Were you too focused on yelling at Bruce Arena for his lineup decisions as the US fumbled through two horrible performances against Costa Rica and Honduras? The USMNT is having their own journey to Russia, but there are dozens of other teams still alive to qualify for the World Cup.
Coming off the September international break, 59 teams do not know their 2018 World Cup fate. Eight teams have qualified (Russia, Iran, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia), 143 teams have been eliminated and 59 teams are in the middle. With just two months left in this qualification cycle, we take a look at each continent to see who needs to get in the World Cup.
Asia – Top two in each group qualify for World Cup, third place teams compete in playoff to face CONCACAF fourth place team:
The third round of Asian qualification is over, and four of Asia’s 4.5 berths are now clinched: Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia joined Iran, who qualified in June, in next summer’s tournament. Saudi Arabia is in for the first time since 2006, and thanks to some insane drama at the end, Syria will play Australia in October’s two-legged playoff for the half berth in the playoff in November against CONCACAF’s fourth place team. Australia had 45 shots, 74 percent possession, but only could muster a 2-1 win over Thailand, meaning a Saudi Arabia win, which they picked up over Japan, allowed them to directly qualify over the Socceroos.
Australia is favorites against Syria in October, but face a tough test in November should get there to reach Russia. The Asian champs haven’t missed a World Cup since 2002, and Syria has never been this close before, which would be quite a story considering the seriousness of war currently taking place in the country.
Africa – Group winner qualifies for World Cup:
Africa’s final round of qualification is now two-thirds through, and with two games left, everyone will have chance to digest the craziness that took place here.
Group A (Tunisia 10 pts., DR Congo 7, Guinea 3-eliminated, Libya 3-eliminated): Tunisia, looking for their first World Cup since 2006, is three points ahead of DR Congo after taking four of a possible six points against them in these two games. In the second game, Tunisia was down 2-0 and salvaged a draw, meaning they stay in the driver’s seat for qualification. Tunisia heads to Guinea next, while DR Congo plays Libya at a neutral site.
Group B (Nigeria 10 pts., Zambia 7, Cameroon 3-eliminated, Algeria 3-eliminated): In the group with three of Africa’s five World Cup qualifiers from the last two World Cup’s, Nigeria is ahead on ten points, followed by Zambia with seven. Cameroon and Algeria are both out. Nigeria hosts Zambia in October, and if the Super Eagles get a result, they’re in. Only a Zambia win keeps hopes for them alive into November.
Group C (Ivory Coast 7 pts., Morocco 6, Gabon 5, Mali 2): Ivory Coast was in cruise control in the group, until they lost 2-1 at home to Gabon. That opened up the door for Morocco, who hasn’t conceded a goal in qualification yet, but they could only muster a 0-0 draw at Mali. The group likely won’t be settled until November, as Mali host Ivory Coast and Morocco host Gabon in October, with all teams still in with a shout to qualify, though Ivory Coast are favorites.
Group D (Burkina Faso 6 pts., Cape Verde 6, Senegal 5, South Africa 1): This group is legit insane. Burkina Faso, who have never been to a World Cup, lead the group on six points, ahead of Cape Verde on goal difference, one point ahead of Senegal while South Africa trails behind. Who is the favorite here? Who knows! South Africa host Burkina Faso and Cape Verde host Senegal in October, so maybe there will be clarity then, but in this group where there is none, who knows. This group may be even crazier as the South Africa-Senegal game from last November will have to be replayed because the referee from that game was implicated in a match fixing scandal, according to the AP. It will be replayed in November.
Group E (Egypt 9 pts., Uganda 7, Ghana 5, Congo 1-eliminated): Egypt lead the group on nine points after beating Uganda in Alexandria, who are surprisingly second. Ghana, they of US nightmares, have had a torrid time, though they did pick up a 5-1 win at Congo in order to steady their ship a little. Egypt hosts Congo, so that should be three points, and if Uganda and Ghana share the spoils or Ghana wins, Egypt will head to their first World Cup since 1990.
Europe – Group winner qualifies for World Cup, all but one second place teams compete in a playoff to determine who qualifies:
Quite a bit happened here, so we’ll try to give you the quick summary on where all the groups stand and the simplest scenarios in each heading into the final two matchdays come October.
Group A (France 17 pts., Sweden 16, Netherlands 13, Bulgaria 12, Luxembourg 5-eliminated, Belarus 5-eliminated): France is ahead of Sweden by one point, 17 to 16, after the inexplicable home draw with Luxembourg that opened up the group. The Dutch, staring at two consecutive major tournament misses, are on 13 and Bulgaria are on 12. Both of these teams have long odds to finish second, let alone directly qualify. France goes to Bulgaria, who have been tough at home and host Belarus, and they are still the favorites. Sweden host Luxembourg then head to Amsterdam. How things look now is how they’ll likely end up, but then you remember Hugo Lloris’ howler against Sweden and…
Group B (Switzerland 24 pts., Portugal 21, Hungary 10-eliminated, Faroe Islands 8-eliminated, Andorra 4-eliminated, Latvia 3-eliminated): A simple group! Switzerland are unbeaten on 24 points, and Portugal are just behind them on 21 with a superior goal difference. Both are favored in their first games and Portugal host Switzerland in Lisbon on October 10. Portugal winning their next two games will see them directly qualify, otherwise it will be Switzerland. The runner-up will be in the November playoffs.
