Football is played as a competitive sport in more than 220 countries, of which 209 are affiliated to FIFA, the globally recognized governing body of football. All FIFA members are eligible to participate in the World Cup, which is the most celebrated sporting event every four years. But the numbers stated here are surprising because the United Nations membership roster shows only 193 member nations. Independent states like the Vatican City, disputed states like Kosovo and many other areas consider themselves as full nations. FIFA has recognized some of the non-UN nations as its members, and that is why, the number of FIFA members is greater than 193.
The above paragraph is written to seriously emphasize the fact that football is played everywhere, and it is easily, the most popular sport, worldwide. The FIFA world cup, however, can admit only 32 teams, so the qualifying rounds before the world cup are considered extremely crucial. Until 2002, defending champions were granted an automatic entry but not anymore. As per latest FIFA regulations, except the host, every country has to qualify.
World cup qualification is a serious activity, which begins within a year after the conclusion of last world cup. Six FIFA confederations organize a series of tournaments to select 31 participants. For the 2014 Brazil world cup, the first qualification match was held on June 15, 2011 between Montserrat and Belize. Because some nations did not enter, out of 824 qualifying matches originally scheduled, 816 were finally required to be played. A few days back, reigning champion Spain qualified for the world cup along with England, Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. With this, 21 teams have already qualified for the world cup and 22 nations still remain in fray for the 11 remaining spots.
Brazil will host the 20th FIFA world cup next year. After the first such tournament in 1930, the world cup has been held every four years; the tournament could not be organized during the World War years of 1942 and 1946. Early history would indicate that Europe and South America were two strong football centers and this is the reason why until 1998, the World Cup tournaments were held alternatively in either Europe or the two American continents. But the event moved away to Asia with Japan and South Korea jointly hosting it in 2002 and the last FIFA world cup in 2010 was hosted by South Africa, the first African nation to do so. Eight different nations are credited with sharing the championship in so many years. These countries are; Brazil (5 times), Italy (4 times), Germany (3 times), Argentina & Uruguay (2times each). England, France and Spain have also won the world cup one occasion.
The qualification matches, completed thus far, are historical landmarks for some countries and disappointment to some others. As one example, the Egyptian football fans have a lot to rue about. Their country came close to qualifying, after their last appearance in 1990 in the FIFA world cup, but Ghana’s brilliant black- star brigade blew them away 6-1 in the play-off last week. It doesn’t mean Ghana have qualified; they are still a touching distance away from qualifying. But for Egypt, it was a great disappointment. Plagued by domestic tumult and lack of match practice, the loss denied some wonderful Egyptian footballers a chance to showcase their skills in Brazil. One such internationally recognized star is the mercurial Mohamed Aboutreika, who may not get another chance in his life to play in the FIFA World Cup.
In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that has suffered so much in the past, there is so much to celebrate and not least because qualification means a maiden entry in the World Cup, as an independent nation. The Bosnians ensured that Greece will not play the World Cup in Brazil. For a large number of football fans, Greece’s archaic defensive style is extremely boring. In sharp contrast, the Bosnian talent is manifest in sharp and speedy attacks. In the qualification rounds, involving more than 50 UEFA countries, Bosnians are no. 4 in terms of goals scored, just below Germany, Holland and England.