Italy missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup after being held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland in Belfast on Monday, handing Switzerland the top spot in Group C after beating Bulgaria 4-0.
The Italians needed to match Switzerland’s result in order to qualify directly, but while Roberto Mancini’s team could only stutter to a stalemate, the Swiss went on a rampage in Lucerne to book their ticket to Qatar.
There, they will face England, the team that defeated Italy in the Euro 2020 final in July, and who clinched qualification with a rampant Harry Kane scoring four goals in 15 minutes in a 10-0 win in San Marino.
“The qualification was earned away from home in Budapest, Warsaw, and Albania, and I have to credit all of our players and staff on a really good year,” England manager Gareth Southgate said.
“The mentality, even in a game like tonight, we can’t change the level of the opposition, but the way we played was fantastic.”
Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain, and Serbia are among the other European countries that have qualified directly. On Tuesday, one more spot will be awarded to one of the Netherlands, Norway, or Turkey, with the remaining spots determined by March play-offs.
The same thing happened to Italy in 2018, when they famously failed to qualify for the World Cup after a humiliating aggregate defeat to Germany.
“Right now, we’re struggling to score goals, but we always have control of the game… “It’s unfortunate because the group should have been completed before this match,” Mancini told RAI.
“I have faith; let’s see what happens in March, but we might even win.”
The Italians rarely posed a threat to the home team, only coming to life when word spread of Switzerland’s goal-scoring in Lucerne.
Three minutes into the second half, Noah Okafor’s strike put the Swiss ahead, and Ruben Vargas doubled the lead after Xherdan Shaqiri hit the post.
The Swiss then had two goals disallowed for offside, but when Cedric Itten headed in for 3-0 after 72 minutes, Italy only needed to win by two goals in Belfast. As the Italians became more frantic and nearly gave up a goal to Conor Washington, who had a shot scrambled off the line, the Swiss nailed the result, with Remo Freuler making it 4-0 in added time.
Hurry-Kane hits San Marino
England only needed one point from their trip to San Marino, the lowest-ranked of FIFA’s 210 competing countries.
San Marino had previously lost 36 of 37 home World Cup qualifiers, including the last 35 in a row by an aggregate score of 146-7. The only time they did not lose was in a 0-0 draw with Turkey in 1993.
This time, they were unlucky to face a hungry Kane, who scored four goals in 15 minutes in the first half.
After Harry Maguire headed in the opener after five minutes, the outcome was never in doubt.
An own goal by Filippo Fabbri made matters worse, but it set the stage for Kane.
His first goal came from a penalty kick in the 27th minute, and he added another five minutes later with a scuffed effort.
His second penalty in the 39th minute completed his fourth international hat-trick and his second in four days, following his three-point performance against Albania on Friday.
Two minutes later, he produced the best of the bunch with some neat control inside the box to score his fourth goal for England, tying him with Gary Lineker and trailing only Bobby Charlton (49) and Wayne Rooney (49). (53).
“Every time I put on an England shirt, I feel proud, and scoring goals is one of the best feelings I can have in my career.” “It’s an honor to be among those names,” Kane said. Emile Smith Rowe, Tyrone Mings, Tammy Abraham, and Bukayo Saka all scored in the second half as England finished their qualifying campaign with a bang, finishing six points ahead of Poland, who lost 2-1 at home to Hungary.