European champions Italy missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup after being held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland in Belfast on Monday, ceding top spot in Group C to Switzerland who beat Bulgaria 4-0.
The Italians needed to match Switzerland’s result to qualify directly but while Roberto Mancini’s side could only stutter to a stalemate, the Swiss went on the rampage in Lucerne to book their ticket for Qatar.
There they will find England, the team the Italians beat in the Euro 2020 final in July, who clinched their qualification with a rampant Harry Kane bagging four goals in 15 minutes in a 10-0 win in San Marino.
“The qualification was earned away in Budapest, in Warsaw, in Albania and I’ve got to credit all of our players and staff on a really good year,” said England manager Gareth Southgate.
“The mentality, even in a game like tonight, we can’t do anything about the level of the opposition but the way we played was terrific.”
Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium, Croatia, Spain and Serbia have also qualified directly from Europe. One more place will go to one of Netherlands, Norway or Turkey on Tuesday with the remaining spots to be settled through the play-offs in March.