Match Preview: Italy vs North Macedonia

On Thursday, Italy faces North Macedonia in the semi-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup European qualification play-offs at Palermo.

The winner will face the winner of the play-off between Portugal and Turkey in the final of the Path C for a spot at the 2022 World Cup. The Euro 2020 champions will be looking to avoid the embarrassment of missing out on a World Cup despite being continental champions.

A goalless draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast saw the Italians fail to make it to Qatar automatically, despite going through the entire qualifying campaign unbeaten.

Switzerland were the beneficiaries of that result as they finished top of the group, condemning the Italians to a play-off at home to North Macedonia. The Balkan nation have come on leaps and bounds as a football power, qualifying for their first-ever tournament when they reached Euro 2020.

And the Italians will be well aware that the North Macedonians beat Germany away in qualifying, so they can’t expect this one to be a formality. The winners of this semi-final will visit Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Portugal or Turkey in the World Cup play-off final.

Taking 10 points from the last 12 on offer on the road in World Cup Qualifying is also cause for optimism for North Macedonia – who have amassed 13 goals in that run – and not since November 2016 have the world’s 67th-ranked nation failed to find the back of the net away from home in qualification.

North Macedonia’s only previous visit to Italian turf saw them hold the Azzurri to a 1-1 draw during qualification for the 2018 World Cup, but they previously lost 3-2 to the reigning continental champions on their own turf as they endeavour to inflict more World Cup misery on Mancini’s men.

Team News: 

Italy: Leonardo Bonucci has been called up despite spending a few weeks on the sidelines with a calf injury, so Alessandro Bastoni could very well get the nod here, and Giorgio Chiellini’s participation is also in slight doubt due to his own injury woes this term.

North Macedonia: Meanwhile, North Macedonia will have to cope without two key midfield enforcers for the semi-final, as Eljif Elmas and Tihomir Kostadinov must both serve suspensions for an accumulation of yellow cards. Vice-captain Enis Bardhi could therefore be joined by Arijan Ademi and Boban Nikolov in the middle of the park, while striker Adis Jahovic has been forced to pull out due to injury.

Italy possible starting lineup:

Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bastoni, Mancini, Emerson; Jorginho, Barella, Verratti; Berardi, Immobile, Insigne

North Macedonia possible starting lineup:

Dimitrievski; S. Ristovski, Velkovski, Musliu, Alioski; Nikolov, Ademi, Bardhi; Churlinov, M. Ristovski, Trajkovski