France in '94, Argentina in '70, Netherlands in '86 - Italy join long list of World Cup qualifying failures
Nov 14 2017 - 08:52
A World Cup without Italy doesn't feel quite right.
The Azzurri's run of consecutive tournament appearances stretches back further than the World Cup trophy itself.
However, a goalless draw with Sweden on Monday consigned Italy to a 1-0 aggregate play-off defeat that sees them fail to qualify for the first time since 1958.
Italy are not the first major nation to miss out on the World Cup, and they certainly will not be the last.
Here we take a look at some of the biggest shocks from qualifying campaigns gone by.
Italy's only other failure to qualify for the World Cup came 60 years ago. Needing to beat Northern Ireland in their final game of the three-team group, the Azzurri slumped to a 2-1 loss in Belfast. More surprisingly was the absence of Spain, as a team of legends including Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Suarez missed out on a place in Sweden. A draw with Switzerland and defeat to Scotland meant that 4-1 victories in both return matches were not enough to salvage their hopes.
Only once have Argentina failed to qualify for a tournament they have won twice. A revolving door of coaches in the late 1960s had the South Americans unsettled off the pitch, with Adolfo Pedernera the man charged with leading his country to the World Cup. A 3-1 loss to Bolivia and a 1-0 defeat to Peru in their opening qualifying fixtures left them facing an uphill task, and a 2-2 draw with the latter in their final qualifier meant they missed out on a spot in Mexico.
England were on top of the world in 1966 having lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on home turf. It remains the Three Lions' only triumph at a World Cup and, eight years later, England were not even at the tournament held in West Germany. In a three-team group with Wales and Poland, a 2-0 defeat and 1-1 draw with the latter meant Alf Ramsey's side did not qualify. Twenty years later, England again disappointed as they failed to qualify for USA '94 under Graham Taylor.
Having won the European Championship two years previously with their attractive brand of football, there were high hopes for Czechoslovakia heading into qualifying for the tournament in Argentina. However, battles of Britain proved their downfall as losses in Wales and Scotland scuppered their hopes of adding World Cup glory to their European triumph.
After reaching the World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978, there was a down period for Netherlands, who missed out in '82 and also failed to qualify for Euro '84. A crop of players including Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Marco van Basten were expected to bring about a turnaround in fortunes for the Dutch ahead of the next World Cup in Mexico. However, they had to settle for a play-off against neighbours Belgium after finishing second in their qualifying group, and Georges Grun's header with just five minutes left on the clock saw them crash out on away goals. Netherlands also failed to qualify in 2002 and will not be in Russia next year.
Les Bleus had failed to qualify for Italia '90 having finished third in 1986. That failure was accepted as something of a transitional period, but a star-studded team featuring the likes of Laurent Blanc, Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona were unable to secure the necessary result against Bulgaria in their final qualifier for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. France led through Eric Cantona but were pegged back by an Emil Kostadinov leveller before half-time. Gerard Houllier's side looked set to cling on to the point that would see them through until David Ginola infamously gave the ball away with an ill-judged cross in the final minute that allowed Kostadinov to make it 2-1 on the break, leaving French hopes dashed.
Incredibly, Egypt's upcoming appearance at the 2018 World Cup will be their first since 1990. That is despite their 2000s domination of the Africa Cup of Nations, with three consecutive victories between 2006 and 2010. Their failure to reach South Africa seven years ago was arguably the greatest disappointment. After finishing with an identical record to Algeria, a play-off was needed to separate the two, with Egypt falling to a 1-0 defeat to extend their wait for a return to the global stage.
Surely the two-time defending Copa America champions will play at the 2018 World Cup? Think again! An incredibly tight CONMEBOL group - with the exception of Brazil's dominance at the top - almost led to a World Cup without Argentina and Lionel Messi. However, while the Barcelona star inspired his team to qualification with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win at Ecuador, a Chile side featuring Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal were beaten 3-0 by Brazil in their final qualifier and finished sixth, without even a play-off to show for their efforts.