With 211 teams attempting to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and just 32 berths available, there were bound to be some top teams failing to make the cut. And let’s not forget that Russia qualifies automatically as the host nation so there were 31 spots up for grabs. This list deals with the top 10 surprises of World Cup qualification so far. As of October 17th, 23 of the spots have been filled with the rest of them being resolved in a playoff system in November.
This list deals with the five biggest surprises for the teams that have already qualified and the five that have been eliminated. There could be some further upsets next month as the European playoffs will feature Sweden vs Italy, Northern Ireland vs Switzerland, Croatia vs Greece, and Denmark vs the Republic of Ireland. We’ll also see Honduras facing Australia and New Zealand battling against Peru with three more African groups also needing to be decided.
10. IN: EGYPT
This is the first time Egypt has qualified for the World Cup since 1990 and it’s just their third time overall. Their first appearance came way back in 1934 and the squad never made it out of the group stage at either event. However, they played well in the qualifying contest for 2018 as they topped their African group over Ghana, Congo and Uganda with four wins and a draw in their five games. Egypt is currently ranked number 30 in the world by FIFA with their highest ever ranking being ninth and their lowest at 75th just four years ago. As a side note, if 44-year-old goalkeeper Essam El-Hadaray manages to play at next year’s tournament in Russia, he’ll become the oldest player ever to compete in a World Cup.
9. OUT: CAMEROON
Cameroon may currently be ranked just 51st in the world, but it was a bit of surprise that the African nation didn’t make the World Cup since they’ve appeared in seven previous tournaments. They first qualified back in 1982 and made it as far as the quarterfinal stage eight years later when they were edged 3-2 by England in a thrilling contest. They also won the African Cup of Nations and played in the Confederations Cup earlier this year and had made it to the last two World Cups, so were favored to reach Russia next summer. However, they managed just one win, three draws and a loss in their qualifying group for six points and finished third behind winners Nigeria and second-place Zambia.
8. IN: IRAN
Iran has made it to the World Cup four times before, including the last one in Brazil, so their inclusion here may not really be that shocking. But considering the turmoil the country’s in and the way they qualified it could be considered a surprise to many. The team is currently ranked 34th on the globe by FIFA and they’ve never made it out of the group stage in their previous World Cup appearances. However, they managed to go unbeaten in 10 games in the qualifying campaign for Russia. The Iranians had six wins and four draws for 22 points and topped their group over South Korea (15), Syria (13), Uzbekistan (13), China (12) and Qatar (7). Iran may have scored just 10 goals in their 10 games, but they allowed only two against.
7. OUT: GHANA
The ‘Black Stars’ of Ghana fell short of reaching their fourth World Cup overall and fourth consecutive when they finished third in their African qualifying group. Ghana came in behind Egypt (12) and Uganda (8) with a win, three draws and a loss for six points while placing ahead of the Republic of Congo (1). Ghana was without star performers Asamoah Gyan, Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew for a crucial match against Uganda and paid for it dearly by dropping two huge points with a 0-0 draw. The game wasn’t without controversy though as Ghana had two goals disallowed due to offside calls and lodged a complaint with FIFA to have the game replayed due to poor officiating. However, it was rejected. The nation is ranked 52nd in the world right now, but reached the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and was eliminated 4-2 in a penalty shootout by Uruguay.
6. IN: SERBIA
There’s no doubt that Serbia is a fine footballing nation, but they haven’t played up to their potential lately so their appearance in Russia next year is somewhat surprising. Serbia hasn’t played in a World Cup since 2010 in South Africa and hasn’t qualified for a European Championship tournament for the last 16 years. The squad rolled up its collective socks this time around though and earned 21 of a possible 30 points in their qualifying group to win it. The Serbians, who are currently ranked 38th in the world by FIFA, lost just once in qualifying while winning six and drawing the other three. They also had some tough teams to overcome as they finished ahead of the Republic of Ireland (19), Wales (17), Austria (15), Georgia (5) and Moldova with two points.
5. OUT: CHILE
Chile is generally considered to be a footballing powerhouse in South America and is currently ranked as the ninth best team in the world. The nation won the last two Copa America tournaments, finished as runners-up at this year’s Confederations Cup and qualified for the Round of 16 at the past two World Cups. Chile has played in nine previous World Cups with their best finish being third place back in 1962 when they hosted the event. But Alexis Sanchez and the rest of his teammates will miss out in Russia next year as they finished in sixth place in their 10-team qualifying group. The top four teams qualified automatically and the fifth-place squad, Peru, will enter a playoff. Chile had eight wins, two draws and eight defeats in qualifying for 26 points, but finished behind Peru on goal difference.
4. IN: PANAMA
This is the first time Panama has qualified for a World Cup and the CONCACAF nation basically did so at the expense of the U.S. They clinched qualification in their last game by beating Costa Rica 2-1 in a controversial match. Striker Gabriel Torres put Panama ahead 1-0, but it appeared that the ball didn’t cross the goal line. The referee counted it though, Panama took full advantage of the ruling and a national holiday was called by President Juan Carlos Varela to celebrate the World Cup qualification. Panama is ranked only 60th in the world by FIFA, but managed to place third in their six-team group with 13 points from three wins, four draws and three defeats. They were level with Honduras, but had a better goal difference and finished a point ahead of the Americans.
3. OUT: HOLLAND
Holland has long been a world footballing power and made it to the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The team hasn’t had much luck on the world stage though as it’s reached three Finals and lost all of them. The most recent was a 1-0 defeat to Spain in 2010 and they also lost the 1978 final to Argentina and the 1974 tournament to West Germany. Holland has struggled since 2014 though and failed to qualify for last year’s European Championship. The Dutch are still ranked number 20 in the world, but just failed to reach the playoffs after finishing third in their qualifying group behind France and Sweden. They were level with Sweden at 19 points from six wins, a draw and three losses, but had a worse goal differential and therefore won’t be appearing in their 11th World Cup.
2. IN: ICELAND
Iceland shocked the footballing world last summer by knocking England out of the European Championships. They’ve done one better this time by qualifying for their first ever World Cup. In fact, the tiny island makes history by becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the tournament with a population of approximately 340,000. The smallest country to make a World Cup before was Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 with a population of about 1.3 million. Iceland may be managed by a part-time dentist, but the squad won its qualifying group by racking up 22 points in 10 games with seven wins, a draw and two losses while scoring 16 goals and allowing seven. They finished ahead of Croatia (20), Ukraine (17), Turkey (15), Finland (9) and Kosovo (1). Iceland is currently ranked 21st in the world due to their performances over the past two years, but were 131st just five years ago.
1. OUT: USA
Considering the U.S. Is ranked 27th in the world by FIFA, won this year’s Gold Cup, and had a relatively easy road to the 2018 World Cup, their elimination was a big surprise to fans. The team has played in every World Cup since 1990 and has appeared in 10 tournaments overall. Their best showing came way back in 1930 when they finished third. The Americans placed fifth in their six-team group with the top three nations all qualifying for Russia next summer. However, they failed with just 12 points out of a possible 30 and finished behind Mexico (21), Costa Rica (16), Panama (13) and Honduras (13). The U.S. lost 2-1 in their final qualifier away to Trinidad & Tobago and would have qualified with a draw. Manager Bruce Arena resigned following the disappointment and the nation seems to be overreacting to the team’s failure.