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Qatar from home: The big nations with an unwanted winter break this year

“We have to ask ourselves questions now. There’s some bad luck, but you also need to make your own luck”.

Marco Verratti spoke candidly to an RAI reporter after his Italy side suffered a shock 1-0 loss to North Macedonia.

Despite missing centre back stalwart and Euro 2020 final goal scorer Leonardo Bonucci, Italy were still expected to sweep aside a plucky North Macedonia side, who finished comfortably behind group winners Germany. 90 minutes of tension was broken in stoppage time as Al Feiha striker Aleksander Trajkvoski’s marvellous strike nestled into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

The reigning European champions will miss out on consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history, as the Azzurri look to rebuild after a campaign blighted by draws left them in second place behind eventual group winners Switzerland.

A trip to the 2023 UEFA Nations League Finals in the Netherlands will do little to quell the disappointment for Italian fans, however they are not the only big nation to be sitting out this winters World Cup in Qatar.

Also missing out on their second World Cup in a row, 2016 Copa America winners Chile will be watching the action from the afar, as a campaign marred by a Covid-19 related scheduling crisis saw them finish in a bitterly disappointing seventh place.

This led to head coach Martin Lasarte being removed from his position, a position he had only held for a year, and new boss Eduardo Berizzo was installed.

In their announcement of Berizzo, president of Chile’s football federation Pablo Milad was brief but encouraging, saying of the former Sevilla boss.

“Dear fans of our national football team, we have a coach, and he is Eduardo Berizzo, he knows our football and he has vast international experience. We wish him lots of luck”.

Although Chile failed to qualify for either the upcoming tournament in Qatar or the previous tournament in Russia, their performances once getting to the World Cup have often been stellar.

They reached the round of 16 in consecutive appearances in 2010 and 2014, losing out to Brazil on both occasions, and were particularly impressive in 2014 as they navigated a group including Spain and the Netherlands to finish second, the highlight being an excellent 2-0 win over the Spanish in front of over 70,000 fans in Rio de Janeiro.

When qualifying for a World Cup, you need plenty of skill, but you also need some luck, unfortunately for African sides Nigeria and Ivory Coast, they were all out of luck, and neither will be attending the World Cup this year. Europe’s top leagues are filled with top talent from Africa, whether its Mohamed Salah dazzling crowds at Anfield, or Odilon Kossounou providing the defensive spine to Bayer Leverkusen, African players are key parts to several major European clubs.

Qualification to the World cup is somewhat tricky for African countries, smaller nations must contend with a first-round knockout stage where a two-legged tie decides if you can make it to the dreaded group stage. The group stage is so dreaded because not only do you have to finish first out of four teams, not even this guarantees qualification as the third round sees group winners face off over two legs to decide who gets on the plane.

Nigeria entered at the second stage, coming in as early favourites to top their group containing Cape Verde, Liberia and Central African Republic. Early victories against Cape Verde and Liberia started the campaign well for the Super Eagles, but a matchday three loss to Central African Republic set off major alarm bells, no more slips could happen if they wanted to progress. The result was two well earned wins and a draw against Cape Verde on the final matchday to ensure progression.

This earned them a tie with Ghana to see who would qualify, a 0-0 first leg did not inspire much hope for either side, but a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture saw Nigeria crash out on the dreaded away goals rule.

Ivory Coast also had a difficult qualifying campaign, drawing early favourites Cameroon in their group along with Mozambique and Malawi, The Elephants were going to have a large hurdle ahead of them to qualify. Unfortunately for them, an early draw with Mozambique would prove costly as Cameroon matched their other results to finish the group on 15 points, just beating their tally of 13.

Sadly for head coach Patrice Beaumelle, his failure to ensure qualification cost him his job, former Bordeaux boss Jean-Louis Gasset was appointed as his successor and his first task will be navigating the 2023 African Cup of Nations which Ivory Coast will host.

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