Russia have always been consistent performers in the FIFA World Cup, despite never once winning the coveted trophy.
However, as they gear up to host the quadrennial mega event, they have had to deal with a few issues they would much rather have avoided.
Russian fans are well-known for their vocal and aggressive nature, which often manifests itself in racist and homophobic taunts towards players and opposition fans.
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But perhaps the biggest issue FIFA will have to deal with from a commercial standpoint is the fact that certain big teams won’t be part of the month-long event starting on June 14.
BIGGEST WORLD CUP ABSENTEES
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be affected by the absence of a few big teams. Hindustan Times takes a look at the four top sides who failed toqualify for this edition.
The last time Italy missed a World Cup before this was in 1958. The Azzurri first missed out on automatic qualification after finishing second in UEFA’s Group G behind Spain. A failure to defeat Spain in both their group fixtures as well as a shock draw to Macedonia at home saw them eventually finish five points behind La Furia Roja. They did make it to the playoffs as one of the best eight group runners-up but lost 1-0 over two legs to Sweden, thus bringing the curtains down on what was an inconsistent qualifying campaign. The 0-3 loss in Madrid brought out the inadequacies of coach Gian Piero Ventura and his stubborn adherence to his old-school tactical creed didn’t help.
Netherlands have never won a World Cup despite making the final thrice. But it is testament to the kind of captivating football they played in the 1970s and 80s that they were always considered a European powerhouse. The Oranje, who made the 2010 World Cup final and finished third in 2014, could not even make it to the playoffs from UEFA’s Group A, finishing third behind Sweden. Twin losses to eventual grouptoppers France, a 0-2 shock loss to Bulgaria in Sofia and a draw against Sweden saw the Dutch fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002.
Cameroon’s World Cup journey did not begin until 1982, but the five-time Africa Cup of Nations winners have been a semi-regular fixture of the tournament since then. Their most successful appearance came in 1990 when they made it to the last eight before losing to England — a tournament that also saw Roger Milla win the bronze boot at 38. Cameroon, crowned African champions as recently as 2017, could only muster a third-place finish in their group in the final stage of the qualifiers. Only the winner of each group is guaranteed a spot in the World Cup. Cameroon finished third, six points behind group winners Nigeria.
Chile’s best World Cup show was when they hosted it in 1962 where they finished third. However, they remained inconsistent after that.The last two editions, in 2010 and 2014, saw them make it to the Round of 16, which was a marked improvement. In the qualifiers, they were on course needing 4 points from their last 4 games. They lost all 4 matches with Alexis Sanchez having a below-par run.
The absence of both Italy and Netherlands is arguably the biggest loss for the 2018 World Cup, with both sides featuring a number of superstars.
Four-time world champions Italy’s absence will particularly be felt, with the Azzurri failing to make the main draw for the first time since 1958.
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Netherlands have never won the World Cup but are three-time runners-up and the Dutch team of the 1970s, led by ‘Total Football’ innovator Johan Cruyff, is one that is fondly remembered by football purists.
However, the fact that Italy and Netherlands continued to rely on stars whose best days are behind them during their respective qualifying campaigns might explain why they aren’t on a flight to Russia in the first place.
Developing nations also miss out
USA’s failure to qualify also came as a shock to many due to the fact that in terms of accomplishments and football development, they tower above other teams from the CONCACAF region.
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Chile, who won the last two Copa America tournaments — including the centenary edition held in 2016 — and were praised for their attacking intent in the last World Cup, also missed out on qualification after a poor qualifying campaign.
The absence of African heavyweights Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast — down at least in part to CAF’s qualification process that saw 53 nations eventually coming down to five groups of four teams each with only the group-winners securing qualification — will also see the competition devoid of African star power.