Italy hit by COVID cases ahead of crucial play-off
Italy, then under the management of Gian Piero Ventura, failed to qualify for the last FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1958 after losing to Sweden in the play-offs.
The Azzurri bounced back from that disappointment by winning the European Championships last year for only the second time.
Just eight months on from that triumph, Mancini's men are once again relying on the play-offs to help them reach Qatar 2022 after finishing behind Switzerland in their group.
Should Italy overcome North Macedonia in Palermo, they then face a showdown with either Portugal or Turkey – who meet in Porto on Thursday – in next week's final.
Italy are strong favourites to beat North Macedonia, who are 61 places below their opponents in the FIFA rankings, but Mancini does not consider his side favourites.
"We all start the same; each game is 0-0 and anything can happen in those 90 minutes," he said at Wednesday's pre-match news conference.
"It's an obvious thing to say, but you have to play each game. I don't think there are favourites in these matches.
"North Macedonia defend well and have good technique. Don't forget they won away to Germany in the qualifiers. We need patience, but it starts from 0-0."
A large core of Italy's current contingent were also part of the squad that missed out on a place at Russia 2018, but Mancini is unsure if that works in his side's favour.
"I don't know if it can act as an advantage," he said. "This is part of the life of a sportsman. There are exciting moments in your career and others of disappointment.
"We just have to be focused on what we have to do. Italy know how to play football and we have to just think about ourselves, not other things."