One of either Italy or Portugal will be left out of the 2022 World Cup.
While both national teams have to first win a knockout match to secure a head-to-head faceoff with a World Cup spot on the line, that hasn’t stopped the sides from already exchanging words.
Leonardo Bonucci has said former Juventus teammate Cristiano Ronaldo “will suffer” if Portugal faces Italy in the World Cup playoff. The 2022 World Cup could be Ronaldo’s last chance at a title given he will be turning 41 ahead of the 2026 World Cup.
“I [spoke with] Cristiano Ronaldo and we joked about the possible Portugal vs Italy match. We’ll see what happens on the pitch, Cristiano knows he will suffer some blows,” Bonucci told RAI Sport. “We have to concentrate on what we will do on the pitch, then in March we will meet again and I am convinced that we will play two great matches.”
Ronaldo spent three seasons as Bonucci’s teammate while playing for Juventus, both arriving in the summer of 2018, although Bonucci had spent seven previous seasons at the club and was returning from a one-year hiatus with AC Milan.
Bonucci and Ronaldo won two Serie A titles together, plus one Italian Cup and two Italian Supercups. Both were among the winners at the Globe Soccer Awards .
Known for his remarkable tackling skills and his ability to win aerial duels, Leonardo Bonucci is currently one of Juventus’ strongest players, as well as having been crucial to Italy’s success in UEFA Euro 2020. pic.twitter.com/o560v7o0S3
— Globe Soccer Awards (@Globe_Soccer) December 27, 2021
It’s already guaranteed that at least one of Italy and Portugal will miss out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Both countries failed to secure automatic qualification, finishing short of the necessary mark in their respective qualification groups, and thus leaving themselves vulnerable in the playoff round.
The two nations were drawn into the same final four, and now must successfully escape emerge as the survivor knockout bracket to qualify. Italy must first progress past North Macedonia in its semifinal, while Portugal was drawn against Turkey. Both Italy (ranked No. 6 in the world) and Portugal (No. 8) will be favored in those matches.
The winners of both those late-March games will meet five days later to decide which country will qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Both Italy and Portugal could have avoided this stage with more clinical finishing in the final matches of qualifying. The Azzurri in particular represent a shocking inclusion in the World Cup playoffs given they are coming off winning Euro 2021 amid an apparent resurgence under Roberto Mancini.