By Parth Parikh,
Sports Business Editor
With the FIFA World Cup heading to Russia in 2018, all eyes were set on the qualifications this year, as teams from around the world played their final matches and clinch their spots in the world’s most famous soccer tournament.
The qualification stage took place from 2015 to 2017, with numerous rounds and stages to determine which 32 teams will have the chance to go to Russia and hold the FIFA World Cup trophy.
As the host, Russia was guaranteed a spot in the 32-team lineup, thus leaving the rest of the world to fight for the remaining 31 spots. Throughout the two years of qualifications within the various continental governing soccer bodies, such as UEFA in Europe, AFC in Asia, CONMEBOL in South America, and CONCACAF in North America, it all came down to the final round robin knockout stage, where teams would book their tickets to Russia if they finish the stage within the top of their group.
Some continental bodies have different criteria in terms of how many teams can go through to the World Cup. For example, in the CONCACAF playoff, the top three teams advance while the fourth team plays in an inter-continental play-in game with the AFC champions, while the CONMEBOL playoff allows four teams in the tournament, with the fifth seed playing in the inter-continental playoff with the Oceania champions.
The first team after Russia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup was Brazil in March 2017. After cruising through the knockout stage by scoring 41 goals and allowing 11 goals in 18 games, the Brazilian team led by Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar, Manchester City wonder-kid Gabriel Jesus and captain Thiago Silva are headed to the World Cup again, with their loud and passionate fans, after their disappointing crash in the 2014 World Cup at home to Germany 7-1 in the semifinals. The next big-name team to make it to Russia was Germany, the defending champions and one of the odds-on favorites to win it all again.
Teams like Spain, the 2010 champions, Portugal, the UEFA Euro 2016 champions, and Lionel Messi-led Argentina also qualified for the World Cup after years of qualifying and passing through the stages with flying colors. Other top teams to make it to the big stage include Mexico, Belgium, England and France, the other odds-on favorite to win the trophy with their stockpile of talent, from forward Antoine Griezmann to midfielder Paul Pogba to goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
The biggest team not to make it to Russia 2018 was the United States, a team that had qualified to numerous World Cups until this year. The US men’s national team lost to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 and with the wins from Panama and Honduras, leaped the United States in the standings and removed us from contention. This team was filled with promise, from what could be the final World Cup trip for Clint Dempsey and captain Michael Bradley, to the debut of the youth sensation Christian Pulisic.
The reaction from the United States and around the world after the defeat was rightfully disappointed and with turmoil looming for the USMNT and the whole US soccer federation, the time is now to set our sights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup and possibly the World Cup in Qatar 2022.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 24th print edition.
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