after winning the European Championship at Wembley, Roberto Mancini’s side face another humiliating early exit. Italy must beat North Macedonia in Palermo tonight – and then defeat winner Portugal against Turkey.

And the Palermo-born Schillaci, who won the Golden Boot with five goals at Italia 90, said: “No one expected to see Italy in the play-offs, many have already seen us in Qatar. but sometimes the simplest things become the most complicated.

“You have to fight and suffer to be in a World Cup, it won’t be easy, but so will our opponents. There is will and determination, also because missing a second consecutive World Cup would be a disaster. This group will show the personality to get there, even if there’s still a final against Turkey or Portugal and it’s a tough fight.”

former Manchester City Boss Mancini took over Italy in May 2018 and has lost just three games while leading his rejuvenated side to a world-record streak of 37 games unbeaten. “I wouldn’t have bet a lira on winning the Euros last summer, but Italy is like that,” Schillaci told Gazzetta dello Sport. “When we’re in trouble, pride comes up. They’re all good players. Group with players that a lot of people weren’t convinced by. In the end he was right. He has won.”

Italy will be without injured defenders Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Leonardo Bonucci tonight, while Giorgio Chiellini is unfit against a side from North Macedonia who won qualifiers in Germany.

Former World Cup hero Salvatore Schillaci has warned the Italian team


(Getty Images)

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Italia 90 goalkeeper and former wolves Coach Walter Zenga warned Corriere dello Sport: “Anything can happen, tonight only the win counts and it’s not always crucial to play at home. Portugal lost a EURO final at home and then won in France. Italy won in England last summer. Anything can happen in football in 90 minutes.”

At last summer’s European Championships, Italy won the semi-finals against Spain and the final against England on penalties, with goalkeeper Gigio Donnarumma saving from Alvaro Morata and then Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. Jorginho had scored his first five penalties for Italy but saw Jordan Pickford save his penalty shootout effort.

And then in the two World Cup qualifiers against Switzerland Chelsea The midfielder missed from the point in each of the two draws and November’s stalemate in Belfast condemned the Italians to another decider. A penalty shootout would have sent Italy straight to Qatar.

Schillaci, now 57, added: “Let’s say we got a bit lucky at the Euros, we paid a heavy price during World Cup qualifiers where luck wasn’t in our direction. You can miss a penalty, for heaven’s sake. But even two always against Switzerland in two different races where it was enough for one win to be in the World Cup, now we’re balanced, one foot in and one foot out

“There will be an incredible atmosphere in Palermo. It will all be sold out. The fans will give us great support, but it’s up to the players.”

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