The Azzurri went into their final qualifier against Northern Ireland top of Group C on goal difference, but a goalless draw in Belfast combined with Switzerland’s thumping 4-0 win over Bulgaria sent the Swiss straight through to Qatar instead.
The prospect of yet another play-off will bring back painful memories of 2017, when Italy were beaten over two legs by Sweden to miss out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a result described as the “apocalypse” by Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport.
For manager Roberto Mancini, though, the prospect of a play-off holds no fear.
“We will make it to the World Cup in March and then maybe we will even win it. I am totally confident,” said the Azzurri boss.
“Despite controlling matches, we’re struggling to score goals at the moment. We needed to score early on tonight. It’s a shame because we should have finished things off sooner in this group.
“We need to rediscover what has set us apart until now and remain completely calm until March.
“We should have won against Bulgaria and had two penalties against Switzerland. These are games that could have finished in our favour. I’m completely confident about the play-offs.”