Italy stumbles into playoffs again in World Cup qualifying

·1 min read

Italy will have to go through the playoffs once again in its bid to reach the World Cup.

Switzerland and England are heading straight to Qatar.

By drawing 0-0 at Northern Ireland, Italy — crowned European champion only four months ago — had to settle for finishing as the runner-up in its European qualifying group behind Switzerland, which beat Bulgaria 4-0.

The Italians also failed to secure automatic qualification for the 2018 World Cup and wound up losing to Sweden in a two-leg playoff for one of the darkest moments in the Azzurri’s soccer history.

This time, they’ll need to get through two one-leg matchups to advance in a newly devised playoff system. The draw takes place on Nov. 26 and Italy will be at home for its first match because it will be a seeded team.

England needed only a point to finish in first place in its group but got a lot more -- a 10-0 win over San Marino for its biggest win in a competitive fixture.

Scotland will be seeded, like Italy, in the playoffs after a 2-0 victory over Group F winner Denmark, whose perfect record in qualifying came to an end.

Poland finished second in England’s group and closed with a 2-1 loss at home to Hungary, and will likely be away in its first match in the playoffs.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press

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