Defending European champions Italy drew 1-1 with North Macedonia in a Euro 2024 qualifier on Saturday to suffer a blow in their hopes of making it to next year’s finals from Group C where leaders England took a valuable point in a 1-1 away draw against Ukraine.
England lead the group on 13 points with Ukraine on seven. Italy and North Macedonia both have four points.
Italy next face a crucial qualifying test against Ukraine on Tuesday.
Luciano Spalletti took charge of Italy for the first-time following Roberto Mancini’s shock resignation but his team flopped against the side which dumped them out of the last World Cup in the play-offs.
Ciro Immobile put Italy ahead but Enis Bardhi smashed in a free-kick for the hosts with nine minutes remaining in Skopje.
Spalletti’s side are three points behind Ukraine with the pair facing off at the San Siro on Tuesday night, a crucial fixture for each side’s hopes of claiming one of two automatic spots for next summer’s tournament in Germany.
“The team played OK. We didn’t concede much and we got into positions where we could created chances,” said Spalletti to broadcaster RAI.
“People watch Italy from all over the world, they are the ones who can judge us from what they have seen.”
Ukraine hosted England in Poland and marched out onto the pitch in Wroclow with national flags draped over their shoulders in front of around 40,000 of their own fans.
“Very tough place to come. You could feel the atmosphere, a unique occasion,” said England manager Gareth Southgate after his team’s run of four consecutive wins in the group came to an end.
“When you have that much of the ball you want to create more chances but the attacking play didn’t click. If that is the case you have to make sure you don’t lose. To come back and get the point was very important in terms of qualification.”
Oleksandr Zinchenko put Ukraine in front with a thundering shot after a sweeping drive through midfield on 26 minutes.
England, however, hit back in the 41st minute when Harry Kane played a ball over the top and Kyle Walker slipped the ball home for his first international goal on his 77th appearance.
Although England’s run of four successive Group C victories came to an end, they remain on course to qualify for next year’s European Championship.
Walker added: “It was a relief. To represent your country this many times, it had been on my mind but now I can finally tick it off.”
Belgium went joint top of Group F with a 1-0 away win at Azerbaijan, lifting them level on 10 points with Austria.
Yannick Carrasco scored the only goal in Baku as new manager Domenico Tedesco extended his run to five games without defeat.
Sweden are third in the group on six points after they thumped Estonia 5-0.
Switzerland lead Group I by two points after a see-saw 2-2 draw with Kosovo for whom La Liga based Vedat Muriqi scored twice.
In the same group, Romania and Israel drew 1-1 and are locked in a struggle for second place, separated by a point on nine and eight points respectively.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the finals.
As hosts, Germany are playing only friendly internationals but they are a team in crisis and their problems worsened in a 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Japan in Wolfsburg.
Junya Ito and Ayase Ueda scored either side of a Leroy Sane strike in the first half, with Japan scoring twice in the final five minutes as home fans jeered.
Germany captain Ilkay Gundogan said simply, “we are not good enough right now, it’s a completely bitter day — we all need to ask questions of ourselves.”