Aleksander Trajkovski struck late as North Macedonia stunned Italy to dump the European Champions out of the World Cup.
There was no way through for either side in the first half, despite Italy peppering the North Macedonia goal for large parts of the opening period.
The European Champions registered 16 shots on goal during the hugely dominant 45 minutes, the best chance falling to Nicolo Barella. Stole Dimitrievski – manning the North Macedonia goal – came out wide to receive a ball and played it straight to Barella on the edge of the box, but his weak effort gave Dimitrievski time to scramble back to his goal and retrieve the ball.
Despite hanging on for the majority of the first half, North Macedonia showed encouraging signs going forward, but weren’t clinical enough in the final third.
The second period was much the same, perhaps even more one-sided than the first. Italy had chances through Domenico Berardi, Ciro Immobile and Marco Verratti, but couldn’t find their way past a resilient North Macedonia defence.
Mirroring the first period and managing another 16 shots in the second half, Italy only managed to register five of those on target, which proved to be a big problem as they tried to look for ways to break the deadlock.
With minutes to go and into injury time, an unlikely North Macedonia counter attack threatened the Italian defence, before Trajkovski pulled the trigger on a speculative low-driven shot from 25 yards out, beating Gianluigi Donnarumma at the far post.
North Macedonia managed to see the game out, and set up a tie with Portugal next week as they look to book a place at Qatar 2022.
TALKING POINT – ITALY FAIL TO REACH WORLD CUP FINALS AGAIN
Despite their anomaly result as they beat Germany 2-1 almost a year ago to the day in Duisberg, no one would have predicted North Macedonia would beat the European Champions on their own turf to set-up a play-off final against Portugal for a place at Qatar. You’d do well to find a more one-sided game that didn’t go the way of the dominant team on the night, but North Macedonia fought for their lives, and eventually it paid off.
Italy, to be fair, could have had four or five on another day. They had a whopping 32 shots compared to North Macedonia’s four, but only managed to register five on target – that was a big problem for them tonight.
It means they crash out of the World Cup in the play-off stages for the second tournament running, a huge embarrassment for the side who went all the way to lift the trophy only 16 years ago.
MAN OF THE MATCH – TRAJKOVSKI (NORTH MACEDONIA)
It had to go to the goalscorer, and the country’s most capped player. Despite North Macedonia being under continuous waves of attack throughout the 95 minutes and the defence making some crucial blocks, Trajkovski regularly provided a threat, reminding Italy that the underdogs were by no means out of the tie.
He took his goal superbly. Beating one of the top goalkeepers in Europe from 25 yards out takes something special, and he did just that as his low driven strike nestled in the far corner beyond the PSG number one’s reach. Donnrumma had little to do during the game which might have contributed to him being beaten, but that will be the last thing on Trajkovski and North Macedonia’s mind tonight, as they prepare for a play-off final with Portugal.
ITALY: Donnarumma 5, Florenzi 6, Mancini 6, Bastoni 7, Emerson 7, Barella 7, Jorginho 6, Verratti 8, Berardi 7, Immobile 6, Insigne 5
Subs: Pellegrini 4, Chiellini N/A, Tonali 5, Raspadori 5, Pedro N/A
NORTH MACEDONIA: Dimitrievski 7, Ristovski 7, Velkovski 7, Musliu 8, Alioski 7, Churlinov 6, Ademi 7, Bardhi 7, Nikolov 6, Ristovski 6, Trajkovski 8
Subs: Askovski 5, Miovski 5, Spirovski 5, Ristevski N/A
29’ – GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY FOR ITALY! Barella is gifted an opening after North Macedonia lose the ball on the edge of the box, and Dimitrievski is nowhere to be seen! Barella’s weak effort gives the goalkeeper enough time to scramble back to his goal and retrieve the ball.
39’ – GOOD DEFENDING! Churlinov looks set to go one-on-one with Donnrumma, but Florenzi recovers with a perfectly-timed challenge to deny the North Macedonia midfielder.
53′ – BERARDI STRIKES! He cuts inside on his left foot and unleashes a decent strike, but the goalkeeper catches it fairly comfortably.
68′ – BASTONI’S HEADER IS ON TARGET… BUT IT’S SAVED! Italy finally trouble the goalkeeper from a corner on their 12th attempt, but it’s straight at Dimitrievski.
90’+3 – GOAL! ITALY 0-1 NORTH MACEDONIA (TRAJKOVSKI): Would you believe it! They’ve been half a threat all game, and Trajkovski has just struck a beauty from 30 yards out to put North Macedonia ahead! Italy are heading out of the World Cup!