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Italy join Holland, Chile and USA in the wilderness, but the four nations would have made for a World Cup group of death... so where did it all go wrong?

  • Four-time winners Italy failed to make the World Cup for the first time since 1958
  • They join 2010 finalists Holland as a huge European nation who won't be present
  • Copa America holders Chile also failed to qualify from the South American zone
  • USA have taken a drastic step back in their football development by missing out 

This summer's World Cup 2018 party in Russia is going to take place with some famous names left off the guestlist.

Italy haven't made it for the first time since 1958, USA since 1986. Triple World Cup finalists Holland, the birthplace of total football, are absent; likewise Chile with their stars Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.

How did it come to pass these four nations in particular will be missing the greatest show on earth. Sportsmail investigates…

Italy became the latest of the big hitting nations to miss out on a place at the World Cup 2018

Italy became the latest of the big hitting nations to miss out on a place at the World Cup 2018

 

ITALY

Four-time World Cup winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?

Having been drawn in the same qualifying group as Spain, it was no disgrace for the Azzuri to end up in the play-offs. However, to fail to score in either game against Sweden was little short of disgraceful.

Post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedes are a long way short of world-beaters, captained by former Wigan man Andreas Granqvist and including Manchester United's fourth-choice centre-half Victor Lindelof and John Guidetti, who didn't make it at Manchester City. The problem for Italy is they have no heir to great forwards of the past like Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri.

Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci is unlikely to see another World Cup after their shock exit

Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci is unlikely to see another World Cup after their shock exit

WHICH OF THE STARS FAILED TO PERFORM?

The front players have to take their share of the blame. Torino's Andre Belotti has been linked with Chelsea and Real Madrid and placed in the £80million bracket but was left in tears afterwards after failing to make an impact as a substitute. 

Southampton's Manolo Gabbiadini has gone off the boil after an impressive start to his Premier League career. Ciro Immobile, Simone Zaza and Lorenzo Insigne are poor imitations of previous Italy strikers. Marco Verratti couldn't even play after picking up a silly booking in the first leg.

IS THE BOSS CARRYING THE BLAME?

Gian Ventura didn't face the cameras after Italy's exit and has reportedly already resigned. The 69-year-old would probably be pushed if he didn't jump but most observers think the malaise runs deeper than just him. 

The amount of top overseas players in Serie A has affected the talent pool available to Italian managers – sound familiar? – and the 2006 side of Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro del Piero haven't been replaced. Their last World Cup survivor, 34-year-old Daniele de Rossi, argued with Ventura when asked to come on as a substitute on Monday night.

Gianluigi Buffon brought an end to a long and successful Italy career after Monday night

Gianluigi Buffon brought an end to a long and successful Italy career after Monday night

The Italy captain won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 but was hoping to add to that in Russia

The Italy captain won the World Cup with Italy in 2006 but was hoping to add to that in Russia

HOW MUCH HOPE DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

They have a top-class manager Carlo Ancelotti available but without the players, it's going to be difficult for anyone to turn the ship around. Antonio Conte showed at Euro 2016 with what was described as the worst-ever Italian squad that tactical intelligence can help, but reaching the quarter-finals was perhaps the best they can wish for. 

Italy have to take a leaf out of England's book and try to produce a new generation but it's a dilemma, the better Serie A is, the harder it'll be for Italian players. Maybe Mario Balotelli, doing well in Nice, needs to be recalled to shake things up!

Holland

World Cup finalists (1974, 1978, 2010)

WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?

The Dutch, home of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, have failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments including the 24-team Euro 2016 where it was almost harder to miss out. 

Academies in Holland complain that their best young players are snapped up by Premier League clubs which deprives them of the regular first-team football they would have had at 18 or 19 in the domestic league. 

The hype around the new generation of Memphis Depay has proven misplaced, tactically other countries have moved ahead and their best players are still Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder seven years after they reached the World Cup final in South Africa.

The hype in Holland around a new generation lead by Memphis Depay appears misplaced

The hype in Holland around a new generation lead by Memphis Depay appears misplaced

WHICH OF THE STARS FAILED TO PERFORM?

Premier League clubs have splashed out sizeable sums in recent years on Ryan Babel, Memphis Depay, Vincent Janssen, Jordy Clasie, Davy Klaassen and Marco van Ginkel without any of them showing they are able to make an impact at top international level. 

Arjen Robben is exempt from criticism after another good campaign which was followed by his international retirement, but Wesley Sneijder was no longer the force of old, and Gini Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk didn't step into the breach. Bizarrely, 17-year-old Ajax defender Matthijs De Ligt was thrown in for his debut against Bulgaria and not surprisingly made mistakes as the Dutch lost 2-0.

IS THE BOSS CARRYING THE BLAME?

Three of them. Louis van Gaal helped the team reach the semi-finals in 2014 but his brand of 'sideways passing' – a phrase coined by Johan Cruyff – ultimately led to Holland's famous creativity being blunted. 

Van Gaal's successor Danny Blind, father of Daley, was a disaster and 70-year-old Dick Advocaat who oversaw the end of the qualifying campaign was little more than a stopgap. Ronald Koeman may be a candidate to take over and at least Holland can console themselves that Sweden, who pipped them to runners-up in the group, proved better than people thought by defeating Italy in the play-offs.

