By 90Min
November 17, 2017

So the World Cup qualifiers are over, and we now know the 32 teams who will compete for Football's biggest prize in Russia next summer.

Many of the big names have made it to Russia: Brazil and Germany charged through their respective qualifying groups, while England, France and Spain all comfortably secured their tickets on the plane and the likes of Portugal and a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina left it late, but will be there nonetheless.

There are, however, many other big name regular qualifiers who for one reason or another, will be missing from the finals next summer. The Netherlands, still reeling from their failure to qualify for the previous year's EUROs, looked out of their depth against France and Sweden, and it was the Swedes who also put paid to an all-too complacent Italy in the playoffs. 

It wasn't just in Europe where the big names suffered the shock of missing out on qualification. In the North/Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) zone, USA needed just a draw from their final game at bottom side Trinidad and Tobago to secure their place in Russia. Even a defeat would've been enough to guarantee a playoff if Panama and Honduras failed to win. Incredibly, and not without a bit of controversy, USA lost, Panama and Honduras, won.

In South America, Argentina's late show in Ecuador coupled with a 3-0 defeat to Brazil on the final day meant that Chile, champions of the last two Copas America failed to make it to Russia, while Ghana and the Ivory Coast fell foul of Africa's limit of five places for over fifty countries, both missing out for the first time since 2002.

But while these nations begin the national enquiries and rebuilding for the next major tournament, a number of others are enjoying satisfaction of securing a long awaited appearance at the finals. Iceland and Panama will make their debuts at a World Cup in 2018, while Egypt, Morocco and Peru are all set to return to the tournament for the first time this century.

It is hard not to feel that this qualifying stage may well be a changing of the guard, or at the very least, a sign of the growing strength of the so-called mid level nations around the world. Twelve of the 32 teams who competed in Brazil four years ago will be absent from Russia - only once has this number been bettered in the history of the World Cup - while five of the world's top 24 teams will miss out on qualification, compared with just one in 2014.

It seems strange to think that the teams like Iceland, Panama and Morocco that would have been the countries many expected to be the ones most likely to benefit from FIFA's upcoming expansion of the World Cup to 48 nations by the 2026 finals, have suddenly found the route to qualification in the first World Cup since the changes were announced. 

Now, out of nowhere, it seems as though FIFA's expansion has been brought about in order to ensure the tournament maintains the maximum interest that the world's biggest footballing powers bring to it.

For the likes of Italy, Holland and Chile this time round however, that change has come too late, and now FIFA faces the prospect of a World Cup without some of its biggest attractions.

Because the number of one-off stars in an otherwise unfancied national side such as Gabon's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Wales' Gareth Bale means that there will surely never be a World Cup featuring every world class player on the planet, though that doesn't make the sudden realisiation that we will never see the likes of Gianluigi Buffin and Arjen Robben on the world stage again any easier.

You can however, quite often be confident that those iconic teams and continental powers, both in terms of footballing ability and global presence, will come together every four years to battle it out to be crowned the best of the best. None of these countries however have any right to be there, and this time, a number of them have come up short in earning that right, meaning the 2018 World Cup will have a distinctly different feel to its lineup from recent years.

Still, a month of football is a month of football, and the potential for a famous run in the tournament reminiscent Senegal's in 2002 or Costa Rica's in 2014 is now stronger than ever. So roll on next summer.

You May Like