ZURICH (Reuters) – The chance of a World Cup with out Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi turned out to be a false alarm, but subsequent 12 months’s event will nonetheless have a significant absentee after the United States’ extraordinary failure to qualify on Tuesday.
Panama, in the meantime, confirmed it is completely attainable for small nations to qualify with out increasing the finals to 48 groups, which is deliberate for the 2026 version, as they joined Iceland in reaching the event for the primary time.
South American champions Chile, like African counterparts Cameroon, missed out on a ticket to Russia — and, bizarrely, their elimination was the results of a profitable protest made to FIFA about opponents fielding an ineligible participant.
Twenty-three of the 32 finalists have now been determined whereas the rest might be settled in November with 4 European playoffs, two intercontinental playoffs and the ultimate spherical of African qualifiers, the place three teams are nonetheless open.
Brazil, who might be making their 21st World Cup look, stay the one ever-present facet on the finals and had certified lengthy earlier than Tuesday’s drama.
Ronaldo and Messi, who’ve gained FIFA’s World Player of the Year award between them since 2008, went into the ultimate group matches unsure of whether or not they would participate subsequent 12 months.
Those fears have been allayed as Messi’s hat-trick led Argentina to a Three-1 win at excessive altitude in Ecuador to guarantee their place and Portugal made it with a 2-Zero win over Switzerland.
The U.S., one in all FIFA’s most essential members in business phrases, weren’t so fortunate as a shock 2-1 defeat in Trinidad and Tobago, mixed with wins for Panama and Honduras, ended their run of seven successive finals appearances.
The Netherlands, semi-finalists in 2014 and runners-up in 2010, may even miss out whereas four-times champions Italy, who final failed to qualify in 1958, face a two-leg playoff in November.
The affect of the U.S.’s absence might be felt at broadcasters Fox, who take over protection of the World Cup from ESPN beginning with the 2018 event and a number of sponsors, comparable to Nike, who had been hoping for loads of World Cup publicity.
Panama’s first-ever qualification for the finals prompted President Juan Carlos Varela to declare a national vacation, describing it on Twitter as an “historic day for the country”.
But their 2-1 win over Costa Rica additionally highlighted international soccer physique FIFA’s stunning determination not to use goal-line expertise within the qualifiers, because the ball didn’t seem to totally cross the road for his or her first aim.
Panama’s success additionally strengthened the hand of those that argue that the enlargement of the World Cup to 48 groups will not be mandatory to permit extra smaller nations to participate.
On Monday, Iceland, with a inhabitants of lower than 350,000, turned the smallest nation ever to qualify for the finals whereas Cape Verde, with a inhabitants of 550,000, are nonetheless in rivalry for one of many African locations.
An even bigger World Cup may additionally devalue the qualifying competitors, notably in South America the place two factors separated 5 groups battling for 2 direct locations and a playoff spot earlier than Tuesday’s enthralling finale.
An night of unremitting stress ended with Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia becoming a member of Brazil in Russia, whereas Peru’s 1-1 draw was sufficient to land them in fifth place – the playoff spot – and proceed dreaming of a primary look since 1982.
Peru sneaked forward of Chile on aim distinction after their southern neighbors misplaced Three-Zero to Brazil and dropped to sixth. They have been additionally indebted to Venezuela who stopped Paraguay from taking the playoff spot with a shock 1-Zero win in Asuncion.
Earlier within the competitors, Chile obtained an additional two factors after protesting that Bolivia fielded an ineligible participant — Paraguay-born Nelson Cabrera — throughout a Zero-Zero attract Santiago.
FIFA agreed and awarded them a Three-Zero walkover win — but then did the identical for Peru who misplaced 2-Zero to Bolivia and subsequently gained three additional factors, in contrast to Chile’s two.
That additional level proved decisive on Tuesday.