The World Cup may advertise itself as a celebration of the best 32 football nations in the world, but that may not be the case. There are plenty of nations, possibly better and stronger than the final participants, which consider themselves unlucky to miss out.
Here’s a look at ten top nations from across the globe that have missed a trip to Africa’s first ever World Cup…
10. REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Not that the Irish have had a great World Cup record or have been European powerhouses, but the sheer injustice in the way they missed out on the big event was enough for them to be named in this list. They have qualified thrice for the big event in the last two decades. Their last appearance was in 2002, which saw them knocked out on penalties by Spain in Round 2.
Ireland earned two creditable draws against world champions Italy in the qualifying campaign, to book a place in the World Cup play-offs.
But, after putting on an impressive and gutsy display on that infamous night at the Stade De France, the ‘luck of the Irish’ betrayed them in Paris, as Thierry Henry’s double hand-ball assist meant that the greens of Ireland weren’t going to feature in South Africa’10.
Not long ago, ‘Team Melli’ was considered an Asian powerhouse, and qualifying for World Cup 2006 was not a surprise. Since then, a short ban due to government interference, instability resulting from multiple coaches and retirement of their most experienced players like Ali Daei, Mahdavikia and Bagheri, have led to Iran’s downfall and subsequent failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup.
Iran finished fourth behind the two Korean teams and Saudi Arabia at the end of a disappointing qualifying campaign.
With Australia’s entrance into the AFC making it even tougher to qualify, there is a good chance Iran may not be seen in the cup for a long time to come.
After a hat-trick of appearances, Tunisia will no longer appear in the World Cup on the back of a heart-breaking final day. They could have easily made the flight to South Africa and sent the Nigerian Super Eagles packing, but they slipped up on the final day, losing to Mozambique by a solitary goal.
Things were on the up when they won the 2004 African Nations’ Cup and qualified for Germany’06 a year later, but they have been away from the spotlight since then.
7. SAUDI ARABIA
The Saudis had to suffer the biggest heartbreak of the qualifying campaign. Ever since qualifying for the first time in 1994, this is the first time the Saudis will miss the World Cup.
The Falcons, as they are called, faced Bahrain in the AFC qualifying play-off after finishing third behind the two Korean teams.
After a goalless first leg in Bahrain, Al-Montashari’s 91st minute goal made it 2-1 in Riyadh and looked to have given Saudi Arabia the play-off win, but Bahrain equalized from the last kick of the game, and went through on the away goals rule.
Like Iran, they could be another one of Australia’s long-term victims.
Turkey has always been a tough opponent!
Remember them? Third place finishers in Korea-Japan’02 and third place finishers in Euro’08, losing to a last minute goal against Germany. The Turks have always been one step away from true stardom.
Turkey, known for its fanatical fan base and the hostility of their fans, finished third in the qualifying group behind Spain and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
They are best remembered for their 2002 World Cup run, which included beating the home team Japan and knocking out Senegal, before running into Brazil in the semis.
Hakan Sukur’s goal in under 11 seconds, against Korea in the 3rd place play-off win, is the World Cup’s fastest ever goal.
Sweden had qualified eleven times for the World Cup, but they are going through one of their worst periods in their illustrious history. Four months ago, they reached their lowest ever FIFA ranking of 43.
The pain of not qualifying was one thing, but to make matters worse, their Scandinavian rivals Denmark topped the qualifying group. Sweden finished third behind Denmark and Portugal in qualifying, after suffering two defeats in the Scandinavian derby and playing out two goalless draws against Portugal.
In the last two World Cups, they had cleared the group stages and had been knocked out in the first knock-out round.
This time around, though, the Swedish female crowd will be missed more than the skills of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, thanks to the striker’s form at the club level.
“Give me a break” and he got one..
4. CZECH REPUBLIC
Formerly known as Czechoslovakia, the nation has entered the World Cup nine times. After ending up as the beaten semi-finalists in Euro 2004, the Czech’s were considered the ‘dark horses’ in every tournament they participated.
But with the exit of influential players like Pavel Nedved, Vladimir Smicer and Karel Poborsky, the Czech national side gradually lost their fear factor,subsequently failing to qualify for South Africa’10.
They ended their qualifying campaign in third place, a point above Northern Ireland, and well behind Slovakia and Slovenia.
Africa’s number one team will not feature in Africa’s first ever world cup – a harsh reality. Egypt has made the position of Africa’s number one its own for the past six years; this makes Egypt’s inability to qualify for a World Cup since 1990 even more baffling.
Egypt has won three straight African Nations’ Cup, but their great rivals Algeria dumped them out in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
After an extraordinary situation, which saw Egypt and Algeria tied on every possible parameter in the group, the two teams had to play a play-off on neutral territory to decide who gets the last African ticket to South Africa. Algeria won the match 1-0 to yet again deny the African champions a trip to the World Cup.
The Euro’08 semi-finalists dazzled the world with some sumptuous football in Austria-Switzerland. Andrei Arshavin became the toast of Europe in 2008, but who knew that was as good as the Guus Hiddink era was going to get.
Russia are another one of those nations who do not have a good World Cup record, but possess quite a few exciting talents in the squad. However, their national team is predominantly composed of players who play in the Russian league.
They finished second to Germany in the qualifying group, and surprisingly lost the play-off match to a well-oiled Slovenian side on away goals rule.
Russia has only qualified for USA’94 and Korea-Japan’02, but was expected to feature in Africa’2010.
No Arshavin to grace the World Cup..
Number one had to be Croatia – the highest-ranked nation missing from the World Cup. Since the formation of independent Croatia, this will be the first World Cup without this nation.
They made headlines by denying England a place in the 2008 European Championship, and ended up being quarter-finalists in the same tournament.
The English had the last laugh, though. Croatia were hammered 1-4 and 1-5 by England in home and away matches, respectively, in the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, which meant they ended up third, behind England and Ukraine, and without a ticket to South Africa.
Croatian manager Slaven Bilic is one of the most admired managers in Europe, but his tenth-ranked Croatia ended up being the biggest casualty of the qualifying campaign.