With World Cup qualifying for the 2018 finals in Russia at an end, it is possible to reflect on what could have been for various nations who won’t be there on the global stage next summer.
Here’s a look at seven countries you would have surely banked on reaching the World Cup back when the qualifying campaign began…
While the women’s team are reigning world champions, the USMNT will be absent from a World Cup for the first time since 1986 after finishing fifth in the final round of the CONCACAF qualifying section, even missing out on a second chance in an intercontinental playoff.
Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras all finished ahead of the Americans, with a shock defeat against Trinidad & Tobago in the final round of games the decisive blow.
Present at each of the last three World Cups, albeit eliminated in the group stage every time, and Africa Cup of Nations champions as recently as 2015, Ivory Coast won’t be in Russia after finishing second in Group C of the final round of the CAF qualifying section.
Les Elephants could only win two of their games and trailed group winners Morocco by four points in the end, with just one country from each group progressing to the World Cup.
Ghana famously matched the achievements of Cameroon (1990) and Senegal (2002) when they reached the World Cup quarter finals in 2010, coming within a Luis Suarez goal-line handball of being the first African country to get to the semi finals.
The Black Stars have been present at each of the last three World Cups, but could only manage a poor third place in their final CAF qualifying group behind Egypt and Uganda.
Wales haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1958, more than a lifetime for an increasing number of fans, but their absence in Russia came as something of a shock and disappointment after performing so well at Euro 2016, where they reached the semi-finals.
In the end, Wales finished four points off top spot in UEFA Group D and two points off a second chance in the playoffs. Too many draws – five in 10 games – was the problem.
In the context of their failure to qualify for an expanded European Championship in 2016, alarming slide down the FIFA World rankings and general consensus as being the worst Dutch team in living memory, the Netherlands’ absence in 2018 may not come as a huge shock.
However, it means that the third best team from 2014 won’t be there in Russia. The Oranje were only an inferior goal difference shy of a UEFA playoff place, but an inch might as well have been a mile and they will be missing from the World Cup for the second time this century.
From back-to-back Copa America triumphs in 2015 and 2016, having earlier been one of the most exciting teams on display at the 2014 World Cup, Chile won’t be present in Russia after placing sixth in the notoriously competitive CONMEBOL qualifying section.
Having finished level on points with fifth place Peru, in the end it was goal difference that was the difference between an intercontinental playoff berth and missing out completely.
Come summer, Italy will be missing from the World Cup for the first time since 1958, with 2018 only the third occasion on which the Azzurri haven’t been present on the global football stage.
Having been handed a tough qualifying group that included Spain, the four-time World Cup winners could only finish second and settle for a playoff route. But they were unable to break down a resolute Sweden team over two legs and were beaten 1-0 on aggregate.