Their absence will be felt

Kunal Diwan takes a look at some of the top teams that failed to make this World Cup finals.

If everybody's born to compete as he chooses, how can someone win when it means that someone loses? Scatman John's 90s wisdom notwithstanding, countries that missed the bus to FIFA 2010 will have to wait four years to ease their sense of loss.

For some perpetual qualifying-stage whipping boys — largely Asian also-rans — the deprivation was expected, anticipated, a quadrennial bad experience from which little was learned and lesser gained. But there were those whose absence from the beautiful game's elite list signalled tragedy for fans, not just in specific countries but the world over. Here's a look at those that did not make it, those that should have made it, and those that…well….just read on.

Russia: In the end, it was the crucial concession of a home goal that cost Russia a spot in the main draw, also ensuring the absence from proceedings in South Africa of stars Andrei Arshavin, Igor Afinkeev and forward Roman Pavlyuchenko.

The Russians finished in the second place behind Germany in Group 4 of the first round UEFA qualifiers. In its last home game against the pool-topping Teutons, Russia pressed futilely to equalise against a ten-man Germany. But the 1-0 loss sent the Euro 2008 semifinalist to the second round of qualifiers with eight teams battling for four FIFA 2010 slots. Although it beat Slovenia 2-1 in Moscow in the first leg, a 1-0 defeat in the return game elevated Nejc Pecnic's strike at Luzhniki Stadium to the status of a death blow for Russia.

Egypt: It was heartbreak for the African Cup of Nations hat-trickster. Continental champions in 2006, 2008 and 2010, Egypt was deprived of only its third World Cup appearance (after 1934 and 1990) despite topping its qualification group alongside Algeria. The two countries ended on 13 points, with four wins, a draw and a loss apiece.

With the group leader assured of a berth in the finals, a goal difference of five for both teams failed to crack the deadlock, necessitating a tie-break match at the Al Merreikh Stadium in Sudan. Goal tender Essam El-Hadary completed a series of stunning saves before Algerian Antar Yahia's lone strike sealed Egypt's fate. Yahia later described his contest with El-Hadary, saying, “I shot on the ground, he caught it, I shot it up high, he caught it, then I shot it where even the devil could not catch it.”

Ukraine: A quarterfinalist in its first World Cup appearance in 2006, Ukraine was shocked by Greece in the UEFA play-offs, ending its hopes of matching its debut performance in Germany, 2006. Ukraine ended second, behind England, at the end of first round UEFA qualifiers and made it to the second round where it took on Greece. A 0-0 draw in the first leg in Athens would have perked up the Ukranians, but little did they know what lay in store for them.

At the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, the Eastern Europeans were shunted out on home soil by Salpingidis' 31st-minute goal.

The ouster also meant that there will be no Andriy Shevechenko, no Andriy Voronin and no Dmitro Chygrynskiy as well at this World Cup.

Ireland: Runners-up behind Italy in the UEFA group qualifiers, Ireland drew France in the now-infamous two-leg play-off. France won the first leg at Croke Park, courtesy a 72nd-minute strike by Chelsea's Nicholas Anelka. With aggregate scores coming into the picture, Robbie Keane pushed the second leg into extra time before the Hand of Henri intervened, offering a lob in the 103rd minute to William Gallas whose head saw the Frenchmen home. The goal, however, was mired in controversy. Television replays indicated that Sebastian Squillaci, in the line of play, was off-side and Thierry Henry, who provided the assist, had handled the ball twice in trying to control it.

France progressed 2-1 on aggregate, but Henry later admitted to his lapse of conscience, saying, “Yes, there was hand, but I'm not the referee.” Although his act led to online hate campaigns and strained diplomatic ties between Ireland and France, outcries for a re-match fell on deaf ears.

Czech Republic: One of the most high profile absentees in this edition of the World Cup will be the Czech Republic, whose qualification campaign was blighted with draws and loses at very inconvenient junctures. A change of personnel mid-way through the qualifiers — when Ivan Hasek took over from Petr Rada as coach — didn't really change its luck.

The Czechs were knocked out even before the commencement of the last round of qualifying matches.

The current lapse is, however, in keeping with the country's almost non-existent pedigree in the World Cup. Then Euro runner-up, the Czech Republic did not qualify for the '98 edition and its poor run extended to South Korea, 2002.

Qualification for Germany 2006 did not really reverse the trend, with the side getting knocked out in the group stages. This latest reversal will see the quadrennial robbed of such stars as Chelsea's custodian Petr Cech, Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky, Galatasaray's Milan Baros, and Michal Kadlec and David Rozehnal of the Bundesliga.