Russia 2018: The time of the underdogs
While some of the World Cup giants are out of the tournament, it’s the lesser known countries in the world of football that have made their mark this year qualifying for ‘Russia 2018,’ writes Ananya Das.
Football is a beautiful game; a game full of heightened emotions, passion and drive. Unexpected goals, breaking records that would otherwise take years and wearing the crest of your respective country on your chest is something every footballer dreams of. For years, now, the World Cup has been about showing who the strongest is but that tradition is changing and the tournament is all about understanding the underlying glory that comes from just representing your country at the big stage. While the World Cup giants like Italy, USA, Chile and Netherlands are out of the tournament, it's the lesser known countries in the world of football that have made their mark this year qualifying for 'Russia 2018'.
The land of the pyramids and the mother of Nile is heading for its first World Cup tournament since 1990. That is almost 27 years, and five missed WC opportunities but thanks to Mohamed Salah's last minute penalty goal, Egypt will be seen traveling to Russia in the summer of 2018. Egypt is one of those countries who have always had a ruling vote in the continent of Africa. It was the first country to authorize TV broadcasting and has perhaps always been a 'pioneer' but somehow it has always found itself lost in terms of football- this is not to say that it has not produced good players. Players like Mohamed Elneny, Mido and Aboutrika have all come from the blessed land of the Pharaohs but as a collective team, they have failed.
They only ever qualified twice (1934 and 1990) and even then never went past the first round. Times were different then and the way the players' perceived football was, too. The young players now go straight for the prize in the shark's mouth and there is no doubt that Egypt will be lead into one of the better campaigns. This is also the first time that North Africa's representation is larger than that of West Africa as Ghana, Morocco and Cameroon failed to qualify.
There are 323 million people in USA as compared to just 4.034 million people who live in Panama. So it was quite literally wonderful to see Panama's 2-1 win over Costa Rica that easily made sure that USA would stay out of next year's WC campaign. For the first time in the history of FIFA World Cup, Panama will hear its national anthem play in front of thousands of people in a world cup match. This proves very rightly that although Panama is a tiny nation with players who have very little European experience, it should not be overlooked. It is safe to say that Panama is a welcome face in the race to the WC title.
Coming in from the CONMEBOL federation, Peru ended New Zealand's WC dreams when they beat them 2-0 in Lima to qualify for the big game. The last time Peru qualified for the World Cup was in 1982, almost three decades back. Their star player Paolo Guerrero is one of the few players in the team with substantial playing experience with big ticket clubs like Bayern Munich's youth team, Hamburg SV and his current club, the Brazilian giants Flamengo.
Haryana has about 25.5 million people living in it but Iceland has about 300,000 people living in it in total. That is how drastic the difference is when you compare just how small the Nordic country really is and even with those odds against them, Iceland has become the smallest country to ever qualify for the FIFA World Cup.
In 2014, Iceland failed to make it to the WC thanks to a heart breaking stand-off between them and Croatia where the Croats won 2-0. But this time, the Icelanders had their mind set – they wanted to go to Russia and now, they will. With their never ending grit and determination and with their ever so captivating captain Aron Gunnarsson, they have made history as they beat Kosovo in their last group game.
Their campaign at the European Championship 2016 gained them some fame for being the underdogs who made the regular winners look meek. With their performance in the Euro 2016, they stayed true to their Viking history and raided all their games and played in a miraculous manner. They achieved more than anyone thought they could.