Eastern European flair will be missed

Have all the best teams in the world qualified for Fifa’s quadrennial showpiece? No, if one goes by the ranking table of the world football governing body. Notable absentees include Croatia (ranked 9), Russia (11) and Egypt (13). Norway, Israel, Ukraine, Romania and the Czech Republic are the other teams that have failed to

qualify for the World Cup Finals, despite their presence within the top 32 of Fifa’s pecking order.
At 90, hosts South Africa are the second-lowest ranked team in the finals mix. If not for the automatic qualification spot that comes with hosting rights, the rainbow nation can only dream about sharing the field with the world’s best. North Korea are the basement dwellers at 106.
Most of the qualifiers from lightweight regions such as Asia and Oceania aren’t anywhere near the 32-rank mark. But they have made it to South Africa thanks to the regional quotas provided by Fifa. Some pundits have been advocating more places in the finals for Europe, the most dominant football continent by all yardsticks. The fact that the first few editions of the World Cup didn’t feature many teams from Africa and Asia adds argumentative value to their contention. But Fifa has never been receptive to the retrograde idea. The world body is well aware that the World Cup has evolved into such a priceless brand only because of its global identity. A Euro-centric approach will only succeed in creating another continental championship.
There is, however, no doubt that the World Cup finals will be poorer in the absence of Croatia, Russia, Egypt, Romania, Bulgaria and Sweden. There is a maverick quality about Eastern European teams such as Croatia, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria who all share a common communist past. The Eastern block churns out flair players with the regularity of night following day.
Croatia and Russia have skilful and technically accomplished squads to reach the semifinals of the World Cup without turning heads along the way. Even though Romania and Bulgaria have been going downhill in recent years, they still have adequate talent to field decent World Cup squads.
Sweden, who have taken part in all major events in recent times, will be missed as much for their fluent football as for their legion of colourful and vibrant fans. Egypt, the most dominant team in Africa since the turn of the Millennium, have abundant talent.

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