Arjen Robben brought an end to his long career with Holland following their failed campaign

Arjen Robben brought an end to his long career with Holland following their failed campaign

Wesley Sneijder was part of the squad that came so close to winning the World Cup in 2010

Wesley Sneijder was part of the squad that came so close to winning the World Cup in 2010

HOW MUCH HOPE DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

There was a time when Dutch players were wanted by the very top clubs. AC Milan's dominance was based on having Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. Patrick Kluivert joined Barcelona after winning the Champions League with Ajax while Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Dennis Bergkamp graced the Premier League. 

Now, Liverpool seems to be the ceiling for Dutch players with Jurgen Klopp wanting Virgil van Dijk to join Gini Wijnaldum. When you compare the talent pool in Holland to their neighbours Belgium let alone France and Germany, there won't be an overnight transformation.

USA

Been at every World Cup since 1990

WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?

Jurgen Klinsmann's autocratic style worked at the 2014 World Cup but the divisions between manager and his players cost the German his job after a dodgy start to qualifying for this tournament. Bruce Arena couldn't reverse the decline and the USA were knocked out of a relatively easy section when they lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Panama beat Costa Rica with a goal that didn't cross the line.

Jurgen Klinsmann lost his job as USA manager after causing divisions between his players

Jurgen Klinsmann lost his job as USA manager after causing divisions between his players

WHICH OF THE STARS FAILED TO PERFORM?

Their stand-out player, 19-year-old Christian Pulisic of Borussia Dortmund, is exempt from blame scoring five and making four assists in the campaign. But he had virtually no support from more experienced players like Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley. 

Even goalkeeper Tim Howard couldn't reach the heights that got him a phone call from President Barack Obama after his heroics against Belgium in the last World Cup. Maybe Howard didn't' want to hear from President Trump in Russia!

IS THE BOSS CARRYING THE BLAME?

Bruce Arena didn't mince his words after the disaster in Trinidad. 'I failed,' he said. Most will see the problems as more deep-rooted but Arena has gone anyway with Dave Sarachan, his assistant, placed in interim charge. Klinsmann left with a big pay-out but a divisive figure who demanded control over every aspect of American national team soccer.

Christian Pulisic is exempt from blame for his five goals and four assists during the campaign

Christian Pulisic is exempt from blame for his five goals and four assists during the campaign

The youngsters had virtually no support from more experienced players like Clint Dempsey

The youngsters had virtually no support from more experienced players like Clint Dempsey

HOW MUCH HOPE DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

There is an expectation among Americans to dominate any sport they take seriously but 'soccer' is far more competitive than basketball, baseball or even golf. The opening up of the MLS should have been great for young US hopefuls but it's been used as a finishing school for players from all over Central and South America, leading to the success of countries like Panama and Honduras who both finished above them in the table. 

Team USA has grown into a force unrecognisable from being a minority sport pre-1990, and they reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002. But this is a crossroads for the sport. They need to look at the next generation aged between 17 and 21 to aid Pulisic in the next four-year cycle.

CHILE

Copa America winners (2015, 2016)

WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?

The country that thrilled audiences at the last two World Cups and won two Copa Americas have run out of steam. They virtually introduced high-tempo pressing to the world under Marcelo Bielsa at the 2010 World Cup where they have Spain a major scare, and took Brazil to penalties in the best match at the 2014 World Cup when Jorge Sampaoli was manager. 

But without a guru in charge and Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal past their first flush of youth, a difficult South American qualifying group proved beyond them, their fate sealed by a 3-0 defeat in Brazil in the final round of matches.

Alexis Sanchez's form for Chile appeared to suffer from his uncertain future at Arsenal

Alexis Sanchez's form for Chile appeared to suffer from his uncertain future at Arsenal

WHICH OF THE STARS FAILED TO PERFORM?

Alexis Sanchez's problems at Arsenal seemed to affect his international form. Claudio Bravo, excellent at the last World Cup, has lost all confidence since signing for Manchester City. 

It was significant that mistakes from those players handed Brazil their first two goals when Chile went out. Arturo Vidal has seen his lifestyle criticised by Sampaoli and Sanchez could quit international football. 'You get tired of saying to yourself 'I'll get up once more' after crying after a defeat,' he said after La Roja were beaten by Bolivia in qualifying.

IS THE BOSS CARRYING THE BLAME?

Juan Pizzi had a tough job following on from two legends Bielsa and Sampaoli and has indicated he won't take Chile into the next campaign having seen his contract run down. It's been a dramatic fall from grace for a manager who guided them to victory against Lionel Messi's Argentina in last year's Copa America.

Claudio Bravo's ill-fated spell at Manchester City appears to have rid him of all confidence

Claudio Bravo's ill-fated spell at Manchester City appears to have rid him of all confidence

HOW MUCH HOPE DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Apart from the giants Brazil and Argentina, South American football is often cyclical. Peru had their moments when Teofilio Cubillas was in his pomp in the late 1970s, Colombia benefited from the generation of Carlos Valderrama and Rene Higuita. 

Chile have had their golden period of stars and they may have to be patient until the next Sanchez, Vidal and Bravo come along. With their relatively small population, it's too much to expect them to permanent qualifiers for the World Cup.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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