The ‘cursed’ group

…the mysterious story of Ghana, Italy, Czech and the USA not going to Russia

Italy’s failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup after losing out to Sweden in the play-offs, means that all four teams from Group E of the 2006 edition of the tournament, will not be in Russia next year.

For those who believe in superstition, this may sit well with you. The four countries: Ghana; Czech Republic; United States of America and; Italy, which were all pitted in Group E in Germany 11 years ago, have mysteriously failed to book a place in next year’s football festival.

So how did it happen?

After making a maiden appearance in 2006, the Black Stars of Ghana, participated in the ensuing two tournaments in South Africa 2010, where the team was prevented from reaching the semi-finals stage by Luis Suarez’s famous ‘hand of the devil’ handball clearance of a goal bound ball, and in Brazil 2014.

The last edition in Brazil four years ago turned out to be the country’s worst performance in the competition, following a group stage elimination, and subsequent player revolt which led to the country been held to ransom because of player bonuses.

In the case of Ghana, “It was the clear case of inconsistency and non-seriousness; they took things for granted,” Prince Dornu-Leiku, a sports analyst, said in reaction to the Black Stars’ inability to make it to Russia.

After losing against Egypt, and drawing against Uganda and Congo Brazzaville in the first three games, the warning signs were already clear that the Black Stars, which had been Africa’s best representatives at the last three editions, were in danger of not qualifying.

“Coach Avram Grant was a very bad decision. When he came, we were around 14 in the FIFA World Rankings, and he left us at the 53rd position. We were also busy fighting each other, an example being the Ayew brothers’ saga, which was simply unnecessary,” Mr.Dornu-Leiku added.

For the Czech Republic, after participating in the 1988 and 1982 as Czech of Slovakia, Germany 2006 was their first appearance after they became known as the Czech Republic.

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Prior to the tournament in 2006, the Czech Republic was at their strongest with players like Pavel Nedved, Jan Koller, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky. Ranked second in the world before going to Germany, the Czechs were seen as one of the hot favourites for the cup in 2006, however, they did not make it out of the Group, and have since failed to make it the World Cup again.

So their failure to reach next year’s tournament did not really come as big surprise.

Italy missed out of the World Cup losing narrowly to Sweden

Meanwhile, for Italy, most analysts still believe that a World Cup without the four-time champions, will definitely have something missing from it.

Italy is a surprise, but shouldn’t surprise anyone because they were unlucky in the group stages, and in the play-off draws. First, they were drawn in the same group with Spain, and the Spanish had too much quality players not to qualify.

Secondly, in the play-offs, the Italians were pitted against Sweden, who finished second below France, but ahead of The Netherlands in Group A, of the UEFA zone qualifiers. A 1-0 aggregate scoreline in favour of the Swedes over two legs, prevented the Italians from reaching the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

Interestingly, the last time the Italians did not qualify for the World Cup 59 years ago, Sweden were the host.

That said, an aging squad, with majority of the members above 30 years and poor tactics also affected the Italians chances of going to Russia.

 

For the United States of America, failing to qualify to none other but a tournament in be hosted by Russia, is simply a bad idea for the media, and global politics. Can you imagine the sort of attention a world cup game between Russia and USA would have attracted?

“Theirs is the most surprising, because they have been rising to challenge Mexico in the North American region,” the analyst lamented. “They had risen so much that people thought they were now one of the tough teams in that region, so not qualifying is really a big surprise.”

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Losing at home to both Mexico and Costa Rica, affected the USA’s chances of reaching the tournament in Russia; which would have added some bite to the competition, given the tense nature of current USA-Russia relations.

The USA which qualified for the last seven editions, failed to book a ticket this time around, after winning three out of 10 games against a group of CONCACAF nations. They needed at least a draw in their final qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago, but the game eventually ended in a 2-1 defeat.

“For me the USA failure is a major surprise, and I think it was because they were not patient with Jürgen Klinsmann. When he took over the team after the 2010 World Cup, the US started doing very well. In the last World Cup too, Klinsmann was able to qualify them from a group that had Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

But they sacked him, brought in Bruce Arena after he had lost two games in the qualifiers for next year’s tournament, and that is where I think their problems started from,” Mr. Dornu-Leiku explained.

Asked if the absence of these four teams would affect the tournament, Dornu-Leiku, said, “The USA has a very huge population and a lot of them would have trooped to Russia. You can imagine a World Cup without Italy too. They are four-time world champions, they are a big team that can spring a surprise anytime; so that will also affect the quality but the teams that have qualified are also equally good.

In Africa, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt do not have a good record at the tournament. The truth is that they can’t go as far as Ghana, Nigeria or Cameroon have done in the past. So Africa’s strength will be reduced because Ghana always stands up for the continent.”

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