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Italy drawn into tough World Cup 2018 qualifying group

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With this qualifying group draw, there's a very real chance that Italy could miss the next World Cup.

Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Italy have disappointed in each of the last two World Cups after winning it all in 2006, but after Saturday's qualifying draw they'll need to step up their game or risk the even greater disappointment of failing to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia altogether.

During the special worldwide qualifying draw event in Russia Saturday, Italy were handed a brutally tough task when they were drawn into Group G alongside Spain and a recently-tough Albania. Sure, the group is filled out with some easier opponents in Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein, but this is going to be a brutally tough group to get through with Spain and Albania.

The problem that Italy faced is that, based on current form, Spain are the runaway favorites to win this group. Given that only one team is guaranteed to advance from each of the nine qualifying groups, and only eight of the second-placed teams will head to a playoff for the remaining four World Cup spots UEFA is allotted. Given some of the other teams likely to be in the playoff, it'll be a crapshoot to say whether or not Italy would advance through it -- and of course, if Albania keep getting better and Italy don't figure things out, they might not even make that playoff.

There's still another year before the qualifiers kick off, with Europe still getting through Euro 2016 qualifiers. Come September of 2016, when Group G is slated to start their qualifying matches, things could look very different for Italy. Antonio Conte may or may not still be in charge, form has plenty of time to improve or worsen, and the landscape of the squad can completely change. Spain could become an all-conquering giant again, or backslide again. Albania could keep rising or return to obscurity.

But right now, in July of 2015 ... man, that group doesn't look so good for Italy.