by Eric McGrath - 03/17/06
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The World Cup is only months away now, and for the 32 countries taking part, the excitement and the tension can only build to even greater heights before the start of their first game. However, there are some teams out there who will be able to do nothing but turn the TV on, sit back, and relax while another team of players fulfills THEIR dreams on the world stage. But for losses that should or could have been draws, and draws that could and should have been wins, these teams would be at the World Cup in Germany in June and July. Despite having a presence in past World Cups, this time around they'll have to settle for sampling the German atmosphere with a bottle of Pils beer and a large dollop of Sauerkraut. Let's have a look at some of those teams that will be resting on their laurels during the festival of football that is the World Cup.
The Greeks have only been to one World Cup finals in their history; in 1994, they were placed in a group that contained Argentina, Bulgaria and Nigeria, and were bounced out of the tournament without scoring a single goal. Their failure to qualify for this year's World Cup Finals, with losses in the second half of the qualifying tournament to Denmark and the Ukraine, as well as a shock first-game defeat to Albania, could be due to the fact that other teams may have worked out how to play against their tight defensive structure. It might also be a case of "flash in the pan" - maybe the Greeks have had their day in the Sun, and must resign themselves to once again be also-rans in the wider football world.
The Irish have never really hit the heights they did in 1998 and 1990 under Jack Charlton, although they did appear, with not a little controversy, in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. This time around, however, there will be no Green Army gracing the World Cup with songs and cheer and a mighty profit for the local barkeeps. Draws against a strong Israel, at both home and away, proved to be their undoing, especially since they held the lead twice in both games. Not even the return of Roy Keane could motivate the troops beyond a cursory attempt at beating Switzerland in the must-win last game. The team became somewhat directionless in the last few games under the hugely popular Brian Kerr, but failure to qualify for 2006 has cost him his job as Ireland manager, and Ireland will seek new direction under World Cup stalwart Steve Staunton.
Uruguay has probably the most illustrious history of all the notable teams that failed to make this year's World Cup in Germany. Twice-winners of the trophy, in both 1930 (The first World Cup), and 1950, this time around Uruguay failed in the play-offs to a resurgent Guus Hiidink-coached Australia. The Celeste, as they are known, were denied qualification when they lost a penalty shoot-out in front of 80,000 screaming Socceroo supporters, with misses from Dario Rodriguez and Marcelo Zalayeta. The decision to withdraw star player Alvaro Recoba denied them a potential match-winner, but on the day, the thought of avenging their 2001 defeat in a similar situation may have given the Socceroos a little more desire to win, as well as a sterling display from Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
The Indomitable Lions have been ever-present in the last four World Cup Tournaments; that they are not going to be present in the 2006 World Cup says more for the emerging new talents in Africa than for the quality of their team. Cameroon has some of the top talents in Europe under their flag, from Barcelona powerhouse Samuel Eto'o to Manchester United's Eric Djembe-Djembe. Finishing second in their group, Cameroon was only one point behind group winners Ivory Coast, who qualified for their very first World Cup. In a qualification zone that threw up some other World Cup debutants, perhaps the time of the Indomitable Lions is over, and a new approach is needed. Perhaps, also, this was just the Ivory Coast's year. Either way, the likes of Eto'o and Djembe-Djembe will have to wait another four years before they will get another crack at World Cup glory - and by that time, perhaps Roger Milla might be announcing yet another comeback from retirement to help them on their way.
The Norwegians, like the Irish, can point to a reasonable recent record in the World Cup, having been present in '94 and '98, but missing out in 2002. This time around, though, they have the agony of being knocked out in the playoffs, courtesy of the Czech Republic. They lost 1-0 in both legs to crash out of the finals, conceding goals to Champion's League winner Vladimir Smicer in the first leg, and an expertly placed shot from Borussia Dortmund's in-demand Tomas Rosicky. Norway, much like Ireland, has built its success on a combination of athleticism, pressure defending and direct play. Although not pretty at times, this team's style certainly lends more to attacking football than a lot of other teams that prefer to pass the ball for 89 minutes before scoring in the ninetieth. However, this year, the likes of John Carew, John Arne Riise and Blackburn Rovers favorite Mort Gamst Pedersen must content themselves with watching their club team-mates perform on the biggest stage in World Football.
There are other teams who have graced the world cup in the past who have failed to qualify, such as Russia, Belgium, Colombia, Romania, Nigeria and Bulgaria. For various reasons, such as the collapse of the Russian federation and the lack of new stars emerging for their countries of the caliber of Stoichkov for Bulgaria, Scifo for Belgium and Hagi for Romania, these countries won't be participating in the World Cup this year. But the next one is only four years away, and you can bet each of these absent nations are hatching their plans to make sure they are not the ones to miss out in 2010. Just ask Roger Milla…