After two years, Europe has sifted the wheat from the chaff by selecting those teams who booked a ticket straight to Russia, and those who have play-off punishment
Everyone ready for another summer with the Geyser Dance? Because Iceland are the big winners of the European qualifiers, flying straight to Russia without even having to go via the playoffs. Unreal, and completely deserved, for the least populated nation to ever make it to the final stage of a World Cup. Fantastic.
The European Champions suffered more than expected in their group, but got the crucial final win to overtake Switzerland in the final match and go directly to the World Cup instead of having to take the extra risk with a playoff.
Republic of Ireland
Imagine playing against a whole nation, against a team that – although lacking Gareth Bale – has done extremely well in recent years, in their own home, in Cardiff. And playing a very smart game, defending when needed, attacking when necessary and winning to go through to the playoffs. Ireland deserve to keep on believing in a World Cup spot.
Perfection, essentially. Won every game, scored 43 goals and conceded 4. Whilst winning the Confederations Cup on the way. And often playing youngsters and trying out new players. What more could you ask for?
The post Zlatan Ibrahimovic era couldn’t have started any better. In a group with France and Holland, everybody expected Sweden to finish third. Instead, the Swedes calmly went through the group and made the most of Holland’s bad form. The Dutch stay home, Sweden are in the playoffs.
One of the best midfields in the world, a solid team overall and great performances a year ago at Euro 2016. Then, a terrible run in the qualifiers, the coach being sacked and the team just about recovering on time to make it to the playoffs. Disappointing.
Yes, the World Cup spot is booked, but watching the Three Lions play is still as bad as it has been for a while. The hope is the Tottenham Hotspur group of players can replicate their club football with the England shirt too.
A playoff spot was all that one could ask for once the draw put the Azzurri together with Spain. But everyone expected the team to grow, for coach Gian Piero Ventura to show more charisma and get his players to improve. A year after impressing at the Euros under Antonio Conte, Italy have taken a huge step back.
Only seven years ago, the Dutch were a goal away from lifting their first ever World Cup. Now, they won’t be even participating in Russia. Many issues, everywhere, from a young squad to the lack of leadership, but with these players a playoff spot was the bare minimum.
The absence of Gareth Bale is the only alibi. It seemed like the team was on a curve of improvement started before the Euros and continuing on. Not being at the World Cup is a huge blow to its growth, and could have consequences. Not winning the final game home against Ireland is simply too big a mistake.