- Adeyinka Akintunde
THE excitement is on. The FIFA World Cup fever is in the air again. Ever since Germany conquered Argentina to clinch the prize, in a hard-fought final in 2014, in Brazil, football faithful all over the world had waited for the show to begin again. The mundial is seven months away from now. Russia will be hosting the competition for the first time from June 14 to July 15, 2018, but it feels like it has started already.
Shocks have already started springing up seven months before the World Cup proper. First, it was the Netherlands, silver medallist of the 2010 World Cup and Semi-Finalists in 2014, failing to qualify for the competition. They needed to beat Sweden by 7-0 on the last match day, to make the playoffs, but could only get a 2-0 victory, and thus, crash out all together.
Chile also failed to make it to Russia. Chile, who participated at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup needed either a win on the last day against already qualified Brazil, to secure a direct ticket to Russia, or a draw to qualify for the playoff, but lost scandalously 3-0.
The United States of America (USA) will also not fly their flags in Russia, next June, and this will be their first miss since 1986. They lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago, on the last day, in a match where they only needed a draw to qualify. Panama took their place, beating Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify for their first ever FIFA World Cup. That night has since been described by US journalists as the “most surreal and embarrassing night in US soccer history”
And the biggest shock came with Italy, 1982 and 2006 FIFA World Cup champions, missing out of Russia 2018. This will be their first miss in 60 years.
The Auzziri needed a two goal victory over Sweden in the playoff, haven lost 1-0 in the first leg, but they could not break a spirited Sweden defence, and thus, the game finished 0-0 in Milan, causing a major heart-break to the football world.
Gianluigi Buffon, Italian legend and arguably one of the best goalkeepers on earth could not bear it, and so retired. Speaking after the match in Milan, he amidst tears said: “It’s a shame my last official game coincided with the failure to qualify for the World Cup. Blame is shared equally between everyone. There can’t be scapegoats.”
So the 2018 FIFA World Cup will miss big stars like Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, Gareth Bale of Wales, Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, David Alaba of Austria, Christian Pulisic of USA, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Edin Dzeko Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon, Arjen Robben of the Netherlands, Gianguiligi Buffon of Italy, amongst others.
On the brighter side, however, there have been major breakthroughs for teams. Argentina and Egypt easily come to mind here with Lionel Messi single-handedly sending the La Albiceleste through to their twelfth consecutive finals, scoring a hat-trick against Ecuador. The 2014 World Cup silver medallist needed a win to qualify, haven gone into that game at sixth place in the South America Qualifiers, but found themselves behind in the match, prompting Messi to rise up to the occasion.
Egypt, also made it to the global stage for the first time since 1990. They were the first African country to participate in the World Cup in 1934 in Italy, and did not make it again, until 1990, hosted yet again by Italy
The Pharaohs needed a victory on Match day 5 of the Qualifiers in Alexandria, against Congo to advance, seeing Ghana had drawn against Uganda the previous day. It was not until stoppage time before Mohammed Salah scored from the spot to win the match 2-1 for Egypt, sending wild emotional celebrations round the country.
Iceland and Panama also made it to the World Cup for the first time ever. Iceland, a country with a population of approximately 335,00 who sprang up to be the surprise package of Euro 2016 in France, beat Kosovo 2-0 to become the smallest nation ever to qualify for the World Cup, finishing tops in a group that also had Turkey.
President Juan Carlos Varela of Panama declared Wednesday October 11 2017 a public holiday, to celebrate the country’s qualification to their first ever FIFA World Cup. They achieved this feat after beating Costa Rica 2-1, with the USA losing by the same score line to Trinidad and Tobago. Arguments continue to trail Gabriel Torres’ header that got them the equalizer, saying the ball appeared not to cross the line. The goal however stood, and one more goal sent Panama through to Russia.
Morocco and Senegal made it to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1998 and 2002 respectively. The Atlas Lions beat Cote d’Ivoire 2-0 in a winner-takes-it-all battle in Abidjan on the last day to advance, with Senegal white-washing South Africa 2-0 away in Durban.
There are countries who rode easily to the World Cup, with Brazil leading the pack. They were the first to land in Russia, beating Paraguay 3-0 in March 2017, and Peru gaining a 2-1 victory over Uruguay.
Iran, Japan, Germany, Portugal, France and Spain also coasted to the 2018 showdown, having little hiccups on the way.
Nigerians say the group they found themselves in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup was the toughest ever, having former African champions, Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia battling for the same ticket. But with ten points from the first four games, the Super Eagles only needed a win against Zambia on the next matchday to qualify, which was gotten the hard way, Zambia putting up a strong fight, bowing out 1-0.
The draw holds on 1st December, 2017 at State Kremlin Palace in Moscow. It remains to be seen who will face who, as speculations already fill the air. But all in all, the World Cup party has started!
– Additional reports from FIFA.Com and BBC Sports
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