Four months is a long period in the world football as the Italy senior national team players and their fans found out recently on the back of their failure to seal a place at the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament automatically via the European section.

Back in July, Italy returned to the top of European football when they saw off England on penalties to lift the delayed Euro 2020 tournament amidst an impressive unbeaten run. The Italians were able to set a new unbeaten record of 37 matches at the end of their World Cup qualifying gamesin September as they continued their phenomenal run as the top team in Europe.

Italy had enjoyed a good run under manager Roberto Mancini over the last three years and the run was validated by both the Euro 2020 title triumph and the new unbeaten record. The Italians started to witness decline from last month when their 37-match unbeaten run came to an end on home soil via the 2-1 defeat to Spain with ten men after skipper Leonardo Bonucci was sent packing in the first half for two yellow cards during the UEFA Nations League semi-final clash. The decline has continued into this month with the Italians missing out on top spot in Group C of the European qualifiers for Qatar 2022 to Switzerland thus losing the chance to seal automatic qualification. Italy drew 1-1 with Switzerland at home and also played out a goalless draw with hosts Northern Ireland to miss out on being Group C winners. They will have to secure a place in Qatar via the playoffs.

Portugal will join Italy in the playoffs after they were beaten to the sole automatic slot in Group A by Serbia. The immediate past European champions lost top spot in Group A to the Serbians in front of their home fans via defeat when a draw would have done the job. Serbia came from a goal down to beat Portugal 2-1 and secure their passage to next year’s FIFA World Cup tournament.

Both Italy and Portugal will have to go through three games in March 2022 to secure their spots in Qatar.

Ten teams are already through to the tournament from the European section and they are Serbia,Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, England and Croatia. It has been confirmed that they would be joined at the tournament by hosts Qatar and the South American duo of Brazil and Argentina.