What the Latest Round of World Cup Qualifiers Has Shown Us
30 Nov 2017 03:22pm, by YorkshireSquare
The list of teams who have qualified for the World Cup is finally complete. Germany, Brazil, France and Argentina are among the leading contenders for the crown, with some high-profile countries set to miss out on the action. Italy, champions of the World Cup as recently as 2006, are undoubtedly the biggest shock of those nations to have failed to qualify.
Gian Piero Ventura paid the price for the Azzurri's failure with his job after Italy finished second in their group, behind Spain, going on to narrowly lose a play-off against Sweden. Holland also failed to make it to the World Cup, with the likes of Arjen Robben missing out on what is likely to be their last chance to shine on the global stage.
But from the final round of play-offs to confirm the final lineup of teams - what did we learn?
And then there were 32, I know Who I want to win.
Australia in, Ange out
Ange Postecoglou's future had been the source of heavy speculation even before Australia confirmed their place at the World Cup. After after captain Mile Jedinak struck a hat-trick in a defeat of Honduras to make it through to Russia 2018, the Australia coach finally announced he was stepping down from the role. Postecoglou's announcement came only six days after Australia booked their spot at the World Cup, but there were rumours he would be leaving no matter what happened against Honduras.
Australia have plenty of time to decide on Postecoglou's successor, but they are not likely to be rushed into making a decision about an appointment. The Socceroos are not back in action until March, although that time will be filled by a lot of speculation about the leading contenders to take Australia to Russia. Among the expected frontrunners is Graham Arnold, who recently led Sydney FC to the domestic double."All this has taken a toll on me both personally and professionally," said Postecoglou as he stepped down from the position. "I have invested all I can knowing how important a period it was for Australian football. It is with a heavy heart that I must now end the journey.
"To coach your own country is the greatest privilege but it also has enormous responsibility. I feel now is the right time to pass on that responsibility to someone who will have the energy it requires. I owe this to the football association, the players and the fans."
Zlatan to return for Sweden?
Sweden's defeat of Italy inevitably prompted speculation their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be tempted to come out of international retirement to have one last crack at the World Cup. Ibrahimovic, the former captain and the record goalscorer for Sweden, recently returned to action for Manchester United after a few months on the sidelines with a serious knee injury. While Ibrahimovic insisted ahead of the play-off that he was not considering a comeback, he fed the rumour mill by tweeting a photo of the squad with the caption "Zweden".
But there is also an argument that Sweden are simply a better team without Ibrahimovic. The striker previously dominated their attacking play, which could make them predictable to defend against. The more selfless pair of Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen now tend to lead the line for Sweden, while RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg has stepped up to take a starring role."Now, when I am not a part of the team they are playing with less pressure. People are expecting less," said the veteran forward. "When I was there everyone expected that the team would win the World Cup or the Euros. My impression is that that has changed now and that they will play without any pressure whatsoever and have nothing to lose."
It would arguably be unfair for Ibrahimovic to return and take the place of one of the players who was influential in Sweden's run to the World Cup, but the speculation is sure to continue. Those keen to have a bet on Sweden - or the World Cup in general - can check out some of the best bookmakers in the UK for free bets listed here.
Where next for Italy?
Italy's absence from the 32 teams that will compete at the World Cup is by far the most notable. The Azzurri were always likely to face a play-off having been drawn in the same group as Spain, but failing to get through a reasonably straightforward tie with Sweden was shocking. Italy failed to score in either leg of the match, with Ventura criticised during the game by his own midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, for not using Napoli's in-form forward Lorenzo Insigne.
A host of top names have been linked with taking over one of the biggest jobs in football, but the likes of Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, Inter's Luciano Spalletti and Insigne's club boss Maurizio Sarri have already ruled themselves out. With the Italian FA hoping to tempt back Antonio Conte or appoint Carlo Ancelotti following his dismissal by Bayern Munich it is clear they are aiming high. But with Italy lacking star power these days and a lot of their key players the wrong side of 30 - Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Barzagli have already retired - turning around their fortunes promises to be a very big job indeed.
Saudis dispense with Bauza
As well as Australia, Saudi Arabia are in need of a new coach to take them to the World Cup. The Saudis had already sealed qualification when former Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza was appointed to the role in September.
But after taking charge of only five friendlies - they won two and lost the rest - Bauza was sacked as a national team boss for the third time this year.
Having left Argentina, Bauza had an ill-fated short spell in charge of United Arab Emirates, leaving that position after failing to take the country to the World Cup.In a statement, the Saudi Arabia Football Federation said: "The decision is in the interest of the national team and reflects the high expectations from them."