We now know 31 of the 32 teams that will be competing at next summer’s World Cup in Russia and by tomorrow morning all 32 teams will be confirmed. In fact, as I write this piece Australia have just beaten Honduras in Sydney and Peru will square off against New Zealand to determine the teams in the draw.
Some of the football associations will be celebrating and eagerly awaiting the draw which is held at the start of next month in Moscow, before going on to making preparations for the tournament itself, while others, if not already, will be taking a detailed look at what exactly went wrong.
Iceland’s fairytale from the European championships in France last year continues as they qualified, almost with ease for next summer, and deservedly so, from an extremely tough group which included Croatia, Turkey, and Ukraine. There is also a return to the World Cup for Nations such as Egypt who qualified with a game to spare, ending their 28-year wait, Morrocco’s last appearance was 20 years ago in France 98 along with Senegal who will feature since taking the tournament by storm in 2002.
However next summer there will be some serious household names of world football missing including the likes of Chile, Holland, Italy and arguably the most surprising of all, the USA.
Each nation has their own unique problems as to why they failed to qualify, and some serious questions will be asked, fingers pointed and once the dust has settled the man in change whether that be a new manager or interim, has to start the rebuilding process.
Holland, a nation that has produced some of the finest technical footballers that the game has ever seen, didn’t even make a playoff spot. Draws against Sweden and a shock defeat against Bulgaria in March saw them finish third behind France and Sweden, who have both gone on to qualify.
The problems within the Dutch national team has been evident for some time now as they didn’t even manage to qualify for the European Championships in France last summer, a tournament that had been made larger allowing more teams to qualify.
The production line of Dutch footballers has slowed down dramatically. The young players that they do have coming through are not at the standards required to be simply put. The last of the recent golden generation, Arjen Robben, has now retired. Leaving a void. The younger players like Memphis Depay and Davvy Klassen must step up and unfortunately, they have not.
There are no Jaap Stam’s, No Phillip Cocu’s and most certainly no Robin Van Persie’s coming through. One of the most recent cases has been with Hakim Ziyech. Ziyech was born in the Netherlands but qualifies to also play for Morocco; in September 2015 he pledged allegiance to Morocco, and was branded stupid by a former Dutch international. Morocco have qualified, Holland have not.
There is some bright talent coming through the national team for the Netherlands though. Fosu-Mensah, Riedewald, and Tete to name a few but this talent needs nurturing, needs game time, something that they don’t always get especially if leaving the Netherlands at an early age. There is much work ahead for Holland.
The biggest shock from European qualifying was without doubt that for the first time since 1958 Italy has failed to qualify for the World Cup, this is only the second time in the nations history that the four-time winners have failed to qualify. A World Cup without Italy is like Christmas Dinner without turkey.
However being 4-time winners does not guarantee you a place at the top table: this must be earned. The qualifying group, with the exception of Spain, was straightforward and it would always come down to a straight fight between the two. After a 1-1 in Turin, it was an Isco-inspired performance that seen Spain beat Italy 3-0 in Madrid and put an end to the automatic qualifying hopes.
Nevertheless, a playoff against Sweden awaited and Italy came up short. a 1-0 loss in Stockholm followed up by a fantastic defensive display from a plucky Sweden in Milan saw Ventura’s men fail to qualify. Ventura is the first manager to fail to steer Italy to the World Cup final’s, as in 1958 they nation was led by a committee, not a single manager. Not exactly great on the CV, and Ventura was a surprise selection to take over in the first place as his experience was hardly show-stopping.
Italy’s record in qualifying is usually fantastic: they’re unbeaten at home in qualifying since 1999 but the record in major tournaments since 2006 does not make for great reading. Since 2006 Italy have crashed out in the group stages at both South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, with only 1 win from 6 games, against England, 2 draws and 3 losses.
Monday’s game against Sweden will undoubtedly see the end of many senior international careers such as Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci, Barzagli and De Rossi, once again leaving a huge void in the national set-up. The usually dependable Italy have fared better in European Championships, reaching the final most recently as 2012. Ventura has now gone, and the next managerial appointment is vital. Ancelotti is available though.
Chile will also miss next summer’s World Cup and while you may think this is less surprising, it is still a shock. Chile have won the last 2 Copa Americas in 2015 and 2016 and a final appearance in the Confederation’s Cup last summer shows that their quality makes this a surprise.
Chile have a very solid team, the starting eleven picks itself pretty much and all the players are hitting their peak. Sanchez, Bravo, Vidal (who is now considering retiring from international football), Vargas, Medel, Isla and the list goes on. However, the South American qualifying zone is the toughest and the fact that Peru beat them to even a playoff place will hurt.
Again this is another team coming to an end of its cycle. In 4 years time when the 2022 World Cup rolls around Vidal will be 35, Sanchez will be 33, Medel will be 34 and Bravo will be 39. The entire spine of the national team will need replacing.
Arguably the biggest shock in terms of not qualifying was the USA. While the current USA team is by no means their best in recent years with players like Dempsey (now 34) and DaMarcus Beasley (35), the qualifying zone is one of the more favorable to qualify from. 3 teams qualify automatically and then 4th place enters into a playoff spot from 6 teams in the final group.
Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama finished in the automatic spots. Honduras grabbed the playoff spot. The USA finished 5th. The inquest has begun, with several high profile players, including Christian Pulisic sharing their thoughts on youth development with US Soccer and how they have seemingly failed to qualify for the showpiece event next summer. A change of head coach is also in the offing as there is just an interim coach currently in the USA setup.
Too many young players, that are seen as ‘stars’ in the American development system are pampered according to Pulisic and its causing development to stagnate between the ages of 16-18, which are crucial.
While the qualified teams will have all eyes on Moscow come 1st December for the draw, these nations will be formulating a plan for a road to recovery. Unfortunately the road may not be straightforward, and it could be some time before we see these nations back where they belong.
At least with the likes of Italy, Holland, and Chile missing and a kind draw, it should boost the chances of England reaching the latter stages… shouldn’t it?