With their monumental 2-0 home win on November 15 over New Zealand, Peru clinched the final spot at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The now-finalized 32 team selection includes a number of surprises, including Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and the US all failing to qualify.
Many fans were particularly shocked that Italy, who have won the World Cup four times and qualified for every tournament since 1958, were unable to qualify. The Italians made it to the playoff round after finishing second in their qualifying group behind Spain, and were matched up with Sweden. The Italians were favorites heading into the playoff, but failed to score in either of the two playoff matches, and ultimately lost 1-0. The loss represented the end of an era for the Italian team, with several veteran stalwarts, including captain Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli all retiring. Additionally, team manager Gian Piero Ventura was sacked several days after. Looking forward, the Italian team must turn to up-and-coming talents like Gianluigi Donnarumma, Roberto Gagliardini, and Daniele Rugani.
The Netherlands’ qualifying campaign was even more disappointing, as the Dutch finished third in their group and did not even qualify for the playoffs. Additionally, their campaign closed on a sad note, as star winger Arjen Robben announced his retirement from international soccer after the team’s last qualifying match. This was not the first major failure for the Netherlands in recent years, as the team also failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2016. The team’s future is murky, as the past decade was a so-called “golden generation,” lead by players like Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie, and a downward spiral could be forthcoming.
Across the Atlantic in South America, Chile missed out on qualifying by goal differential, after finishing level on points with Peru. This was a major disappointment for Chile, who looked to be building momentum after winning the last two South American Championships. Chile was not the only reigning Continental Champion to not qualify, as the African champion, Cameroon, the Oceanic Champion, New Zealand, and the North American Champions, the United States, all failed to qualify as well.
While some traditional powerhouses did fail to qualify for the World Cup, this opened the door for new faces as well. Iceland became the smallest-ever nation (by population) to qualify when they clinched their first-ever World Cup spot. Panama also qualified for the first time as well. Additionally, Morocco and Peru both qualified for the first time in the 21st century. The lead-up to the World Cup continues until the tournament kicks off on June 14, 2018.