Belfast (AFP) – Italy will have to get through the play-offs if they are to return to the World Cup after a goalless draw at Northern Ireland on Monday allowed Switzerland to pip them on the final day of qualifying.

Roberto Mancini’s European champions knew that they needed to match the Swiss’ result against Bulgaria if they wanted to qualify directly for next year’s tournament in Qatar.

However their uninspiring stalemate at Windsor Park and Switzerland’s 4-0 win in Lucerne saw Italy give up first place and Group C’s sole guaranteed World Cup spot at the last.

That leaves the Azzurri in the November 26 draw for the play-offs, from which they famously failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a miserable aggregate defeat to Sweden.

Northern Ireland maintained their record of not conceding a goal at home in their qualifying campaign with a dogged performance in front of a passionate home crowd.