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Roberto Mancini explains Italy’s Northern Ireland ‘struggle’ as boss still targets World Cup glory

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Still believing: Roberto Mancini is sure Italy will come through the play-offs

Still believing: Roberto Mancini is sure Italy will come through the play-offs

Still believing: Roberto Mancini is sure Italy will come through the play-offs

Roberto Mancini didn’t hang about as soon as the final whistle blew at Windsor Park. A quick handshake with opposite number Ian Baraclough and he made for the tunnel.

The Sampdoria legend didn’t spend much time in his post-match press conference either following Italy’s 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland on Monday which meant rather than qualifying for the World Cup finals automatically as group winners, the Azzurri lost out on top spot to Switzerland, who hammered Bulgaria 4-0. Now Mancini’s men face a play-off to go to Qatar.

Italy, who triumphed at Euro 2020 in the summer, found Baraclough’s expertly organised Northern Ireland impossible to break down.

For Azzurri boss Mancini, forever linked with the Agueroooooooooo moment when Manchester City won the Premier League in 2012, the visit to Belfast was more oh noooooooooooooo.

Had Baraclough’s side taken chances for George Saville, Stuart Dallas and Conor Washington in the second half, Mancini’s team, filled with world-class performers, would have lost.

Italy missed out on the 2018 World Cup, going down to Sweden in a play-off. The previous time they failed to qualify was in 1958 when Northern Ireland famously beat them at Windsor and went instead.

Having drawn four of their last five group games after previously being in control, Mancini said: “We are struggling to score goals, despite dominating possession. Northern Ireland put everyone in defence and we struggle to break sides like that down.

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“It’s a pity, because we should have sealed the group long before it came to this. We just need to rediscover what characterised us up until today. Now we prepare for March and we go into the play-offs confident. We’ll book our place in the World Cup in March and hopefully win the tournament too.”

Mancini’s assistant Gianluca Vialli was keen to pay tribute to Northern Ireland’s defence.

“Gianluca Vialli had a few words and said that was a typical Italian masterclass defensive performance, so I’ll take that and the boys can be proud of that,” explained Baraclough. “To be compared to a performance they can normally churn out, you know you’re doing something right.”


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