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Distance yes, climate not really. Most of Africa is equatorial and bloody hot.
However if you look at the African groups then they are definitely tougher than Europe
Nigeria/Cameroon/Algeriain the same group
South Africa and Senegal in the same group
Ghana and Egypt in the same group
Cote D'Ivoire and Morocco in the same group
Tunisia and DRC in the same group
Every group had at least 2 fairly evenly matched continental heavyweights where it was hard to pick a winner at the start. Algeria who just lost to Germany last time out finished bottom of their group.
The point with Europe is that even if a Spain and Italy get drawn together, there is still a second chance in the playoff. In africa you have to win your group, no second chances.
I agree with you. No italy is sad for the game, even if they've bombed out in the last two group stages.
I actually think that Africa has the most difficult qualifying with only 5 teams out of 50+ making it and the need to win your group to qualify. The gap between the top 20 teams in Africa is not massive, even a "powerhouse" like Nigeria regularly misses out. Some decent teams don't even make it into the group stages since the 50+ African teams get cut down to 20 (for 5 groups of 4) in home and away series right at the start, unlike Luxembourg and San Marino who get to play in the main qualifiers all the time.
So you have countries like Egypt who won 3 African nations cups (Euro equivalents) in a row (it's held every 2 years) but hadn't qualified for 28 years until this year. Ghana and Ivory Coast - both very decent teams, both missed out. Sometimes you get really crap teams like Togo (2006) who make it because Nigeria imploded against them away from home and the group winner is determined by head to head not goal difference, but this is quite rare.
Living at the moment on the Swiss Italian boarder, sitting in a typical Italian café the stolen glances of mutual affection could not hide a deep sadness of the national football team being out of the world cup.
Great article, but sad not to have Italy at the finals. They have been a defining team, for better or worse, at loads of major championships.
Despite everything, when you look at the teams they had to best, the USA missing out is still a massive shock. Italy missing out shows rather the imbalance of the confederations, where it is very difficult to qualify from Europe and S. America, quite difficult from Africa, rather easy from Asia, and for Mexico and the USA embarrassingly easy from N. America. This will be shown again, almost certainly, by a European win in Russia and probably most of the QFinalists as well coming from Europe.
Exclusion of Italy from World Cup finals is a good riddance.
We don't want to another Materazzi spoiling the game.
Italian players are all bad.
This is a great article and I enjoyed reading it.
I also found it ludicrous that Greece and ireland were seeded in the playoffs and Sweden wasn't.
It would be worth mentioning that Spain could also meet Argentina in the group stages. I think there will be a proverbial group of death involving Spain for sure.
While I agree that African qualifying is tough (the distances and climactic changes alone enormous), in no other continent would Italy have been in a group with a team as good as Spain with only one automatic place on offer. Even the South American teams, stuck with Brazil and Argentina, still have several direct qualification places.
In the playoffs the 8 teams were seeded with the top 4 not being able to play each other. The top 4 seeds also got to play the 2nd game at home. So Italy could not play a team like Greece or Ireland because they were considered top 4 seed, but in my view Sweden, which was unseeded, is much better than either of these teams.
As a staunch supporter of Dutch football, I am impressed by the sophisticated engagement of issues surrounding the recent failure of Italy’s world cup qualifying in your post. You conducted a detailed analysis with that includes graphs, data as well as examples of other similar cases, closely examined factors that might have contributed to Azzurri’s world cup failure, and provided a sound rebuttal to voices lamenting the bleak future of Italian football. Witnessing the recent struggles of my beloved Netherlands, I find your article very informative and relatable in a sense that it unveils many of the internal shortcomings of Italian football that in many ways, resonate with the struggles Dutch football. Some of the struggles you mentioned are also highlighted in posts from other columnists such as Jonathan Williams’ post on Sports Illustrated concerning the impotence of Italian Football Association (FIGC) in failed attempts in promoting youth development, appointing an unfitted head coach, and negligence in comprehending the rules of FIFA ranking system. Your article focused on a unique angle that approaches the flaws of the current FIFA ranking system, a seemingly negligible detail that turns out to have huge impact on the payoff drawing, which indirectly caused the elimination of Italy from 2018 tournament. A system that you described could be wielded to the advantage of boosting a nation's ranking thus avoiding harsh opponents, underscoring your main argument that "Italian football is in decent health. More worrying is FIFA’s daft ranking system."
However, as much as I enjoy the novelty of your approach. I also want to express some of my concerns regarding your overarching statement that FIFA ranking system is the main culprit to Italy’s failure. While I acknowledge that reviewing methodology implemented by FIFA may not truly reflect the strength of a national team and might even lead to unfair seed-drawing as we’ve seen in the case of Italy’s bad luck in drawing playoff oppositions. After all, shouldn’t it be Italy’s poor performance in friendly matches that cost its dip in ranking which eventually lead to tougher opponents? It is understandable for furious Italian supporters to blame FIFA ranking system for causing Italy’s failure, but at the end of the day, shouldn’t the players, the head coach, and Italian football association (FIGC) be held responsible for their own negligence? You referred to research as evidence in arguing that football head coaches have “surprisingly little impact on how well a team plays.” However, Italy was able to defeat the exact same opponents against Sweden and Spain in 2016 Euro Cup competition a year ago quite confidently under manager Antonio Conte, yet an even better Italian squad, with key players such as Marco Verratti returning from injuries, suffer from humiliating losses just a few short months later after Giampiero Ventura was appointed new head coach. Having this in mind, I must disagree with your statement that football managers have little impact on match results, as I firmly believe a good manager is able to improve a team’s overall performance. I hope you would agree with me that the situation would have been different had the Italian Football authorities done a better job in head coach appointment and paid more attention to some of the reforms that the Italian fans and other interested parties have suggested. Despite our minor differences on the cause of Italy’s world cup failure, I greatly enjoyed reading your post and found your thoughts very innovative. I would very much look forward to your feedback.
The Americans, at least, are probably philosophical about their defeat. The ones who are aware of it.
Ireland and Greece were not seeded. I believe all the seeds qualified, bar Italy, for what it's worth.
Hi everyone, I'm sorry for my english but i would like to reply this post. I think that Italy's football is died, we haven't a big players like the past, for example Roberto Baggio, Alex Del Piero or Totti. We have only foreigners!
I think the problem is the big money that goes around the football. You cannot pay a footballer 100£ for season. Am i wrong?
I hope this not qualification will help us with the future of football, both italy and the rest of football.