A goal from Trajkovski 13 minutes from the end allowed FYR Macedonia to draw with Italy in a result which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The Azzurri have now wrapped up second in the group but are still not mathematically certain to be one of the eight best runners-up. Giorgio Chiellini’s first half goal and the support of 22,000 at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino wasn’t enough as FYR Macedonia proved themselves to be tough opponents after going close to drawing in the away fixture.
While Ventura went with the 4-2-4 a year ago in Skopje as a Ciro Immobile brace was good enough to seal a comeback win, he went with a 3-4-3 this time. The old Juventus BBC was back with Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini. In the middle, Gagliardini was alongside Parolo with Verratti, De Rossi and Pellegrini all unavailable. Without the injured Belotti, Immobile had to lead the line with Insigne and Simone Verdi on his full debut supporting him.
FYR Macedonia lined up with five at the back. Italy had a chance in the seventh minute as a one-two between two former Pescara teammates Immobile and Insigne set the latter up but his effort was saved by Dimitrievski. FYR Macedonia remained solid and Buffon was tested with a Pandev volley in the 18th minute that he got down to save. The Azzurri struggled to find a rhythm as Zappacosta and Darmian were covered well by the away side’s defenders. The best chances involved Insigne as he headed at the goalkeeper in the 36th minute before Zappacosta brought down his ball over the top a minute later but failed to apply the finish. That led up to the opening goal in the 40th minute after another piece of play from Insigne as he picked out Immobile who squared it for Chiellini who was left with a simple finish to net his eight Italy goal. Two minutes later, it was the Juventus defender again who made a vital tackle on Nestorovski who was ready to fire on goal.
The second half began with Rugani coming on for Barzagli. The tempo dropped off as the ball became stuck in midfield. FYR Macedonia began to press higher as they looked to equalise with Palermo’s Trajkovski brought on for Hasani in the 64th minute. Ventura responded by bringing Bernardeschi on for Verdi and Bryan Cristante came on for Gagliardini to become the 13th debutant of his reign. The Macedonian goal came in the 77th minute as the substitute Trajkovski was played in by Pandev before firing across Buffon into the corner. Italy looked to restore their lead but a desperate late effort delivered no clear-cut chances. On Monday evening in Shkodër, a final effort will be needed to ensure Italy are in the World Cup play-offs.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa);
Defenders: Davide Astori (Fiorentina), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Leonardo Spinazzola (Atalanta), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea);
Midfielders: Nicolò Barella (Cagliari), Bryan Cristante (Atalanta), Roberto Gagliardini (Inter), Marco Parolo (Lazio);
Wingers: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Antonio Candreva (Inter), Stephan El Shaarawy (Roma), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Simone Verdi (Bologna);
Forwards: Eder Citadin Martins (Inter), Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Roberto Inglese (Chievo).
Saturday 7th October
17:00 Training at the Stadio Filadelfia (open to press)
Sunday 8th October
10:00 Training MD-at Sisport (First 15 minutes open)
15:45 Travel from Turin to Tirana
17:40 Flight lands in Tirana and transfer toLoro-Boriçi stadium in Shköder (Around 1h 30m)
19:30 Walk Around
20:00 Press conference with coach and one player at Loro-Borici Stadium
Monday 9th October
20:45 ALBANIA vs. ITALY
Meetings to follow and transfer to Tirana airport before flights to Milan and Rome.