World Cup qualification: Italy drawn alongside Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and LithuaniaThe qualifying draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was held today. Mancini: “We mustn’t underestimate anyone, I believe it’ll be a battle between ourselves and Switzerland for top spot.” Gravina: “A challenging group”
Monday, December 7, 2020
Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria and Lithuania will be Italy’s opponents during qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar. Roberto Mancini’s side, who were in Pot 1 for today’s draw in Zurich, were drawn in a five-team group, more specifically Group C, and will play eight qualifying matches instead of ten so they can fit in their Nations League Final Four commitments in October 2021.
The Azzurri’s World Cup qualification journey will begin next March and conclude in November 2021, with Italy intent on erasing the shame of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Mancini’s men will be aiming to extend their 22-game unbeaten run (17 wins and five draws), a sequence that has resulted in them rising to tenth place in the FIFA Ranking and which allowed them to be in Pot 1 for today’s draw, which was conducted by Rafael van der Vaart and 2006 world champion Daniele De Rossi. With Italy having been placed in Group C, Switzerland then joined the Azzurri from Pot 2, Northern Ireland from Pot 3, Bulgaria from Pot 4 and Lithuania from Pot 5.
“I believe it’ll be a battle between ourselves and Switzerland, who could have easily been among the top seeds. They were one of the best teams in Pot 2, although it’s good that they are nearby and it’ll be a short trip. Northern Ireland may seem an easier prospect than Switzerland on paper, but all the matches are difficult and must be played in order to win. Games against Bulgaria have also never been easy. We mustn’t underestimate anybody, we need to approach all our matches in the same way because a draw could be enough to complicate matters. The first fixtures in March will be vital, then we’ll focus on the European Championship.”
The ten group winners in qualifying will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the last three European places in Qatar will be decided through a play-off stage. This will involve the ten group runners-up and the two best Nations League group winners who do not finish in the top two of their World Cup qualifying group. Unbeaten against Lithuania (four wins and two draws), the Azzurri also have the edge over Switzerland in their previous clashes (28 wins, 22 draws and eight defeats). Italy have recorded six wins, drawn twice and lost on one occasion against Northern Ireland, while their record against Bulgaria reads as follows: ten wins, seven draws, two defeats.
“It’s a challenging group,” said FIGC President Gabriele Gravina. “I would have liked to avoid Switzerland, but having such a high-calibre opponent in our group will spur us on. It’ll be an important test against a team that we’ll also face at the European Championship. I agree with Mancini when he says that we mustn’t underestimate anyone, but, after witnessing the strength of our National Team, I was calm during the draw.”
2022 World Cup qualifying groups
Group A: Portugal, Serbia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Group B: Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
Group C: ITALY, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group D: France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan
Group E: Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
Group F: Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group G: Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
Group H: Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
Group I: England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
Group J: Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein