As the World Cup is less than a year away, World Cup Qualifying is heading to its natural conclusion. Hosts Russia, Brazil and Iran have already qualified and more teams are expected to qualify this week. Japan joined those three to become the fourth team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by defeating Australia 2-0.
In Group B of AFC World Cup Qualifying, Japan and Australia were seen as the two favorites. Saudi Arabia has inserted themselves as a formidable foe to Japan and Australia and there’s only two automatic World Cup spots. But with a 2-1 loss to the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Australia entered their game this morning knowing that a win would either clinch qualification for Japan or all but clinch for Australia.
Thanks to goals by Takuma Asano and Yusuke Ideguchi, Japan cruised to the 2-0 win. Japan’s first goal was very surprising because it looked like Australia’s defense fell asleep.
— afcvideo (@afcvideo) August 31, 2017
And Japan’s second goal was a beauty of a strike into the top right corner of the goal.
— Jason Foster (@JogaBonitoUSA) August 31, 2017
So now with one WCQ game left on Tuesday, Japan is safe in the World Cup. There are still two automatic spots left in Asia whereas one spot will come down to Saudi Arabia or Australia and the other will come down to South Korea and Uzbekistan. For Saudi Arabia and Australia, the two teams are tied for the automatic berth but Saudi Arabia has goal differential advantage. Australia has a chance to pass Saudi Arabia as Saudi Arabia play Japan while Australia play last place Thailand so if Saudi Arabia can defeat Japan, they’re in. If not, Australia can get back to the World Cup for the fourth consecutive time.
In Group A, South Korea is up by two points over Uzbekistan and the two teams play each other on Tuesday. So a South Korea win will send them through to the World Cup. Syria could be the spoiler in all this and if Uzbekistan defeats South Korea and Syria defeats Iran and keep up the goal difference, Syria would qualify for their first World Cup. China has an outside chance for a third place spot but not for an automatic bid. The third place teams in both groups will compete in a home and away playoff where the winner will face the fourth place team in CONCACAF. So one of these teams may be facing the United States for one of the final World Cup spots.
In addition to Asia, World Cup spots in UEFA and CONCACAF could be clinched this week depending on results. The United States has a small chance of clinching a spot on Tuesday but that’s not likely to happen. The USMNT will likely need to wait until October. Currently, 93 teams are still mathematically eligible for the 28 remaining World Cup spots.