World Cup 2022 in Qatar is well underway, with the many pre-tournament controversies and talking points giving way to some enthralling performances on the pitch, such as England’s 6-2 opening win over Iran, as well as some utterly dismal displays, such as England’s wretched 0-0 draw with the USA.
From shock wins by Saudi Arabia over Argentina and Japan over Germany to a wonder goal from Richarlison and a thrilling fightback by Cameroon against Serbia, this rare winter tournament has had it all and we are not even out of the group stage yet.
For all that, a number of big name teams are missing from the drama enfolding on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
The most prominent of these is surely Italy, Roberto Mancini’s Euro 2020 winners surprising everyone with their failure to qualify and therein sadly depriving the world stage of some very fine players and some of the game’s most passionate fans.
Russia, which hosted the last World Cup in 2018, is also absent, having been banned from taking part in almost all international sporting competitions as punishment for Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February.
Valery Karpin’s team had actually made the playoffs after finishing second in their qualifying group but the decision was made by FIFA to prohibit them from going further as part of the massive campaign of international sanctions against the country in response to its brutal war against its western neighbour.
Ukraine is also absent having been knocked out at the playoff stage by Gareth Bale’s Wales – they would surely have been one of the most popular teams in these finals had they made it.
Another highly-ranked European nation missing out on the big occasion is Sweden, who have taken part in 12 of the 21 World Cups staged since the tournament’s inception. However, this time they were felled by Robert Lewandowski’s solid Poland side in the playoffs.
Elsewhere, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria all miss out after underwhelming in qualifying, depriving us of such greats as Mo Salah and Riyad Mahrez, as do the likes of Chile, Colombia and China.
North Korea are not in Qatar either but they did qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where they sensationally scored against Brazil before being thrashed by Ivory Coast and Portugal to the consternation of Kim Jong-un, who switched off his TV in a huff to resume playing with his rockets.