Italy have four World Cup titles (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006), only one behind the all-time leader, Brazil. For many experts, the Azzurri were favorites to win the World Cup in Qatar, especially after they conquered the 2020 Euro (played in 2021) and broke an amazing record with a 37-game streak unbeaten.
The history of Italian soccer is full of extraordinary players such as Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Roberto Baggio, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti, Gianni Rivera, Giuseppe Meazza or Paolo Rossi. Considering these spectacular names, nobody would have imagined such a traditional contender will miss two consecutive World Cups.
Why did Italy not qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?
Italy seemed to have everything under control in Group C of the UEFA qualifiers. In the penultimate match, they needed to beat Switzerland at Rome to clinch a berth in Qatar. Thousands of fans believed it would be a cakewalk. However, the duel ended in a 1-1 draw. Both teams had 15 points before the last game, but, Italy had two goals of advantage in the differential.
Then, the first surprise arrived. Switzerland fulfilled their duties crushing Bulgaria in Lucerne (4-0). At the same time, Italy weren't able to score a single goal at Windsor Park in Belfast. The match ended with a 0-0 draw in Northern Ireland, Switzerland won the group and Italy had to go to the playoffs.
The new UEFA playoffs format established three 'paths' of four teams. The winner of each path will get a ticket to the World Cup in Qatar. Then, the draw shocked everyone. Italy and Portugal were on Path C, so, one of them will inevitably miss the World Cup. But first, in order to have that decisive matchup, Italy had to beat North Macedonia and Portugal needed to win against Turkey. On March 24, 2022, Palermo witnessed one of the biggest upsets in soccer history. North Macedonia defeated Italy with a late goal in minute 92'. Nobody could believe it. Italy were eliminated for a second consecutive time.
How many times have Italy not made the World Cup?
Prior to Russia 2018, Italy had missed the World Cup only twice. One of them was simply because they didn't participate considering Uruguay 1930 was a tournament by invitation (the only one in history without qualifiers). Then, towards Sweden 1958, Italy was eliminated by Northern Ireland in Group 8.
In the qualifying process for Russia 2018, Italy was the runner-up in Group G which was won by Spain. As a consequence, they went to a home-away decisive playoff against Sweden. In the first leg, Sweden took a 1-0 advantage in Solna. When everyone expected Italy to close the deal in Milan, that second leg ended 0-0. Four years later, North Macedonia repeated the feat.
So, from 1930 to 2014, Italy missed the World Cup two times. After that, in an unbelievable turn of events, the Azzurri were eliminated from Russia 2018 and now Qatar 2022. A four-time World Cup Champion will have to wait at least 12 years for another shot at the title (2014-2026).
How many times have Italy qualified for the World Cup?
Italy occupy the third place in the historic list of National Teams with the most participations in World Cups (18). Those appearances in the final stage are only behind Brazil (21) and Germany (19). In Qatar 2022, Argentina will tie that mark. From 1962 to 2014, Italy didn't miss a single World Cup.
However, after their last title in 2006, there were some warning signs for the Italian squad. In South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, the team couldn't even surpass the group stage. Then, disaster finally hit when Italy failed to qualify for Russia 2018 in the final playoff against Sweden. Four years later, history repeated itself in that memorable series with North Macedonia.