Mancini says Italy deserved automatic spot at Cup

Rome: Italy deserved to automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup given its status as European champion, according to coach Roberto Mancini.

Top seed Italy finished second to Switzerland in its qualifying group and then suffered a shock loss to North Macedonia in March’s play-off semi-final.

It means Italy has missed out on successive World Cups, having also failed to reach Russia 2018, though it did win Euro 2020 in between those qualifying disappointments.

However, Mancini insists the Azzurri should not have had to go through the qualifying process for Qatar on the back of conquering their continent last year.

“Not only the European champions but the winners in every continent,” he told Corriere Della Sera. “I am saying it for football’s good.

“Likewise, who won the title in the previous edition should always be involved. It used to be like this in the past. Football does not only make good decisions for itself.”

Italy moved on from its World Cup heartbreak by advancing to next year’s Nations League Finals, where it will be joined by Croatia, Spain and Netherlands.

The longer-term aim for Mancini is to reach Euro 2024 and then the next World Cup, which will take place in the United States, Canada and Mexico a little under four years from now.

Mancini, who is under contract with the Azzurri until after that tournament, said: “I stayed because I want to take revenge [by reaching the World Cup].

“But right now we can’t look so far ahead. The 2026 World Cup is far away. Now we must focus on the Nations League Finals and the qualification for the Euros.

“I wanted to stay to chase the World Cup, but nothing is definitive in football and things can still change. We want to go to the next World Cup and hopefully win it.”

Italy lost 2-0 to Austria in a friendly on Sunday and is next in action in four months’ time when hosting England in its opening Euro 2024 qualifier.