This year’s World Cup in Russia has produced some fantastic games already. Few will forget Portugal’s epic 3-3 draw with Spain and a masterclass in goal scoring from the perennial talent Cristiano Ronaldo.
At the time of writing, Brazil are the 4/1 favourites to win the tournament over at William Hill. But there are a few big names missing, including four-time winners Italy, who finished second in their group and couldn’t muster a goal in the play-off with Sweden.
Definitely the biggest name not to make the World Cup, Italy’s fortunes in recent years have been hampered by an aging squad. The retirements of striker Francesco Totti and midfielders such as Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo haven’t helped the national team’s cause, their younger replacements not living up to the high standards set by their compatriots. Italy have tried to plug the gaps by extending players’ longevity with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon playing into his late thirties and Danielle De Rossi only retiring at 35 after the national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup finals. It might be a long road back for Azzurri.
The Dutch team are unmistakable for their bright orange jerseys. That alone is enough to miss them during the World Cup in Russia. Holland really should have qualified, finishing on the same amount of points as Sweden, who went through in a play-off against Italy. This could have easily been averted if Holland could take back their atrocious performance against Bulgaria away from home when they lost to a poor side 2-0. The Dutch team will likely bounce back as they have quality players. In fact, you could argue bad luck played its part in the Netherlands not been on the plane to Russia. For example, Luxemburg held France to a 0-0 draw, then lost to Sweden 8-0 meaning Holland couldn’t catch them on goal difference.
The Republic of Ireland suffered some tough defeats but still went close to World Cup qualification. The 1-1 draw with Georgia last year was one game they’d like back but the 1-0 defeat at home against Serbia didn’t help, nor did failure to win on home turf against Wales or Austria. While fans might be turning their attentions to Ireland’s Premier League, others will be hoping manager Martin O’Neill will be able to galvanise the talents the team possesses for Euro 2020 qualification when those games begin later in the year.
After impressing at Euro 2016, Wales suffered from complacency at the start of World Cup 2018 qualification which ultimately cost them. They weren’t helped by injuries to players such as Joe Allen and the inspirational forward Gareth Bale, but now the team must consider whether it sticks with its tried and trusted but aging players or go with youth for Euro 2020 qualification.
While the world’s biggest and best football stars have descended on Russia, there are a few talented individuals, through their national team’s failure to qualify for the group stage, who won’t have a chance this year to showcase their skills. They’ll have a chance to make amends when qualifying begins again in two years but in the meantime they can only rest up for the new season, enjoying the entertainment at home with the rest of us.