Saturday, January 22

Italy enters the World Cup play-offs after Northern Ireland draw and the Swiss qualify | 2022 World Cup Qualifiers


Italy must enter the World Cup qualifying play-offs after drawing scoreless against a brilliant Northern Ireland team at Windsor Park.

In the best performance of the Ian Baraclough era, Northern Ireland frustrated its illustrious visitors for 90 minutes, with Conor Washington unable to seize a last-minute opportunity to clinch a famous victory.

With Switzerland beating Bulgaria 4-0 to top Group C, Italy, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after entering the play-offs, must settle for second place, while Northern Ireland made sure the third.

There were magnificent performances across the field from Northern Ireland, although the best of them came from Jonny Evans. The Leicester center-back was imperious at the heart of the defense, and his performances this week demonstrated what Northern Ireland lacked as he sat through the crucial part of the qualifying campaign through injury.

Stuart Dallas was fit to start skipping practice Sunday, but Paddy McNair, who had stopped with a hamstring problem in a 1-0 win over Lithuania on Friday, was replaced on defense by Tom Flanagan. .

Baraclough had emphasized the need for players to start regular club football against Lithuania, but three days later he brought Jamal Lewis, who has played just six minutes of Premier League football in Newcastle this season, back to his side ahead. by Shane Ferguson.

Fast guide

Qualifying rounds for the UEFA World Cup

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1. There are three qualifying spots in Qatar 2022, for which 12 teams will play: 10 group runners-up plus the two highest-ranked winners from the Nations League groups that have not otherwise qualified. Portugal, Italy, Poland, Scotland, Russia, Sweden and North Macedonia have qualified as runners-up.

Wales or the Czech Republic will be runners-up in Group E, but whoever isn’t will win a spot via the Nations League route. Austria is guaranteed a spot via the League of Nations route.

2. The six group runners-up with the best records, excluding games against the last team in groups of six teams, will be seeded.

Portugal, Scotland, Italy and Russia will be seeded. Wales, who need to draw with Belgium to be sure of being runners-up, would be seeded if they win.

3. The seeded teams will play at home in the play-off semifinals, March 24-25. The November 26 draw will determine which semi-finals the home team will provide in the single final, March 28-29.

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Gavin Whyte also came in, and both teams showed that Baraclough was looking for a rhythm with which to hit Italy at halftime as his team defended deeply, their preferred formation 3-5-2 actually a 5-3-2.

For 90 minutes it functioned as a plane Italia threatened only occasionally. There was an early scare when Lorenzo Insigne’s beautiful curling ball caught Lewis and allowed Giovanni Di Lorenzo to pass to goal. The Napoli winger has scored in the last two World Cup qualifying matches, but his shot was comfortably stopped by Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

For 20 minutes Italy could not see the goal again. Insigne fired straight at Peacock-Farrell just before half an hour before Federico Chiesa failed to get enough power on a low shot from a close angle. Flanagan looked composed, but a wayward pass was nearly penalized in the 37th minute when Domenico Berardi played for Insigne, but Craig Cathcart did enough to put him off.

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Switzerland sinks Bulgaria to seal World Cup spot

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Switzerland have qualified for the World Cup for the fifth time in a row after their 4-0 home win over Bulgaria, coupled with Italy’s goalless draw against Northern Ireland, saw them finish top of Group C.

The hosts started in Lucerne knowing they would qualify on goal difference if they could beat Italy by two or more. Both games were scoreless at halftime, but a header from Noah Okafor broke the deadlock shortly after the restart.

Rubén Vargas got a second for the Swiss just before time, and the VAR annulled two goals after the hosts. Cedric Itten’s header in the 72nd minute was sustained, which meant Italy had to score twice in Belfast. In the end, victory alone was enough for Switzerland, who added a quarter in injury time through Remo Freuler.

Poland finished second in Group I but missed a chance to secure a seeded spot after a 2-1 home loss to Hungary. Albania achieved a 1-0 home win over Andorra while in Group F, Israel beat the Faroe Islands 3-2 and Austria facilitated a 4-1 home victory over Moldova.

Photograph: Stefan Wermuth / AFP

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Moments later, Chiesa stepped in from the left to bring in a great save from Peacock-Farrell, who did not know the flag was raised. Insigne fired a deflected shot three minutes into the second half, but Northern Ireland responded with their best moment of the match to that point, patiently working the space for Whyte to send a deep cross that Lewis threw back for George Saville, who forced a goal. dive except for Gianluigi Donnarumma.

With news pouring in from Lucerne that Switzerland was in the lead, Italy tried to increase the pressure.

Berardi’s low free kick was blocked at the near post by Peacock-Farrell, Chiesa doubled a shot down the wrong side of the post before Peacock-Farrell denied Di Lorenzo again. But they couldn’t find a way through it. At the other end, Washington, entering as a substitute, broke the offside trap and ran to goal, but his low shot was deflected from behind.

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Washington then triggered another rift, with Lewis retiring the ball for Dallas, but couldn’t find the target from the edge of the area.

The biggest turnaround almost came in the last minute of the 90s. Donnarumma ran off his line but Washington got ahead of the ball, moving toward the goal, but scraped his shot and Leonardo Bonucci was able to block it on the line. Victory was not to be, but Windsor Park nevertheless received the final whistle with an almighty roar on a magnificent night.


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