After losing to North Macedonia and failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, Italy legend Giorgio Chiellini said his teammates were “destroyed and crushed.”
After failing to qualify for Russia 2018, the European champions will miss their second World Cup in a row. Aleksandar Trajkovski scored in injury time, sparking scenes of jubilation and devastation in Palermo.
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“A great void will remain within us,” said Juventus defender Chiellini.
“We didn’t concede anything tonight apart from the goal. We created plenty of chances, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to score. There is a great disappointment. From September to today we have made mistakes and we have paid for them.
“I am proud of a team that has given everything. It is clear that we are destroyed and crushed. We hope that this void will give us the push to start again.”
Italy manager Roberto Mancini led his country to European glory in July, defeating England in the Euro 2020 final, a career highlight for a manager whose team was considered an outsider going into the tournament.
However, after a disjointed campaign, the Azzurri finished second to Switzerland in their qualifying group, and defeat in the play-off with North Macedonia means the European champions will have to wait at least 12 years between appearances at football’s pinnacle event.
“This summer I had my greatest joy and today is the biggest disappointment,” said Mancini. “It’s hard to speak.
“I’m really sorry for the players. It’s a team that has played very well and who won the Euros last summer by deserving it. I’m really sorry that they can’t go to the World Cup for the second time.
“That’s football. When you lose, you have to suffer and remain silent, there is nothing to do.
“It’s difficult to comment on a match where we shot perhaps 40 times on goal [32 times] without scoring and suffered a goal in the 92nd minute. That’s how it is.
“The players have a great future, they are strong and have a future with the national team. It’s a difficult moment, and it will be in the next few days. It’s the law of football.”
Asked about his own future, Mancini added: “Now it is too early to talk about the future. We still have to digest this defeat.
“On a human level, I can say that I love these lads more tonight than after the triumph in July. The disappointment is enormous.”
Italy’s Chelsea midfielder Jorginho accepted some responsibility for the result, saying: “It’s a huge disappointment. It hurts so bad. I believe we played well because we controlled and dominated the match but we have not been able to finish. It is not to blame anyone but it is the reality.
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“In the last few matches we have not been able to finish and we have made some small mistakes that made the difference because the opponents found the goal with just a few attempts. It is difficult because we have to look at reality. We have not been able to finish the job – I am also involved in this and it hurts.”
Italy midfielder Marco Verratti added: “It is hard to understand what happened because it is a great disappointment. Their goal in added time was a real nightmare. This group had a great chance at the World Cup, so it is difficult to accept what happened tonight. We all know that we have given everything, now surely it is time to ask ourselves some questions.”