Tough draw but Mancini 'confident'

ZURICH • Italy coach Roberto Mancini insisted that he was "confident" even if the Azzurri were facing the possibility of taking on Portugal for a spot in next year's World Cup in Qatar, after they were drawn on Friday in the same path for the play-offs.

The 12 teams - 10 of whom finished runners-up in their World Cup qualifying groups - were split into three four-team paths, each with its own semi-finals and final.

Seeded teams were guaranteed a home game in the semi-finals.

The winning team from each path will qualify for the World Cup, meaning Italy and Portugal - the last two European champions - cannot both reach the Nov 21-Dec 18 tournament.

"It could have been a little better," Mancini told RAI2.

"As we would have gladly avoided them (Portugal), probably they too would have avoided us.

"But we are confident and positive, especially in the more difficult moments.

"We will have to first play a great match (against North Macedonia), then we will see (who we take on) in the final."

Italy, who won Euro 2020 earlier this year, and 2016 European champions Portugal will play their one-off semi-finals at home against North Macedonia and Turkey, respectively.

Should the two heavyweights advance, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will have home advantage in the final.

Failure to advance would be a major blow for four-time World Cup winners Italy, who did not reach the 2018 edition when they were knocked out by Sweden in the play-offs - the first time they had missed out on qualification in 60 years.

Portugal captain Ronaldo, the leading scorer in men's international football with 115 goals, has scored in the last four World Cups but the 36-year-old's side must get past Turkey first.

"We can't count them out. They always put on a fight against their rivals," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said of Turkey, refusing to discuss a potential final with Italy.

"We must first of all concentrate on defeating Turkey. This is the important match. As for the draw, it is what it is. There are several positive aspects such as being able to play at home, but for that you have to beat Turkey."

The play-off semi-finals and finals will be played from March 24-29.

Fifa on Friday also held the draw for the intercontinental play-offs, where the Asian qualifier will play a team from South America while one from the Concacaf region face Oceania's qualifier.

REUTERS

QATAR 2022 PLAY-OFF DRAW

EUROPE

PATH A SEMI-FINALS

Scotland v Ukraine

Wales v Austria

PATH B SEMI-FINALS

Russia v Poland

Sweden v Czech Republic

PATH C SEMI-FINALS

Italy v North Macedonia

Portugal v Turkey

INTERCONTINENTAL

PATH

Asia (Winners of match between 3rd-place teams) v South America (5th-place team)

North America (4th-place team) v Oceania (qualifying winners)

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 28, 2021, with the headline Tough draw but Mancini 'confident'. Subscribe