European champions Italy won’t be at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
They suffered a shock 1-nil defeat to North Macedonia in their play-off semi-final last night.
It’s ok Italy, if anyone knows what a loss at the hands of Macedonia on route to World Cup qualification feels like, it is Ireland. We are coming up on the 25th anniversary of that dismal day in Orange.
Ireland traveled to Skopje to face a team that had only ever beaten Liechtenstein and Cyprus in competitive soccer beforehand. Without Niall Quinn, Jon Goodman started up top for Mick McCarthy’s men.
It started off well, with Alan McGloughlin netting the first goal for the Irish. However, it quickly turned to disaster with both Jason McAteer and Terry Phelan giving away penalties due to handbells. Unfortunately, Alan Kelly could not get his hand to the ball and save the blushes of his teammates and, well, the whole nation.
On the hour mark, Giorgi Hristov made it 3-1 to the newly formed country. Despite David Kelly reducing the deficit, Ireland could not find a way to come away with any points. They did manage to come away with a suspension though, Jason McAteer getting sent off for doing an Eric Cantona Kung Fu Kick impression just before full time. Ladies and Gents the game happened on the 2nd of April 1997, the day after April Fools day.
The famed ‘I had a Macedonia’ bib was born after that. For the next six years, players who performed badly in training were made adorn the bib as a timely reminder of the failure.
Ireland followed up this nightmare with a 1-0 away loss against table leaders Romania which took automatic qualification for the 1998 World Cup Finals off the table. A playoff was set up with Belgium, in which Ireland lost 3-2 on aggregate after drawing the first game 1-1 at Lansdowne Road.
It was not the last humiliation Ireland received from Macedonia. A last-last-last-gasp Macedonian equalizer denied them automatic qualification for Euro 2000.
If you’re a fan of football, why not give our Football Manager Football Show podcast a listen (Below) with new episodes every Friday.
Portugal were 3-1 winners over Turkey and will take on North Macedonia for a spot at the tournament in November.
Meanwhile, Wales are one game away from a place in their first World Cup since 1958.
Gareth Bale scored twice to help his side to a 2-1 win over Austria and book a play-off final place against either Scotland or Ukraine.
Sweden will play Poland in their play-off final after a 1-nil win over the Czech Republic.