European champions Italy have been handed a significant blow after key defender Giorgio Chiellini pulled out of the Italy squad ahead of the games against Switzerland and the Northern Ireland in Group C of the UEFA qualifiers for next year’s FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar.

Italy senior national team manager Roberto Mancini has had to deal with a lot of injuries to important players ahead of the two games billed for this month. Apart from veteran Juventus defender Chiellini, Mancini will also be without the services of in-form Lazio striker Ciro Immobile and the AS Roma duo of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo due to respective injuries.

While an important player such as Chiellini has been ruled out of the qualifying games against Switzerland and the Northern Ireland, Mancini and his coaching staffs received a big boost after Nicolo Barellaand Leonardo Bonucci were passed fit. Diminutive midfielder Barella plays his club football for Italian Serie A champions Inter Milan and he recently penned a new long-term deal at the club, while experienced centre back Bonucci is on the payroll of Italian football giants Juventus.

Italian football is on the rise after the Euro 2020 title win in the summer and expectation is high amongst the Italian fans with an automatic slot for the World Cup almost non-negotiable from Group C. Italy will qualify for the World Cup tournament next year if they manage to beat Switzerland at home plus a draw from the last game. A win over the Swiss team will ensure that they need a draw in the last game against hosts Northern Ireland.A draw with Switzerland and a win over the Northern Irish team should also do the job for the Italians. Either ways, four points frrom the remaining two games should be enough to seal a return to the World Cup stage considering that they missed out on the last edition in Russia three years ago.

The Juventus duo of Chiellini and Bonucci were at the heart of the defence at Euro 2020 as they took Italian football back to the top of European football thanks to the penalty shootout win over England in the final. The victory over the English team sealed a second European Championship title for Italy. In the absence of Chiellini, Mancini is likely to turn to Inter Milan centre back Alessandro Bastoni.