With less than one year left to the beginning of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, every country’s biggest patriots or soccer fans are preparing to either fly to Russia to see their team for the first time in a world cup over 20 years, preparing to gather with family and/or friends, or planning to stay in and binge watch the globally recognized event that happens once every four years. With the last qualifiers match finishing on the Nov. 15, the world now knows the complete list of 32 countries that made the cut after a year and a half of qualifying games. The 32 countries participating in this prestigious event come from six regions.
This event is known for its inclusion of every nation in the world and in this qualifier had 209 teams participate. In the whole of the qualifiers stage 868 matches were played, 2,454 goals were scored, making 2.83 goals scored per match. This world cup qualifier stage has broken the hearts of nations across the globe but has also sent entire nations into full celebration. The first key world cup story mentioned will be the United States.
Starting with an upset, the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) (Missing word) lost their last game the group qualifying stage. The U.S. were two points ahead of Panama and Honduras at 12 points and were set to face bottom of the table team Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. were confident going into this match as they were facing “an easy win” team while Panama and Honduras were facing Costa Rica and Mexico respectively, two teams that had already qualified. The U.S. knew they had a clear advantage and the odds of them going through were high, going into the match, but as everyone in the world of ‘the beautiful game’ says, anything can happen. Unfortunately, that’s exactly that happened, a result unfavorable to the United States. The U.S. played a slow paced frustrating game, from a supporter’s point of view. As the U.S. lost 2-1 away to Trinidad and Tobago while the two other matches were going on simultaneously and eventually resulted in the U.S. elimination from the World Cup, as both Honduras and Panama won their matches in the later minutes of their games sending the U.S. packing, in humiliation. The worst part of the situation for the U.S. was that they had beaten Panama 4-0 in the last fixture. The loss to Trinidad and Tobago by American sports reporters was called the most humiliating moment in U.S. soccer history, due to the fact that the U.S. puts millions of dollars into developing and growing their national soccer league This loss immediately led to the resignation of Bruce Arena, U.S. Manager, from his position. The three qualifying teams for the North American region ended up being Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, in that order.
Next, is the European region, which had a combination of good and bad news. Bad news for world cup veteran sides and good news for countries that against all odds surpassed European heavyweights. Starting with the bad news, teams that usually make it to the world cup or were expected to be in the next world cup unfortunately fell short. Two countries that have enjoyed world cup glory in the past or reached the final at least three times but has never won it include the soccer powerhouses Netherlands and Italy. Netherlands who were placed in a relatively tough group to begin with placed third, not allowing them to go through to round two of the European qualifiers. Netherlands placed under current European powerhouses France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Belarus. A tough group nonetheless the Netherlands ended the group tying with Sweden on points but the Swedes ended the group with a goal difference of 17 while the Dutch ended with a goal difference of nine. The elimination of the Dutch includes the end of the attacking trio that led their team to the 2010 World Cup final, which includes Sneijder, Van Persie, and the captain, Robben. Newer Dutch talents that were left out of the World Cup include van Dijk and Cillessen.
Next, the disaster that came in the form of the elimination of the former champions, Italy. Placed in a relatively easy group that included 2010 champions, Spain, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein. Italy was projected to top the group or come in second after the ever-talented Spain. Italy ended the group stage finishing in second, which sent them into a two-leg face off against Sweden. The first match in Sweden led to the Swedes victory through a 1-0 result. The second leg was the most important for the Italians as it was at home in front of fans all over Italy in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza where Italy had to come in with a winning mentality. To the Forza Azzurri’s surprise no one could find the back of the net, leading to the biggest World Cup qualifier upset of them all, ending in Italy not participating in a world cup since , making it 60 years since the last time it happened. This result sent a couple of Azzurri veterans into retirement without getting to experience the biggest stage of them all for a last time. The veterans include De Rossi, Barzagli, Chiellini, and legendary goalkeeper, Buffon. The elimination of Italy also leaves out stars like Florenzi, Insigne, Imobile, and Bonucci. Since soccer is nothing short of a religion in Italy, one could feel the emotions after Italy’s elimination from the reactions of the team, veterans, and crowd at the stadium. The loss resulted in the sacking of Head Coach Ventura.
The European qualifiers were emotional for all spectators as many of the current superstars that are not from Italy or Netherlands include the following. Alaba from Austria, Bale from Wales, Pjanic and Dzeko from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hamsik from Slovakia, and Mkhitaryan from Armenia.
Starting the good news in Europe are Sweden. Sweden is considered lucky to have outscored Netherlands in group stages and beaten Italy in a two-legged battle to the end. A more impressive feat for the Swedes is that their veteran star striker Ibrahimovic had retired from international duty after last year’s European championship. Sweden’s in form players, which include Forsberg, Granqvist, Lindelof, and Toivonen, all contributed to the Swedish domination in their group and after. After all odds Sweden’s qualification has Ibrahimovic thinking about coming back to play in his last world cup as a leader and possible captain, through all his experience.
Next comes Iceland, which qualified for their first world cup in their history. Not only did they qualify, they also topped the group, which also included European powerhouse, Croatia. Iceland has become the smallest nation to qualify for a world cup in its history. After the Icelandic run in the Euros it is not surprising how far they got in the qualifiers. They are the quintessential underdogs who look to continue to rewrite history in the next year.
Moving onto South America where competition was too close until the last fixture day in which more than 3 matches were going on at the same time. Being one of the best soccer continents in the world, one can predict rivalries and the sport as a whole, is taken very seriously in South America. With Brazil being one of the first countries to qualify in the world the next three spots were intensely competed for until the very end. The three spots eventually were given to Uruguay, Argentina, and Colombia. This meant Chile, the two time South American champions, were left out the world cup. This result was through goal difference against Peru who scored two more goals in all qualifying games than Chile. This allowed Peru to go against New Zealand to find out who got the last spot in the world cup. The first game in New Zealand resulted in a 0-0 draw. This meant the Peruvian national team had to go into their home game in the all or nothing mentality. With their captain Guerrero, who had been instrumental in their qualifying campaign being out for these two games through testing positive on doping, the result was to be hard fought for by the remaining members of the national team. As a side note, Peru had not been to a world cup in 36 years. Every fan knew this was an important day for Peru as soccer in Peru has helped the nation heal after earthquake devastations and other natural disasters. This time even the president of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuchinski, declared that if the national team qualifies for the world cup, Peru would have the next workday off as a national holiday. As the match started in el Estadio Nacional de Lima fans showed as much passion as a team could ask for being behind their team the whole match through as the 12th man. This motivated veteran attacking midfielder Farfan to score Peru’s first in the first half and center back Ramos to score with a header to secure Peru’s qualifying sending the country into chaos. After Peru’s first goal the fans celebrated to the point that earthquake alert systems went off. With the conclusion of the first round of the South American Qualifiers stars like Chile’s Sanchez, Vidal, Medel, and Ecuador’s Valencia will be left out of next years world cup.
To sum up Africa, Egypt qualified for their first world cup in 28 years and both Morocco and Tunisia not qualifying since 2006. With football powerhouses Ivory Coast, Algeria, and Cameroon not qualifying for this world cup more world stars have been left out of the competition, which include the following. Keita from Guinea, Aubameyang from Gabon, Mahrez from Algeria, and Toure and Bailly from Ivory Coast.
With soccer fans from all across the globe ready to watch the long awaited event, only time will tell who will be the best footballing country of the world in a years’ time. The groups were selected on Friday Dec. 1 at the Kremlin in Russia: