Italy’s terrible start to European Championship qualifying continued with a stunning draw in Skopje at the hands of North Macedonia.
Ciro Immobile put the Azzurri ahead in new manager Luciano Spalletti’s first game.
However, Enis Bardhi’s 20-yard free kick earned the hosts a point as they defeated Italy in the World Cup 2022 play-offs.
The North Macedonia draw means that Italy, the defending European champions, will face an uphill battle to reach next year’s championships in Germany.
The Euro 2020 champions are third in Group C, tied on four points with North Macedonia and three behind Ukraine, whom the Azzurri meet in a crucial qualifier on Tuesday at the San Siro.
Italy has a game in hand on Ukraine, but they must still play both Serhiy Rebrov’s team and group leaders England – whom they defeated in the last European final – away in two of their last three qualifying matches.
Aberdeen midfielder Bojan Miovski headed wide from former Leeds winger Ezgjan Alioski’s cross to keep them from falling behind early on against North Macedonia.
As Italy responded, Sandro Tonali hit the post, and when Immobile headed home from close range after the break, it appeared to be a winning start for Spalletti, 64, who led Napoli to their first Serie A title in 33 years in May and replaced Roberto Mancini as Azzurri manager in August.
North Macedonia, on the other hand, created probably one of the biggest international football surprises of all time with a 1-0 triumph in Palermo 18 months ago, ensuring Italy’s absence from the World Cup championships in Qatar.