Italians haven’t seen their country play in the World Cup since Brazil in 2014. They haven’t seen a knockout stage game since much earlier than that too, with their last game in that part of the tournament being the 2006 Final, which they won. Sixteen years have passed, and not a second of any knockout game has featured Italy. An entire generation of Italian players will have completely come and gone by the time Italy’s next opportunity to qualify rolls around in 2026. In this post, we’re going to focus on how an Italy World Cup drought can be stopped.

It’s worth noting that before 2018, Italy had qualified for every single World Cup since 1958, and that miss was largely due to the fact that most of the first choice team tragically died in a plane crash in 1949. It’s also worth noting that for some odd reason, Italy has completely avoided the issues that plague them in the World Cup when playing in the Euros. A runner-up finish in 2012, a quarterfinal loss on penalties in 2016, and a Championship in 2021 mark one of the strangest dichotomies of play in the entire world.

Italy have much space, and need, to improve in order to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, and anything less will be viewed as even more of a failure than the last two. Here’s 2 ways Italy need to step it up if they are to qualify for the World Cup in four years’ time.

Italy World Cup Drought Stoppage

1. Coaching

Roberto Mancini did a phenomenal job in guiding the Azzurri to their second European Championship in the summer of 2021, but something shifted in Italy’s form immediately after. Prior to the Euros, Italy had won all three games by 2 goals, against Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, and Lithuania respectively. After their triumph in London, Italy would only pick up 7 points from their final 5 qualifiers, drawing all but one. Even then, Italy entered the final qualifying day in the group stage with a chance to qualify. Both Italy and Switzerland sat on 15 points, with Italy holding a two goal advantage in goal differential due to a 5-0 drubbing of Lithuania in September.

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This advantage however, would not last. Switzerland cruised to a 4-0 win over Bulgaria, shifting the goal difference lead back to the Rossocrociati. All Italy had to do was to beat Northern Ireland by three or more goals and they were on their way to Qatar. They couldn’t muster a single goal, despite forcing 7 saves from Northern Irish goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Obviously, we all know what happened in the playoffs against North Macedonia. Enough about that. Something let off for Mancini and his squad between the Euros and the final five qualifiers. Mancini is going to stick around, likely through Euro 2024 and things must change. Italy cannot afford to let its foot off the gas in important situations. Be it Mancini or someone else in 2025 for qualifying, someone must keep the pressure on the Azzurri regardless of how the Euros go.

2. Players Can Help End Italy World Cup Drought

At least one entire generation of Italian players will likely be gone by the time next World Cup cycle rolls around, if not two. The likes of Bonucci and Chiellini will be long gone, and so too may the generation of Insigne, Immobile and Florenzi. In fact, the latter generation may be part of the reason Italy has failed to qualify. In recent years, the xG per 90 of Ciro Immobile has taken a steep decline, especially when playing at the international level. Immobile’s xG per 90 in qualifying was less than 0.5, an absolutely unacceptable tally for a striker.

Instead of the older generation who will be exiting their primes at the Euros in 2024, Italy must instead turn to the generation of Chiesa, Tonali and Barella. Sure, they will have to pray world class options crop up at several positions in time for 2026 if they are to not only qualify, but contend for the World Cup, but that’s another problem for another day. When Italy failed to qualify in 2018, the generation that won the World Cup in 2006 took it upon themselves to exit the picture for the Azzurri, with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, and Daniele de Rossi retiring from the national team immediately following their playoff loss to Sweden.

A similar exodus must occur if Italy are to shake the World Cup demons that will have plagued them for 20 years. There is plenty of talent in Italy’s youth systems that must be given a chance to succeed at the international level if Italy wants to return to where they believe they should be. It will be a hard road, sure, but Italians believe themselves to be one of the premier nations in the world in this sport, and they deserve a national team that will fulfill those expectations.