As qualifying for the World Cup commenced all over the globe earlier this month, the identity of all 32 nations which will compete in Russia next summer were revealed.
The likes of Egypt, Panama and Peru were the surprise qualifiers ahead of some illustrious sides from their respective continents, but invariably, there were some shock omissions from the list.
Here I will review how these sides failed to progress, what immediate action was taken, and what should be in done the future.
“Tutti a Casa!”
National disaster. The end. Everybody out. Everybody home. The headlines said it all. Gianluigi Buffon’s tears said it all. Quite possibly the most dysfunctional setup in Italian football history has resulted in an embarrassing failure. Not even after the match fixing scandal in 2006 has the nation’s FA been in such a mess.
Manager Gian Piero Ventura and President Carlo Tavecchio have since resigned from their roles to the delight of the Italian population in the aftermath of their nightmare in Milan.
The Azzurri were always up against it in their group, not many teams have the quality to finish above Spain in a qualifying group but it was the manner of their defeat away to the 2010 winners which started to seriously question Ventura’s ideas and tactics.
His outrageous decision to play a 4-2-4 away at Spain who had 6 natural ball-playing midfielders was footballing suicide and they were duly played off the pitch and lost 3-0, leaving the group unwinnable.
Things only got worse however, a 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia in the penultimate fixture left many worried that the team was devoid of ideas. The continued absence of Jorginho was also baffling to many.
Italy were struggling for goals so it was strange not to see a man who pulls the strings for one of Europe’s most electrifying attacking sides, Napoli, not included in the squad at all.
For the first leg against Sweden, Ventura went Conte-esque and reverted to the 3-5-2 that served Italy well under the now Chelsea manager. But it just didn’t click again.
Jakob Johansson’s deflected strike turned out to be the tie-winning goal. The return leg at the San Siro was just as bad. Jorginho was eventually thrown in at the deep end with his first competitive cap but Lorenzo Insigne still could not find his way into the starting eleven.
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Daniele de Rossi’s rant on the bench went viral as he furiously screamed at the Italian coaching staff to put Insigne on instead of asking him to warm up.
The stories which came out afterwards were just as incredible. The day before the second leg, Ventura stormed out of training after confrontations with the players and told them to manage the team themselves.
Ventura arguably had a much better squad of players at his disposal than Conte did. Insigne was still slightly raw unter Conte’s reign, Ciro Immobile was out of form and Andrea Belotti had not yet burst onto the scene.
Gross mismanagement has cost Italy dearly. The lack of trust in youth was alarming as many of the senior players such as de Rossi and Andrea Barzagli should have been replaced in the squad.
Those two have both retired as well as Buffon and Chiellini from the International stage.
The four-time world champions should not have much to worry about though as long as a good manager is appointed.
Gianluigi Donnarumma has been waiting in the wings for a while now and the likes of Alessio Romagnoli, Daniele Rugani, Roberto Gagliardini and Federico Bernardeschi are all capable of stepping in and being a key part in the next Italian generation.
Yet another crushing disappointment for the Dutch has seen them fail to qualify for two consecutive major tournaments, three years after they came third in Brazil.
It is quite the opposite for the Dutch compared to Italy, their squad simply is not good enough, Arjen Robben is still far and away their best player and he is on his last legs on this stage.
The potential star players have really flattered to deceive like Memphis Depay who really struggled at Man United but is finding his feet at Lyon.
Davy Klaassen has walked into an absolute mess at Everton and has not benefitted in the slightest and teenager Matthias de Ligt was brought into the fold far too soon and endured a nightmare on his senior debut away to Bulgaria, a pivotal loss in the group.
Arguably their star breakthrough player was Quincy Promes, a talented player but applies his trade in Russia with Spartak Moscow and when your most promising player is playing outside the top five leagues, then there has been a major problem in youth development over the last decade.
Reliant on a misfiring Vincent Jansson who is now in Turkey and an ageing Wesley Sneijder who is way past his best emphasises the lack of strength in the squad.
They were dealt a far from favourable hand with the draw however. France and Italy’s conquerors Sweden were always going to run them all the way but it was defeats home and away to the French which cost them and of course that horror night in Sofia.
Danny Blind paid the price and Dick Advocaat could not bring any salvation while in temporary charge. The search for a new manager continues but it may take longer than expected for the Flying Dutchmen to get back to the heights they so usually reach.
To the shock horror of many, the United States will not be at the World Cup next year for the first time since 1986.
Usually a shoe-in from the CONCACAF section, they were leapfrogged by Panama and Honduras after the final game and failed to even finish in a playoff spot.
The most notable moment of the whole campaign was undoubtedly former international Alexi Lalas’ excellent rant after covering their 1-1 draw with Honduras for Fox.
He was brutal and singled out the big name players in the squad, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, captain Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore calling them not good enough.
He said the rest of the squad don’t even deserve a mention and he specifically singled out Christian Pulisic in that category too, referring to him rather sarcastically so as “wonder boy”.
Lalas also called the whole squad a “bunch of soft, underperforming, tattooed millionaires” and laid into coach Bruce Arena.
He perfectly summed up the problems with the side in 60 seconds bare in mind this was before their final two qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad.
Their 4-0 win against Panama was the perfect response leaving them two points clear of Honduras and Panama who were just outside the automatic spots.
To not qualify, the US had to lose away to rock bottom Trinidad who had three points from nine games and both Honduras and Panama had to beat the already qualified pair of Mexico and Costa Rica respectively.
Well guess what? That is exactly what happened. The US had a horror show in the first half and were 2-0 down and went on to lose 2-1.
Roman Torres who plays in the MLS for Seattle Sounders scored an 88th minute winner for Panama against Costa Rica to knock the US out as Honduras also beat Mexico 3-2.
This was beyond unacceptable, football has never been so popular and never has so much money and so many facilities been given to a US squad and now is the time they fail.
So perhaps Lalas was right. They are soft and the fact that they have had so much done for them means they have not got the same level of fight in them than previous US squads have had.
The veterans of the squad who have had impressive careers across Europe are now all back in the States an evidently past their best while teenager Pulisic had the weight of the nation on his fragile and inexperienced shoulders.
Bruce Arena has now left the setup and it is time for many players to move on. With MLS becoming more influxed with overseas talent, maybe this is affecting the development of up and coming American players.
It hardly helps when the majority of the squads of all their CONCACAF rivals Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad all apply their trade in MLS ahead of young US players.