The World Cup destinies of Nicolo Barella, Alessandro Bastoni and Hakan Calhanoglu may be decided tonight. The three Inter stars will take to the field for their countries this evening in the playoff semi-finals for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Italy are taking on North Macedonia in Palermo, while in Porto Turkey face Portugal. Out of these four teams in Path A only one will reach Qatar 2022. They're one-off games and tonight's winners will face each other on Tuesday 29 March to determine who qualifies for the World Cup.
Nicolo Barella and Alessandro Bastoni have been called up by Roberto Mancini for the game at the Stadio Renzo Barbera which kicks off at 20:45. Italy, the reigning champions of Europe, finished second in Group C behind Switzerland which meant they were forced into the playoffs. They'll be facing a North Macedonia side who have been weakened by the retirement and Goran Pandev and the suspension of Napoli star Elif Elmas.
It will be the third time Italy have been involved in a World Cup playoff. The first occasion was back in 1997 when they faced Russia in a two-legged tie. The first game ended 1-1 in Moscow, with goals from Christian Vieri and an own goal by Fabio Cannavaro, but Italy came out on top 1-0 in the return match in Naples thanks to a strike by Casiraghi and reached the France 1998 World Cup. However in 2017 Italy were painfully knocked out by Sweden, having lost 1-0 in Solna and only mustering a 0-0 draw at San Siro. This meant they missed out on the last World Cup in 2018 hosted in Russia.
Barella and Bastoni starred for Italy as they won EURO 2020 last year. Barella has been capped 35 times for the Azzurri, scoring seven goals along the way. He's made himself undroppable for Mancini's side and his performance in the quarter-finals against Belgium was particularly memorable. Bastoni has featured nine times for his country including one appearance at EURO 2020 against Wales.
Turkey have only previously qualified for the World Cup twice: in 1954 and 2002, the latter of which they finished in third place. German coach Stefan Kuntz will be trying to take the Turks to Qatar after having finished runners-up to the Netherlands in Group G. Calhanoglu's team face a Portugal team led by veteran boss Fernando Santos. The midfield maestro has featured 66 times for his country, scoring 14 goals.
As mentioned the playoff final will take place on Tuesday 29 March and will be held in Konya if Turkey reach it or in Porto if Portugal win tonight.