Italy World Cup qualifying shock vs. North Macedonia is why we love this sport
It may feel jarring that the side that won the European Championships just eight months ago, the team that, before Thursday night, had lost just one of its previous 39 games (setting a new world record unbeaten streak along the way) should go out to North Macedonia (population: 1.83 million, FIFA ranking: 67), but that’s the basic nature of this sport and, specifically, World Cup qualifying. (At least that’s the case in Europe, where a whopping 13 countries get to qualify.)
Assuming you’re not particularly lucky, you have a certain margin for error.
You can screw up once, twice or three times… and then you pay the price. Italy would have cruised through their qualifying group, taking 22 of a possible 24 points, and would have been watching these playoffs on TV if not for three craven errors in three games they comfortably dominated: missing penalties against Switzerland home and away, and conceding a silly goal to Bulgaria.
Three wins that turned into draws: any one of those stays a win, and you’re not reading this column right now. Still, they controlled their own destiny against North Macedonia. And again, they took a ton of shots (32, 19 of them blocked) enjoyed a ton of possession (70%), but failed to put it in the net before the opposition scored a worldie in injury time.