From finding out that India almost made it to the World Cup in 1950 to the fact that North Korea actually reached the Quarter-finals in '66, this year’s edition has a few surprise teams and a few omissions that have left the world stunned.
Italy’s fall from Grace
There's no other way to put this into words other than casually saying that the "Italians" will not be at the World Cup this year. The giants of world football who have won the World Cup four times, have slowly been plummeting into obscurity since the 2012 Euro final loss. The Italians were once a dominant force reaching six world cup finals and qualifying for 18 World Cup tournaments. Not many people now remember the "Catenaccio" style that engineered Italy's triumph in 2006 but what really stings Italy in the back now is the quality of players now and players back then. With legendary defenders such as Alessandro Nesta and the only defender to win the Ballon d'Or Fabio Cannavaro, scoring against the Italian team was a Herculean task back in the day. With Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso in midfield, winning back possession was a difficult task. The Italian football team is more of a shadow of its former self and possibly the biggest let down for this year’s World Cup.
Dutch Disappointment Continues
It's surprising that many people don't realize that the Netherlands did not qualify. However, this has been expected. Possibly the unluckiest national team of all time, they have reached three World Cup finals and lost all three; most recently the 2010 World Cup final. After a strong third place finish in 2014, it became clear that all of their talents were aging. For over eight years, the orange team was built around three key players, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben. Something just clicked with these three working together but with all of those stars aging and now retired, the Netherlands have lost their flair. After failing to qualify for the Euro 2016 and now the World Cup, the Dutch need to respond to this wakeup call if they are to reclaim lost glory. With the glory days of Johan Cruyff, a distant memory, the Dutch will have to conjure up a new philosophy, one that can be just as successful as the famous "total football" which led the Dutch to two World Cup finals.
The 28-year-long wait for Egypt
After their last World Cup appearance in 1990, it took the Egyptians 28 years to reach the World Cup all through one man, Mo Salah. No one had seen this coming, but Mohammed Salah's last minute penalty in the qualifiers sent Egypt to its first World Cup in 28 years. Scoring a record breaking 32 goals in the English Premier League, it's certain that Egypt's World Cup run depends on the performance of their marquee player. With a small footballing history, this African nation may shock the world as it prepares to face the heavyweights.
Poland finally reaches the big stage
Prior to the World Cup, the Poland national team wasn't even expected to do well in qualifying and well, they are now in this year’s World Cup. Though it was an impressive team effort, the Polish national team has been defined over the years by none other than Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich hotshot will have a lot of expectations on his shoulders as Poland hopes to make an impact and make most of this rare opportunity and most importantly to prove that a future in football will still exist in the Eastern European nation after Robert's retirement.
Peru takes Chile’s place
Another very surprising candidate, Peru, qualifies for the 2018 World Cup and takes Chile's place. For the past four years, Chile has had a string of successes winning two major South American trophies but their surprising failure to qualify for the World Cup has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the Chilean national team as it is unlikely that their star players Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal will be making it to 2022. As for Peru, footballing history and major success has eluded them, and on the contrary very little is expected of them due to the lack of standout players. With the legendary striker Claudio Pizzaro now retired from the national team, a new footballing prodigy will have to step up for Peru if they wish to make their mark on the world stage.
Americans dealt with the Panama blow
For the first time in two decades, the U.S. has failed to qualify for the World Cup and in their place, Panama has grasped the opportunity. Since the United States will not be featuring in Russia, this will not contribute to the sport’s popularity in the United States. Panama, however, is a tiny Central American nation with absolutely zero contributions to football, and them taking the place of the Americans is an impressive feat. The Panamanian football squad is completely unknown and making it to the World Cup is probably the greatest sporting achievement in their history. Though they won't be expected to win any games, they may pull off something extraordinary like another certain Central American nation that topped its group back in 2014 by outperforming England, Italy and Uruguay in the group of death. And as for Dortmund and American footballing ace Christian Pulisic, his dream of lifting the World Cup will have to wait until 2022.