Worst World Cup qualifying failures: Where does Italy rank?
So, Italy is not going to the 2018 World Cup. When the tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998, that’s a sentence nobody ever thought they’d have to read or write again. The Italians had been to every men’s World Cup since 1958. They held the third-longest active appearance streak. For several generations, they were regulars. Fixtures. Their presence was automatic.
Their failure to qualify in 2018, therefore, is shocking.
But where does it rank among the biggest World Cup qualifying failures in the tournament’s post-war history? Not even in the top 10.
It’s very tough to compare, say, Italy’s 1958 miss to its 2018 miss, because international soccer is much different now than it was 60 years ago, and because the World Cup is twice as inclusive. The margins of qualification back then were razor thin; nowadays, you can afford slip-ups.
There are also all kinds of peculiar circumstances – often political ones – that contributed to World Cup absences. We’ve decided to discount those instances, and others of their ilk. We’ve also excluded any team that withdrew on their own volition. And we’ve tried to account for the relative difficulties of qualifying for 16-, 24- and 32-team World Cups, and out of the various confederations.
That leaves us with the following ranking, in descending order, of biggest World Cup qualifying failures from 1950-2018.