Giorgio Chiellini said on Wednesday that he wants to close his Italy career by taking the Azzurri to the World Cup and scrubbing out his bad experiences in football’s biggest competition.
Captain Chiellini was part of the Italy side which missed out on the 2018 tournament in Russia.
But after shaking off a calf injury he could lead the team out in Palermo in Thursday’s play-off semi-final against North Macedonia, the first of potentially two matches which will decide their fate.
The 37-year-old won Euro 2020 last summer and reached the 2012 final but has had a difficult time in World Cups, as Italy were dumped out in the group stage both in 2010 and 2014 before slumping to a historic play-off defeat to Sweden in 2017.
He also suffered the ignomy of being bitten by Luis Suarez as Italy exited behind Uruguay and Costa Rica in 2014.
“I’ve always had great experiences at the Euro but bad ones at World Cups so let’s hope we can end things (his international career) on a positive note by deleting those bad memories,” Chiellini told reporters.
Chiellini said that he is ready to play at the Stadio Renzo Barbera after overcoming a calf injury and playing 45 minutes in Juventus’ 2-0 win over Salernitana at the weekend.
“I’m doing good, I’ve trained well in the last few days,” he said.
“A couple of weeks ago I had some doubts but I’ve managed to recover and I’m happy to be here…. Let’s see what happens between today and tomorrow.”
Italy head into Thursday’s match missing at least three of their starting back four and Federico Chiesa on the sidelines until next season with a knee injury.
They will also have to face one of Turkey or Portugal away if they get past North Macedonia, meaning a first participation at the World Cup since Suarez took a chunk out of Chiellini eight years ago is far from guaranteed.
And the manner in which they threw away an automatic spot in November, with four draws in their final five qualifiers, has punctured the enthusiasm which followed Euro victory.
The failure to qualify in 2017 launched Italy’s revival and eventual triumph at Wembley in July, and winning the World Cup is a stated objective of coach Roberto Mancini.
“It’s since that November when we didn’t qualify for the World Cup that we’ve been thinking about it to be honest but we can’t go into the game with too much pressure on ourselves otherwise you get a kind of block,” added Chiellini.
“We need to go out there and do what we know how to do best.”
North Macedonia will be missing suspended Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas, who scored the decisive goal in his country’s stunning 2-1 qualifier win in Germany this time last year.
However coach Bobi Milevski has nonetheless picked him for the play-off squad, highlighting his confidence that his team can pull off another shock.
“We’re all ready. We’re not here by accident and we’re ready to put in a good performance,” he said.