These outcomes shocked the football world.

The FIFA World Cup is the most prestigious competition in football. Played once every four years, the tournament is considered as the pinnacle of the sport. Several superstars are on display in each edition, as they aim to immortalize themselves. Major football nations have dominated the competition since its inception. Only eight nations have lifted the trophy. However, in recent years, several heavyweight countries have failed to qualify for the showpiece event.

Brazil are the record winners with five FIFA World Cup titles. They remain the only nation to have qualified for each of the 22 editions of the competition. Germany have participated in 20, Italy in 18, Argentina in 18 and Mexico in 16 so far. But, several giants have under-performed on the international stage in recent years.

Italy were the latest football heavyweight to miss out on World Cup qualification. The Azzurri failed to secure a spot for Qatar 2022. They will miss the showpiece event after losing to underdogs North Macedonia in a playoff match. The Italians will not play in the World Cup for a second consecutive edition.

Let’s have a look at five occasions when heavyweights failed to qualify for the World Cup

5. Argentina (1970)

The Albiceleste were World Cup regulars prior to this. This was their first failure to qualify for the showpiece event. Argentina were the finalists in the inaugural edition – 1930. But, due to political reasons withdrew from the tournament in 1938, 1950 and 1958. However, in 1966 they made it to the quarter-finals.

Argentina head coach Juan Carlos Ongania was forced to step down two weeks before the qualifiers began. They were placed in a group alongside Bolivia and Peru. The Albiceleste lost two, drew one and won one of their four matches in qualifying. This cost them a spot in Mexico 1970. Brazil, Peru and Uruguay represented the confederation in Mexico.

4. England (1974)

England won the World Cup in 1966 (Courtesy: The Sportsman)

Champions in 1966, the Three Lions had a shock qualifying campaign eight years later. They had performed well in World Cups before this. England had managed quarter-final appearances in 1962 and 1970. They were drawn against Poland and Wales in the qualifiers for the 1978 showpiece.

England were the favourites to advance from the group. But, Sir Alf Ramsey’s team failed to live up to the expectations. It was a closely contested group, with the Three Lions falling short in the end. They amassed four points out of a possible eight, finishing second. Only the top team qualified for the 1978 World Cup.

3. Netherlands (2018)

Netherlands lost to Sweden and failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup (Courtesy: Independent)

The Dutch side have under-performed on the international stage on multiple occasions. But, the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign was a low point. They finished as runners-up in 2010 and secured third place in 2014. However, the team failed to qualify for the World Cup altogether in 2018.

The Netherlands were drawn alongside France and Sweden in a six-team group in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The Dutch were tipped to advance to the showpiece event, but failed to do so after a poor showing. They finished third, losing out on goal-difference to Sweden.

The Dutch side had failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002.

2. Italy (2018)

The Azzurri were another big name missing from the showpiece event in Russia. The writing for Italy had been on the wall since the past two editions. They won the World Cup in 2006, but failed to get past the group stages in 2010 and 2014.

Italy finished second in their qualifying group behind Spain. This allowed them to secure a place in the second round. They were the favourites against Sweden. However, the Azzurri lost 1-0 on aggregate over two legs. This was their first absence in the event since 1958.

1. Italy (2022)

After the debacle of 2018, the Azzurri seemed to have re-invented themselves. The Roberto Mancini-led side established themselves among the greats once again. They won the European Championships in 2020.

However, the 2022 qualifying campaign was another shocking effort. Italy finished second behind Switzerland in their group. This setup an encounter with North Macedonia in the first round of playoffs.

Italy were the favourites against a low-ranked opposition. But, Mancini’s side fell short once again. They conceded in injury-time, losing 1-0.

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