Frank de Boer, Eric Cantona, Diego Godin

SOME MAJOR NATIONS OVER THE YEARS HAVE FAILED TO QUALIFY FOR THE FIFA WORLD CUP. WILL PORTUGAL AND ITALY BE NEXT?

Serbia’s last-gasp win over Portugal yesterday was one of the biggest shocks in the qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup. Aleksander Mitrovic’s header in injury time means Cristiano Ronaldo and co. will have to navigate the unpredictable path of the playoffs if they are to reach Qatar.

 

Even more surprising was the fact that this was Portugal’s first loss in the group and Serbia’s first-ever win over their esteemed opponents. With no certainty of making the World Cup next year, questions are being asked of Fernando Santos and whether he is a good fit for this generation of Selecao stars.

 

There’s a similar story that has transpired tonight with the reigning European champions Italy. Needing to match or better Switzerland’s result, the Azzurri could only muster a draw against Northern Ireland. With the Swiss putting four past Bulgaria, Roberto Mancini and co. are off to the playoffs as well.

if Portugal and/or Italy do fail to make it to Qatar, they will join a very illustrious list of nations who have surprisingly also suffered the same fate in the long history of the World Cup. For Italy, the pain will be double too.

 

1974

La Roja confirmed their presence in the upcoming edition of the World Cup, marking the 12th consecutive time they will be playing. It is the longest active streak amongst European nations and the last time they missed out, the times were a lot different. Spain was under Francoist Rule which was hampering the promotion of different sporting activities. The most interesting part was the hosts West Germany had actually needed help from Spain to win the hosting rights, which otherwise would have made them automatic participants. They were level on points with Yugoslavia which forced a tie-breaker that Spain lost 1-0. The only solace was that several other big names missed out including , England, Portugal and Mexico. 

 

FRANCE 1990

Having finished 3rd in the 1986 World Cup, it was widely expected that Les Bleus would continue onto even greater things. Michel Platini was back as manager this time, while the squad also saw the introduction of future stars like Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps amongst others. Having picked up four points from their opening two games under former manager Henri Michel, Platini’s debut was a surprise 3-2 loss to Yugoslavia.

 

That was followed by a second defeat against Scotland. Two consecutive draws followed, to lesser opponents in Norway and Yugoslavia which all but ruled them out. Even two convincing wins to finish the campaign were not enough as France finished one point adrift of Scotland in who secured the final qualifying spot. 

 

ENGLAND 1994

The champions of 1966 who had finished 4th in 1990, England were going through turbulent times. Graham Taylor as manager was widely criticized for his team selection and style of play, and things did not improve after they crashed out at the group-stage of Euro 1992. Their qualifying campaign for the World Cup started with an uninspiring 1-1 draw against Norway at home. Three convincing wins followed over Turkey (twice) and San Marino by an aggregate of 12-0. Things were looking rosier by this point but two consecutive draws followed against the and Poland.

 

A 3-0 win over the Polish in the reverse fixture eased some of the concerns but then came the fatal blow. The Three Lions lost to the Dutch 2-0, with Ronald Koeman controversially not being sent off for a hard foul on David Platt. Though they hammered San Marino 7-1 on the final day, it was not enough as a win for the Netherlands against Poland saw them clinch the runners-up spot with Norway as the group-winners. 

 

FRANCE 1994

Yes, back to Les Bleus once again. No surprise that Platini was long gone, and the new man in charge was Gerard Houllier. France’s first match of the qualifying campaign was a surprising 2-0 loss to Bulgaria but it sparked off greater things. A seven-match win streak followed with victories over Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Israel included.

 

With two games left to go, France were all but assured of a place at the World Cup. Their penultimate assignment was at home to Israel which was a stunning affair. Having gone behind within 20 minutes, France overturned the deficit to lead 2-1 heading into the final 10 minutes. The leveler came in the 83rd minute followed by an incredible winning goal for the Israelis in the final minute to leave Parc des Princes aghast. Nevertheless, they still had their fate in their own hands and faced Bulgaria, once again in Paris.

