With the highly anticipated World Cup in Russia just six months’ shy from kicking off, it is already certain which teams will be participating in it. The thirty-two teams that will be taking part in the international competition have been drawn from all seven continents worldwide with Africa landing 5 slots in the finals.

Europe boasts of a record 14 slots, Asia has five teams representing it, The North, Central America and Caribbean Belt is represented by 3 teams whereas football-enthusiastic South America has five teams representing it following Peru’s latest entry last night after winning 2-0 on aggregate against New Zealand.

Next year’s World Cup will surely witness some shock absentees since some international teams, who have for long been regarded as football giants, didn’t make it through the qualification stages for the World Cup finals.

This is indeed a disappointment to most football lovers who have over the years witnessed these teams qualify for the World Cup so comfortably. These football giants include:

1. ITALY

For the first time since 1958, the Azzuri will not be participating in a World Cup. Having lifted the trophy four times since its advent, Italy now have to wait for another four years for another opportunity. This comes after the Gian Piero Ventura-led team succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in aggregate to minnows Sweden in a World Cup qualifying play-off that sealed their fate to missing out on Russia 2018. That startling setback did mark an era for the Azzuri who saw the 2006 World Cup-winning trio of legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defender Andrea Barzagli and midfielder Daniele De Rossi announce their retirement from international duty post-match. Meanwhile, further strife has plagued the team following Gian Pero Ventura’s sacking two days after that defeat.

2. NETHERLANDS

After reaching the finals and semi-finals of the last two World Cups, Oranje’s failure to make it to Russia 2018 marks a spectacular fall from its golden days of club and international glory. Despite winning 2-0 against Sweden in their final qualifying game in their group, The Netherlands were unable to qualify for the finals and had already given up hope long before then. With veterans such Arjen Robben retiring after the final group match, it is inevitable that the team is lacking world-class stars to carry on the exploits of these talismen. This will further demand for a switch in generation if the Oranje are aspiring to regain their former glory. The likes of Memphis Depay, Daley Blind, Georginio Wijnaldum and Kevin Strootman have a responsibility to develop further in a bid to bring out the future Robin Van Persies or Wesley Sneidjers or Klaas-Jan Huntelaars.

3. CHILE

The South American champions finished sixth in the CONMEBOL qualifying stage with their 3-0 loss in their final group match to eventual group leaders Brazil in September signaling a stunning failure. The star-studded team, that comprises of the likes of Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez, had previously seen back-to-back Copa America title wins and a participation in the Confederations Cup final against the German Machines but will now have to watch next summer’s World Cup from home.

4. IVORY COAST

Having qualified for the World Cup on three consecutive occasions in 2006, 2010 and 2014, the Elephants will be another shock absentee in Russia 2018. This is after the Ivorians suffered to a couple of shocking defeats in their final two matches in their qualifiers group. First, they were treated to a sublime defeat to Gabon then to another 2-0 defeat to Morocco. This saw Morocco topple Ivory Coast into qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

5. ALGERIA

The Desert Foxes are yet another shock absentee from Russia 2018, given the quality and depth of their current team. Despite having stars such as Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria too have to wait for another four years to prove that their success in 2014 wasn’t yet another fairytale. Let it be remembered that the Foxes kept such a spirited fight against eventual World Cup winners Germany in Brazil 2014 that forced the match to extra time at the round of 16 stage. However, the spirited attitude didn’t reflect in this year’s qualifiers since they found themselves trailing at the last position with only two points in their group when that stage came to a conclusion.

By David Muthoka

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