World Cup, Coupe du Monde, Copa Mundial, Weltmeisterschaft

A look at the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers

Every four years soccer enthusiasts from all over the world are brought together for the Fifa World Cup. This upcoming year the Men’s World Cup will take place in Russia from June-July 2018. For the past two years, teams have been participating in qualifying games in order to play in the World Cup. Now all 32 teams going to Russia are known including the more experienced teams like Germany, and Brazil, and some new rookies like Iceland, Egypt, and Peru.

World Cup 2018 Teams
World Cup 2018 Teams

Junior Jeff Praveen commented on Iceland’s qualification for World Cup and believes they qualified because they wanted it more than anyone else. “They’re so small that their staff is just everyday people. Their coach [Heimir Hallgrímsson] is actually a dentist, but against all odds, they qualified.”

The Icelandic Men’s Soccer team was put on the map when in 2016 UEFA European Championship, they beat England 2-1, to reach the the quarter final of the competition.

Iceland has one well known player in the form of Everton FC attacking midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. Praveen remarked that he believes Sigurdsson is one of the best free-kick takers, but that is all he can do. However, according to Praveen, “Teamwork and just simply wanting it more than anyone else ended up taking them to Russia.”

Another country that qualified and was a surprise to some, including World History teacher Mr. Lawrence, was Egypt. Lawrence was surprised Egypt qualified for the 2018 World Cup because it had been since 1990 that Egypt played in the World Cup.

The last place for the World Cup was sealed by Peru, the first time since 1982. Peru took on New Zealand for the second leg of the qualifiers and  the game ended in Peru defeating the All Whites 2-0. “When Jefferson Farfán scored I literally screamed so loud that I could not hear the TV, and two days later my throat still hurt. But compared to the pain Peru has endured for 36 years, it was nothing,” exclaimed Junior Blake Sanderson.

While many newcomers have entered the scene of this sporting endeavor, many old faces will not be seen. Countries such as the Netherlands, United States, and Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup. When it came to the reason behind why the Netherlands failed to qualify, Praveen believes it was due to their over reliance on Arjen Robben. “Their [Dutch team] strategy was to pass the ball to Robben and hope for the best,” added Praveen. The Dutch Men’s team’s absence will be felt as they reached the semifinals in the 2014 World Cup, and the final in the 2010 World Cup.

The United States’ failure to secure a World Cup spot, the first time since 1986, shocked soccer fans all around. “The final game between the USA and Trinidad and Tobago will be a game I will never forget because it marked the first time I will ever see a World Cup without my home country,” stated Sanderson.

Both Praveen and Sanderson agreed the one shining light in United States’ dismay came in the form of nineteen-year-old Christian Pulisic. Praveen explained that the US had a one-man army approach: “Pulisic did all the work, he was directly involved in almost all of the goals we scored, whether through assisting or scoring himself.”

Sanderson also expressed his frustration in the US men’s team as he believed Pulisic was the only real talent in the squad, proving how far behind in development the team is. Looking into the future, Sanderson believes this point in history can be the “catalyst for change in the way soccer is managed in the United States.”

One of the biggest shocks of this World Cup campaign was the failure of four time champions Italy qualifying for a world cup for the first time in 60 years. Italy played Sweden in qualifying matches, and in the first leg, Sweden defeated Italy 1-0. The second leg resulted in a draw, but because of the result of the first match it meant the Swedish are packing their bags to Russia, while the Italians are left behind.

As a result of these teams failing to qualify, Dick Advocaat, the Dutch national team manager resigned and captain Arjen Robben announced his retirement from international soccer. For the Italians, the manager Gian Piero Ventura resigned and captain, Gianluigi Buffon, also announced his retirement from the international scene. Across the pond, U.S. men’s national team manager Bruce Arena resigned.

The 2018 World Cup is four months away. Already, it is shaping up to be an interesting tournament with many old faces reappearing and new faces making their way onto the field at an attempt to become the next Cinderella story.