Sports, Football

Italy, Portugal on collision course in WC playoffs

By Reuters
Published : 28 Nov 2021 09:51 PM | Updated : 29 Nov 2021 03:21 PM

The last two European champions, Italy and Portugal, could face off for a spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after they were drawn on Friday in the same path for the playoffs.

The 12 teams -- 10 of which finished runners-up in their groups -- were split into three four-team paths, each with its own semi-finals and final. Seeded teams were guaranteed a home game in the semi-finals. The winning team from each path qualifies for the World Cup in Qatar, meaning Italy and Portugal cannot both reach the tournament.

Italy, who won the Euros earlier this year, and 2016 European champions Portugal will play their semi-final games at home against North Macedonia and Turkey, respectively. Should the two heavyweights advance, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will have home advantage in the final.

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"It could have been a little better," Italy coach Roberto Mancini told RAI2. "As we would have gladly avoided them [Portugal], probably they too would have avoided us. We will have to play a great match [against North Macedonia], then we will see in the final."

Failure to advance would be a major blow for four-times World Cup winners Italy, who did not reach the 2018 edition when they were knocked out by Sweden in the playoffs -- the first time they had missed out on qualification in 60 years.

"We already did it last time and we of course [think] that we can do it again. It won't be easy against the Czechs, though," Sweden manager Janne Andersson said.

North Macedonia head coach Blagoja Milevski said they had "massive respect" for Italy, who had "dispelled the stereotype" of being a defensive team in their Euros triumph.

"We have to adapt to the challenge and make the most of our own quality as we want to show that we deserved our playoff berth," Milevski said.

"Italy are the favourites, but we have shown in the past that we can play good football home and away."

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