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'Italy will struggle in World Cup play-offs': Dismal Azzurri face major backlash

Italy drew at home to 103rd ranked Macedonia on Friday, as they prepare for a World Cup play-off in November.

Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura.
Italy manager Gian Piero Ventura.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

ITALY MANAGER GIAN Piero Ventura blasted his side’s second-half performance in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Macedonia, conceding that they could struggle in the World Cup play-offs if they do not improve quickly.

Spain secured their progression to Russia as Group G winners on Friday, meaning Italy will have to settle for a place in the second round of qualifying, with Ireland similarly aiming for a play-off position as one of the best runners-ups in European qualification.

Although Italy will likely be considered among the favourites in the play-offs, Ventura is demanding that they perform better after a disappointing showing against Macedonia, who are ranked 103rd in the FIFA World Rankings.

Giorgio Chiellini gave them the lead just before the break, but a late equaliser saw Italy slump to a poor result and Ventura was alarmed by their performance in the second period, even if he stressed that Macedonia are better than people give them credit for.

Manager Ventura told reporters: “If we play like we did in the second half then we will struggle to get through the play-offs. It doesn’t take a coach to realise that.

(SP)ITALY-TURIN-SOCCER-FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFIER-ITA VS MKD Giorgio Chiellini gave Italy the lead on Friday. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

“If from here to the play-offs we can add a few more players who actually play [at club level], but evidently those are two different situations.

“I think the praise was exaggerated before and the criticism is exaggerated now. I had moments that were positive and negative, like all coaches.

“In the last six minutes, Leonardo Bonucci moved up to act as a centre-forward because the team wanted a victory. In the second half we weren’t as aggressive, but that doesn’t mean we lacked confidence.

“Macedonia lost only one game in 2017 and it was 2-1 to Spain, and in the 95th minute they could’ve equalised. We’re not talking about Spain or Germany, but they are still a good side.”

Italy, potential opponents should Ireland secure a play-off position, sit 17th in the FIFA World Rankings.

They have already booked themselves a place in the play-offs with seven points separating them and Albania in third in Group G, meanwhile trailing first-placed Spain by five points.

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