 

What followed has gone down in French footballing infamy. Eric Cantona scored the opening goal but Bulgaria quickly equalised. A scrappy affair ensued but French hearts would be broken in a deja vu. David Ginola’s ill-advised cross to nobody helped launch a counter attack from which the visitors stole the winner in the 90th minute and with it, the final qualifying spot of the group. Needless to say, Houllier was sacked and Ginola left for pastures anew as well. 

 

1994

The surprise winners of Euro 1992 were expected to qualify for what would have been just their second World Cup. However, a mixture of bad results and fate would combine to ensure it did not transpire. Getting back most of the same team from two years prior, Denmark’s main opponents during qualifying were Spain and Ireland. The Danes earned two hard fought draws against the Irish and even won against Spain in Denmark when in the first fixture. But it was the last match of the campaign that ended their dream.

 

Needing just a point to make it through after Ireland’s draw against their Northern neighbours and sitting in second place, Denmark needed just a point against Spain to make it through. It was not to be as Fernando Hierro’s headed goal combined with supreme goalkeeping from Santiago Canizares on his debut meant La Roja were able to leapfrog their opponents and move to the top. Denmark were pushed down to third, level on points with Ireland but missed out on virtue of scoring fewer goals. 

 

NETHERLANDS 2002

The Dutch ended up 4th in 1998 and reached the semis of Euro 2000, so they were in good stead heading to the qualification campaign under new manager Louis van Gaal. In a group also consisting of Portugal and Ireland, things were not necessarily going to be easy and so it proved. Netherlands only picked up two points in the four fixtures against the two teams, and the defeats would prove costly. Though Van Gaal was credited for bringing the core of the next great Dutch team together, their opponents were just too good on the night. Portugal and Ireland suffered no losses and had seven wins each to advance to the Finals while Van Gaal was sacked following his failure. 

 

2006

The two-time winners had found the going tough in recent times on the world stage but were present in 2002. With four teams progressing directly from the CONMEBOL system, Uruguay were in with a great chance. However, seven draws and five defeats from 18 games saw them finish three points adrift of Paraguay in 4th. They were headed to the playoffs against Australia, and even managed to win the first-leg at home 1-0. Australia won by the same margin the second-leg and the match headed to penalties. This time, it was the Olyroos who came out on top, winning 4-2 in the shootout and avenging the loss at the same stage from four years prior. 

 

BELGIUM 2010

The seeds of the present-day ‘golden generation’ were sowed during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. Belgium were strong contenders to clinch at least the runners-up spot, with Spain being seen as their only real test. However, what unfolded was certainly a matter of shame and hurt. The Red Devils suffered six defeats in their 10 games to eventually finish fourth, nine points behind Bosnia and Herzegovina in second.

 

Though the losses to Spain were expected, including a 5-0 hammering, they also picked up zero points from the two encounters against the Balkan nation. The real low point of the campaign came in the final stretch as Belgium lost to minnows Armenia and Estonia to end a miserable time for manager Rene Vandereckyen. 

 

ITALY 2018

One of the most successful sides in world football, Italy were one of the only teams in this list to actually have a solid qualifying campaign. They won seven games and suffered only defeat, a 3-0 humbling at the hands of group-winners Spain. Having finished second behind La Roja, the Azzurri were slated to face Sweden in the playoffs to determine who makes the Finals.

 

The Swedes won 1-0 in the first-leg at home and held Italy to a 0-0 draw in the second-leg to seal a famous win. It was the first time since 1958 that Italy failed to qualify and led to the immediate dismissal of manager Gian Piero Ventura along with the head of the Italian football federation, Carlo Tavecchio. 

 

NETHERLANDS 2018

One loss can change everything and so it was proved. Much like their esteemed counterparts, the Netherlands actually had a decent qualifying campaign. They had stern tests in the form of France and Sweden mainly, but everyone expected them to at least make the playoffs under the guidance of Danny Blind. Seven points from their opening four games was a good return but a shock 2-0 defeat against Bulgaria spelled the end for Blind.

 

Dick Advocaat came in to steady the ship, but a crushing 4-0 loss to France on match day seven meant that the Dutch finished third in the group, behind Sweden on goal difference. 

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