It has all been decided, the marathon process of qualification for the 2018 World Cup is over. It began in September 2016 and ran until the middle of November 2017, finally giving us the identity of the 32 participants for the tournament which will begin on June 14th 2018 in Russia.
Therefore, I thought it was the perfect time for an Amuse-bouche, a small appetizer to tease the palette before the main course. Now is the opportunity to reflect on which nations will not be there, before we forget about them and to look forward to the draw (scheduled for Dec 1st) for the tournament when we will discover how the 32 teams will be divided into eight groups of four.
This is the time when football fans around the world start to fantasize about which countries they would like in their group and on the flip side have nightmares hoping they will not draw certain other countries. We will also prepare our ideal group and our group of death shortly.
But first to some of the teams who will be missing the party. The name which jumps out the most is that of Italy. This is the first time in my lifetime that this has happened, this last occurred in 1958 when the World Cup was held in Sweden. Ironically the team who stopped Italy from qualifying for 2018 is..... Sweden. It seems the land which has brought us the sleek lines of Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari, has a problem with the flat pack utilitarianism of the country that has provided us with IKEA and Volvo.
An example of Italian Passion which will be sorely missed Marco Tardelli 1982 Final
From a footballing point of view, the fact is that Italy have been poor in the last two world cups, in that even though they qualified, they did not make it out of the first group stage either time, so perhaps we should not be overly surprised.
The other "big" European team with a rich World Cup history not to qualify is Holland, this is a shame as the Dutch were always known for the artistry of their football, but as with Italy they have been on a downward spiral for some time now.
From South America the major team to miss out was Chile, who faltered on a frenetic last day of qualifying, which if results had gone differently could have seen Argentina being the team we were writing about now. This means we will not see Alexis Sanchez next summer which is a shame because his skills light up a football field but otherwise Chile will be no great loss.
Sanchez goal v Barcelona, listen carefully to all the commentary whilst you savour the skill
Historically the African nations have taken it in turn to qualify, and this time round we will be missing a few familiar names who have been fixtures in the last few tournaments, such as Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Instead we welcome back Egypt among others. The African nations always bring enthusiasm and unpredictability to the party.
To conclude this section, a special mention has to be made of Team USA who amazingly failed to qualify for the first time since 1986 and lost out to Panama who will be participating for the first time in their history.
I doubt that many people in the US of A are aware that they failed to qualify, unless of course you are an executive at Fox sports who bid $200 million to win the rights to broadcast this extravaganza. As I have written before, Americans are insular to a level unknown to nations who share a continent with other countries. If you were to ask an average American where Moscow is, he would probably answer Idaho. In Italy, the headlines screamed "apocalypse" "what are Italians going to do next June? watch Sweden!!?" In America , merely a mention.
The draw as mentioned earlier is due to be held next Friday December 1st in Moscow (that's the one in Russia) and will take place in the Kremlin palace. There are lots of complicated permutations involved which decide which teams can be drawn where, but that is very boring and therefore, we will not burden you with them.
|The lucky 32|
I will now pick what I think would be the so called group of death
There are those who would substitute Argentina for Brazil, but I don't think the Argies are that good, bit of a one man team, how I hope those words don't come back to haunt me in July.
As to the easiest group, this is from an English point of view, but you could probably apply this to all the teams in pot 2 instead of England,
Please leave your views on these groups or what you think the make up of the two groups should be in the comments section.
Do Svidaniya until June