Roberto Mancini admits Italy would have gladly avoided potential Portugal clash in World Cup play-off finals but insists Euro 2020 champions are ‘confident and positive’
- Italy and Portugal drawn in same pathway of World Cup play-offs
- Reigning European champions face North Macedonia in Rome in semi-final
- Portugal will host Turkey in Lisbon at the same stage in March
- Italy and Portugal could meet in the final with a 2022 World Cup spot at stake
Italy coach Roberto Mancini admitted he was far from thrilled by the prospect of having to play Portugal in a potential World Cup play-off final.
Winners of Euro 2020 just over four months ago, Italy finished second in their qualifying group behind Switzerland and were drawn against North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final in Zurich on Friday.
More importantly, Portugal were drawn in the same pathway, meaning the winners of the two most recent European championships could meet in March in a winner-takes-all showdown with a place at next year’s World Cup up for grabs.
Roberto Mancini admitted the reigning European champions wanted to avoid Portugal
Seeded by virtue of being among the best top six of the 10 runner-ups in qualifying, Italy and Portugal were guaranteed a home tie for the one-off semi-finals and will play North Macedonia and Turkey respectively.
‘It could have been a little better, that’s true,’ Mancini told Italian state broadcaster RAI after the draw. ‘It’s clear that both us and Portugal have to beat Macedonia and Turkey.
‘It’s one leg, which always provides difficulties. We are confident and positive, especially in the slightly more difficult moments.’
The Italy coach acknowledged the prospect of facing Cristiano Ronaldo was daunting
The Manchester United star has played in the last nine major international tournaments
The semifinal against North Macedonia will be played in Rome, but Mancini has warned against complacency.
‘We had a great qualifying group,’ he said.
‘Even against Switzerland we deserved to win and yet we didn’t. We’ll have to play a great match, then we’ll see [what might happen] in the final.’
Italy finished second in Group C after failing to beat Northern Ireland in their last game
While Portugal missed on automatic qualification after conceding a late winner to Serbia
Mancini acknowledged the prospect of having to face Cristiano Ronaldo with a World Cup place at stake was daunting, but insisted Portugal would be just as disappointed by being drawn in the same pathway as Italy.
‘We would have gladly avoided them and they would probably want to avoid us too,’ he continued.
‘We will play a possible final against them.’
Since winning the 2006 World Cup, Italy were knocked out in the groups in 2010 and 2014 failed to qualify four years ago.
Portugal, meanwhile, have qualified the finals stage in each of the last ten major international tournaments, dating all the way back to the 2002 World Cup.
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