Italy sealed qualification for Euro 2024 after drawing 0-0 against Ukraine in their final Group C qualifier on Monday.
The reigning European champions finished second, level on 14 points with third-placed Ukraine, but with a better head-to-head record after a tense affair that might have gone either way.
Luciano Spalletti’s side ended six points behind group winners England, who sealed qualification by beating Italy 3-1 at Wembley last month.
Ukraine, who have never beaten the Azzurri, had strong claims for a penalty waved away after Bryan Cristante’s clumsy challenge on Mykhailo Mudryk in stoppage time. They can still book a spot at Euro 2024 via the playoffs in March; the playoff draw takes place on Thursday in Nyon.
The match got off to a lively start but both goalkeepers – Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma and Ukraine’s Anatoliy Trubin – held firm in an entertaining clash at BayArena in Leverkusen.
Italy, who will make their eighth consecutive appearance at the Euros, had the most possession and created more chances but Ukraine remained composed as they looked to prosper on the counterattack.
Italy’s Federico Chiesa had a chance in the seventh minute but his effort from inside the box flew narrowly over the bar before Donnarumma denied Ukraine an opener seven minutes later by keeping out Georgiy Sudakov’s low shot.
The Napoli right-back, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, nearly nodded in for Italy from a corner just before the half-hour mark before Trubin pulled off a stunning save to deny the Internazionale forward Davide Frattesi.
Italy continued to dominate after the break before Ukraine’s probing increased and Mudryk came close in the 66th minute only to be denied by Donnarumma who pulled off another fine save.
“Ukraine showed they are a well-equipped team and they gave us a hard time,” Spalletti told Rai Sport. “Today we played a good match; in the first half we had many opportunities to secure the result. When we didn’t manage to do so the match became dirtier and more physical. [Ukraine] brought in more physical players but at that moment, they no longer played football.”
We are very happy,” Donnarumma said after his team put failure to reach last year’s World Cup behind them. “We are where we deserve to be with all the difficulties we had, but thanks to the new coach and staff, we are back.”