9 worst failures to qualify for major tournaments after Italy miss out again

It might have been "coming Rome" in the summer, but the Italians won't be going to Qatar after somehow missing out on World Cup qualification for a second consecutive tournament.

Roberto Mancini's men were handed a plum draw against North Macedonia in their play-off game but were left stunned by the plucky underdogs on a horrible night in Palermo. With the game seemingly heading to extra-time, 29-year-old Aleksandar Trajkovski popped up with an extraordinary last-gasp winner to send the European champions packing.

Italy aren't the first major nation to miss out on a major tournament against the odds – and they certainly won't be the last. Daily Star Sport take a look back at the nine most embarrassing failures to qualify for major tournaments.

Italy (2022 World Cup)

As Italy celebrated their historic European Championship win over England last June, it probably would have seemed unthinkable that Roberto Mancini's men world fail to qualify for the World Cup. But that's exactly what has happened – and in some style, too.

The Italians had qualification in the palm of their hands going into the final round of fixtures in the group stage, only to draw 0-0 with Northern Ireland and hand Switzerland top spot. Too many draws cost Italy in Group C, but they still would have expected to make it through to the play-off final against Portugal.

The aforementioned Trajkovski and North Macedonia had other ideas, though. Despite battering the minnows with 32 shots and 65% possession, Italy couldn't find a way through and paid the ultimate price in second-half injury time. See you in 2026, lads.

What do you think the worst major tournament failure is? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Italy (2018 World Cup)

Italy are making quite the habit of failing to qualify for World Cups. After failing to get out of their group at the 2014 tournament, the Azzurri were targeting 2018 as a chance to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, things didn't go to plan. Drawn into the same qualifying group as Spain, Italy knew it would be a tough ask, and there was no shame at all in finishing second with 23 points from 10 games. That set up a play-off fixture against Sweden, who had already broken Dutch hearts in the group stage (more on that later).

Jakob Johansson handed the Swedes the advantage in the first leg, and it was an advantage they held on to as a goalless second-leg ensured Italy would miss their first World Cup since 1958. Italy did at least bounce back with an emotional victory at Euro 2020, even if their World Cup curse is proving hard to shift.

Netherlands (2018 World Cup)

It wasn't just the Italians who were conspicuous by their absence at the 2018 World Cup – the Netherlands were too. The Dutch have arguably had more embarrassing tournament failures – 1982 and 1986 spring to mind – but qualification was much harder back then, whereas this should have been a doddle.

Drawn in an admittedly difficult group with France and Sweden, most would have expected a team containing the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum to have enough about them to qualify. But, remarkably, they came up short, finishing level on points with Sweden in third and missing out on even the play-offs.

USA (2018 World Cup)

If the UEFA qualifiers are a gift for the likes of England, Germany and Italy (whoops, sorry lads), then the CONCACAF section should be like taking candy from a baby for the USA. And, ordinarily, it is. But in 2017 our pals from across the pond somehow managed to mess up what should have been a straightforward route to Russia.

Despite having the likes of Chelsea star Christian Pulisic and a geriatric Clint Dempsey at their disposal, the USA could only finish fifth in the final group stage – behind those footballing behemoths Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama. A defeat to lowly Trinidad & Tobago sealed their fate and guaranteed that they would miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

England (Euro 2008)

Five words. The wally with a brolly.

Netherlands (2002 World Cup)

How did a team containing Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Clarence Seedorf, Mark Van Bommel, Patrick Kluivert, Frank De Boer, Edwin Van Der Sar, Marc Overmars, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst miss out on the World Cup? Answers on a postcard please.

Semi-finalists four years earlier in France and two years previous at the Euros, the Netherlands clocked up a not so shabby 20 points in qualifying. But only taking one point from their two games against the Republic of Ireland proved their downfall as they finished third in the group and failed to qualify.

France (1994 World Cup)

France in the late 1990s were unstoppable. After reaching the finals of Euro 96, they won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 and the Euros in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000. Before that, though, things weren't so rosy.

In a time before Zinedine Zidane, but with Eric Cantona still in the fold, France were expected to make amends for failing to qualify for Italia 90. And for large swathes of the qualifying campaign, that looked exactly like what would happen.

With two games remaining, they were well on their way to topping the group and needed only a point from their final two matches against Israel and Bulgaria. Then disaster struck. They lost 3-2 to Israel after conceding 83rd and 90th-minute goals before shipping a 90th-minute winner to Bulgaria in a game they only needed to draw.

France finished third on 13 points in an era of two points for a win to miss out on a second consecutive World Cup.


England (1994 World Cup)

Can we not knock it? Well, no, actually, as it turned out. In a qualifying campaign that went wrong from start to finish, England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

From the 2-0 defeat in Norway to the 1-1 draw against Poland and David Galtieri's goal for San Marino after just 8.3seconds, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Three Lions. A team that included David Seaman, Paul Ince, Ian Wright and Lee Dixon failed to qualify for the finals, and Graham Taylor paid with his job.

Argentina (1970 World Cup)

Argentina have come perilously close to missing out on the World Cup in recent years, but they've always just about managed to find a way over the line – usually thanks to Lionel Messi. But there was no Messi to bail Argentina out ahead of the 1970 World Cup as the South American nation missed out on a spot in the finals.

Despite chaos within the Argentine Football Federation, four different managers in three years and back-to-back defeats in their first two games of qualifying, Argentina still went into their final match with a chance of qualifying.

That chance was extinguished by a 2-2 draw at home to Peru as Argentina failed to make it to a World Cup for the only time in their history. They made up for it at least, memorably lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy in both 1978 and 1986.

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