The list of the 32 nations competing in the World Cup was finalized on Wednesday night. That also meant the list of 179 nations not competing in the World Cup was also finalized. While 15 percent of the countries who compete in FIFA will be preparing for the World Cup draw on Dec. 1, the remaining countries, constituting most of the world’s population, will be wondering “What if…” for the next four years.
The fallout from Italy’s shock elimination from the 2018 World Cup at the hands of Sweden has been largely centered around two things: the ongoing Italian footballing apocalypse and the minuscule possibility of 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning to the fold for Zweden.
People have started to write the obituaries for Italian football.
Italy is a young nation. It has old cities, even older cultures. But, as a country, it was only unified in 1861. That’s only slightly older than the form of codified football we know today. It should be no surprise that Italy has traditionally been so close to football: it’s simply a question of historical proximity.
Sweden registered a famous 1-0 victory over Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff first leg in Stockholm thanks to a deflected effort from substitute Jakob Johansson. The return leg is on Monday in Milan with Italy’s hopes of a 19th World Cup appearance in serious jeopardy.
Johansson’s 61st minute strike was vital, but Sweden’s ability to successfully keep Italy off the scoresheet was just as big. An away goal in Milan would almost certainly be enough to send Sweden through, and this Swedish side has enough talent to go toe-to-toe with the four-time world champions.
For a half-hour inside the Stadio San Paolo in Naples, Napoli didn’t just look like the best team in Italy — a statement backed up by their current position in Serie A — they looked like the best side in Europe. An opening period of dominance was stamped by a sensational goal in the 21st minute for the Neapolitans, and everything appeared rosy for the home side before defender Faouzi Ghoulam had to be substituted in the 31st minute with an apparent knee injury.
River Plate was leading Lanús by three goals on aggregate early in their Copa Libertadores semifinal second leg on Tuesday evening, a seemingly insurmountable lead for Lanús, which has only played in five Copa Libertadores, against a club that has won the tournament three times. But then it all unraveled, with Lanús scoring four unanswered goals to steal a 4-3 aggregate victory and advance to the club’s first Copa Libertadores final.
The Columbus Crew did it again. Five days after shocking MLS darlings Atlanta United on penalties in front of over 67,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Crew returned home and put the beatdown on the highly marketable New York City FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Black & Gold put four past 10-man NYCFC in a resounding 4-1 victory, David Villa registering the lone goal for NYCFC.
The USMNT is obviously hurting along with the rest of us right now. As such, the players’ social media accounts have pretty much gone quiet since Tuesday. After the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, Bruce Arena, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Omar Gonzalez all addressed the media and answered questions. You can watch the first three in the video above and Gonzalez in the video below.