Sports, Cricket

Italy or Portugal to miss Qatar WC

Published : 27 Nov 2021 07:31 PM

European champions Italy and Portugal could meet for a place at the 2022 World Cup after being drawn in the same play-off path on Friday.

The Azzurri and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal both finished second in their qualifying groups, behind Switzerland and Serbia respectively.

Italy will host North Macedonia in the play-off first round in March, with Turkey visiting Portugal, before the winners face off for a spot at next year's finals in Qatar.

The draw means that one of the last two European Championship winners will not be at the next World Cup. Portugal won the Euro 2016 title.

The winners of Portugal's match with Turkey will host the final-round game in Path C.

"It's a very difficult draw for us," said Italy coach Roberto Mancini. "North Macedonia is a very good team, and if we win we have to play away."

Italy -- who beat England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final earlier this year -- are hoping to banish the memories of their play-off heartache from four years ago when they lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Portugal have featured at every major championship since missing out on the 1998 World Cup.

They only narrowly missed out on automatic qualification when Aleksandar Mitrovic's late goal snatched a 2-1 win for Serbia in the two teams' last group match. Portugal coach Fernando Santos said all the focus now was "to beat Turkey".

"It's the imortant match to go through to the final and to win it. We now have to prepare well to be at a good level in March.

"Sometimes they (Turkey) play well, other times not. They're a team that always present difficulties, but I'm totally convinced that we'll be going to the World Cup."