An awful and disjointed Italy could muster up nothing more than a 1-1 draw with Macedonia in World Cup qualifying action on Friday.
The Azzurri looked certain of qualifying for the playoffs when Giorgio Chiellini opened the scoring in the first half, but Palermo’s Aleksandar Trajkovski deservedly levelled with 13 minutes remaining to keep things interesting for Giampiero Ventura’s men. It means they must now hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina don’t earn a win against Belgium on Saturday to be certain of a place in the second round.
More worrying than the result was Italy’s play, as the new 3-4-3 system was anything but convincing, and the jeers that rained down from the Stadio Olimpico crowd in Turin were truly indicative of how poor the home side were on the night.
Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile combined with some silky passing in the opening stages, and the Napoli star was denied by the onrushing Stole Dimitrievski.
From there Italy’s pace dropped noticeably, and it was Genoa man Goran Pandev who forced Gigi Buffon into a low save after flicking the ball over the Azzurri backline.
Marco Parolo’s cross was headed straight on goal by Insigne, while Davide Zappacosta sliced a great chance well off the mark in the 37th minute.
The deadlock was broken three minutes later after a disappointing Italy corner. The clearance reached the feet of Insigne outside the penalty area, and his great pass found Immobile who then cut across for Chiellini to tap home from close range.
Leonardo Bonucci’s terrible pass moments later nearly opened the door for a Macedonia equaliser, but Chiellini rushed across to sweep away the danger as the Azzurri’s lacklustre first half performance came to a close.
Daniele Rugani came on in place of Andrea Barzagli after the restart, and the like for like move did little to change proceedings.
Macedonia continued to sit deep in search of a chance on the counter, while Italy’s territorial dominance did not translate into scoring opportunities, much to the dismay of the fans in Turin.
In fact, it was Macedonia who carved out the better chances in attack. Ilija Nestorovski’s header was stopped by Buffon – though he was in an offside position – while Trajkovski’s dangerous cross was cut out by Rugani.
The away side’s pressure paid off with 13 minutes remaining as Trajkovski levelled the score. Pandev’s pass picked out the Palermo man, and his angled drive beat Buffon as the jeers rained down from the stands.
There was no grandstand response from Italy in the final minutes, and they will now have to lick their wounds ahead of Monday’s match in Albania given Friday’s result means they aren’t guaranteed of a spot in the playoff round.