Two Minnesota United players lament missing out on World Cup
ST. PAUL — Costa Rican defender and Minnesota United captain Francisco Calvo's participation in the World Cup is a dream come true. For Loons teammates Michael Boxall and Rasmus Schuller, the sport's biggest showcase, which begins Thursday in Russia, will conjure feelings of what might have been.
Boxall, a defender on the New Zealand national team, and Schuller, a midfielder for Finland, each fell short of the World Cup during the qualifying rounds and will watch it on TV.
"We blew our shot of being there," Schuller said.
World Cup qualifying starts years before the tournament, and Schuller looks back to October 2016 and a 3-2 loss to Iceland in Reykjavik as the main match that got away. It came early in qualifying rounds, and the Finns never got out of the hole.
"We were, in my opinion, a far better team and (lost) because of an official error, a referee error," Schuller said. "That is how it is."
Now, Schuller and others have to see Iceland, darlings of the 2016 European Championships, grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. He'll also have to watch rival Sweden, which qualified in another European group. He has played in Sweden, can speak the language and has friends there, but...
"I don't know if I'm cheering for them; that might be stretching it," he said.
While Finland finished 2-5-3 in World Cup qualifying, Boxall's New Zealand team was much, much closer to making the 33-country field. The Kiwis advanced out of Oceania but needed to play in an intercontinental, two-leg playoff with Peru for a final berth last November. New Zealand fell just short, 2-0 on aggregate.
"It's going to hurt a bit more when we see maybe Peru's first game and say, 'That could have been us,'" Boxall said. "If we score just one goal in that away game..."
Boxall, 29, said the four-year layoff keeps the pain alive longer.
"But I hope I've got one more swing at it," he said. "It should still be an amazing event."
Minneota midfielder Miguel Ibarra, a Lancaster, Calif., native, made three appearances for the U.S. in friendlies after the World Cup in 2014 but wasn't a part of the American's face plant in qualifying to miss this World Cup for the first time since 1986.
That doesn't mean he hasn't been excused from quips from teammates.
Calvo and Darwin Quintero, a Colombian outside of that national team's fold for this World Cup cycle, have been the ones giving Ibarra a hard time.
"They were like, 'How's your team?' and make more jokes about it," Ibarra said with a smile.
Coming from England, the birthplace of the sport, United coach Adrian Heath has been swept up in World Cup fever for his native team. They have made 14 appearances but often disappoint and have only one title (1966).
England's star striker Harry Kane — who will come to Minnesota with his North London club team, Tottenham, to face Italy's AC Milan for a preseason friendly at U.S. Bank Stadium on July 31 — buoys that nation's hopes.
"As per usual, as an Englishman, I'm very disappointed, and as (the World Cup) comes up, I lose all sense of reality and think we are going to win it," Heath said. "I'm in that same mode at this moment in time."
Pressed on whether that's his official prediction, Heath backed off.
"I think England is going to do better than people think, but I still think the World Cup is Spain's to lose," he said. "It's the last hurrah of this great generation of theirs, and I think they are going to want to go out and do well. Brazil, obviously, as usual, and probably France has the strongest squad when you look at who's been left out. It will be a really good World Cup."