Group C (Germany 24 pts., Northern Ireland 19, Azerbaijan 10-eliminated, Czech Republic 9-eliminated, Norway 7-eliminated, San Marino 0-eliminated): Another simple group! Germany are unbeaten on 24 points, with Northern Ireland (yep) on 19. Northern Ireland host Germany in Belfast on October 5, and unless Northern Ireland wins, Germany directly qualifies. Northern Ireland should be one of the eight best runners up as well, but that is not certain yet.
Group D (Serbia 18 pts., Wales 14, Ireland 13, Austria 9, Georgia 5-eliminated, Moldova 0-eliminated) : Serbia picked up a huge win at Ireland on Tuesday, meaning their hopes of direct qualification have rocketed up. Ireland and Wales meanwhile are duking it out for second, and play in Cardiff on October 9. Both are heavy favorites in their first games. Austria, while still technically alive for second, are all but out. It looks like Serbia will make this tournament after missing the last two major tournaments, and Ireland or Wales will be second, though their chances of making the top eight second place teams are slimmer than others (Wales would be the lone one out if things ended today).
Group E (Poland 19 pts., Montenegro 16, Denmark 16, Romania 9-eliminated, Armenia 6-eliminated, Kazakhstan 2-eliminated): Poland are on 19 points, followed by both Denmark and Montenegro on 16 points each, and level on everything except for Montenegro’s win at Denmark earlier in qualification. The two play in Podgorica on October 5, and the winner likely finishes second behind Poland, though Montenegro go to Poland three days later. Denmark has also caught fire of late, so this group could have some big drama left in it.
Group F (England 20 pts., Slovakia 15, Slovenia 14, Scotland 14, Lithuania 5-eliminated, Malta 0-eliminated): England, though they didn’t make it easy, picked up six points against Malta and Slovakia, meaning that another win at Wembley against Slovenia puts them in the dance again. Second place is a little less certain. Slovakia head to Hampden Park in Glasgow to play Scotland, who are only one point behind them. Slovenia is on 14 as well. A Scotland win could turn the group on its head. Slovenia host Scotland on October 8, which could be crucial. Behind England, there is a fun struggle going on.
Group G (Spain 22 pts., Italy 19, Albania 13, Israel 9-eliminated, Macedonia 7-eliminated, Liechtenstein 0-eliminated): Spain are all but in after thrashing Italy and Liechtenstein, and Italy, though they struggled to beat Israel, are odds-on favorite for second and a playoff spot. If Italy gets a result against Macedonia at home, that will do it. With the way Spain is playing, they should have no trouble clinching another World Cup berth directly in October and start to creep up the lists of potential favorites come 2018.
Group H (Belgium 22 pts.-clinched, Bosnia and Herzegovina 14, Greece 13, Cyprus 10, Estonia 8-eliminated, Gibraltar 0-eliminated): Belgium are the only team from Europe to directly qualify after their 2-1 win in Greece, which combined with a Bosnia win over minnows Gibraltar, means that Bosnia are in second as of now. Cyprus are still alive for second as well on 10 points. Bosnia hosts Belgium and goes to Estonia, meaning they should be favorites for second, but Greece goes to Cyprus and then hosts Gibraltar. If Belgium tries in October, Bosnia could be in trouble and get pipped by Greece. The runner up of this group also faces the possibility of not being in the best eight runners up as well.
Group I (Croatia 16 pts., Iceland 16, Turkey 14, Ukraine 14, Finland 7-eliminated, Kosovo 2-eliminated): Here is the wild group of Europe. Croatia sits in first, ahead of Iceland on goal difference, both with 16 points. Turkey and Ukraine both sit on 14 just behind them. Croatia host Finland and head to Ukraine, while Iceland heads to Turkey and hosts Kosovo. But any combination of these four could finish first and second thanks to how evenly matched all of these teams are. Stay tuned for high drama on October 6 and 9 in Group I.
CONCACAF – Top three qualify for World Cup, fourth place team competes in playoff vs Asia playoff winner: (Mexico 18 pts.-clinched, Costa Rica 15, Panama 10, USA 9, Honduras 9, Trinidad and Tobago 3):
Compared to Europe, parsing out the Hex is really simple, and you already probably know the scenarios. Mexico is in, Costa Rica is all but in, and Panama sits in third, one point ahead of the US and Honduras. The US just need to win their home game against Panama and away fixture at Trinidad to qualify, and should be favorites to do so. Both Honduras and Panama play Costa Rica who may be taking it easy knowing qualification is all but assured, and Honduras also hosts Mexico who will be experimenting at home on the final day.
Anything is possible here, but if the US does their business as they should, this rough qualification run will still end where it should: in Russia. Panama’s goal difference is also nine superior to Honduras, which makes them slight favorites for fourth.
Oceania – Winner faces fifth place South America team:
New Zealand beat Solomon Islands 8-3 on aggregate to advance to the inter-confederational playoff against South America’s fifth place team in November, where they will be huge underdogs.
South America – Top four qualify for World Cup, fifth place team competes in playoff vs New Zealand: (Brazil 37 pts.-clinched, Uruguay 27, Colombia 26, Peru 24, Argentina 24, Chile 23, Paraguay 21, Ecuador 20, Bolivia 13-eliminated, Venezuela 8-eliminated):
Nothing is certain in South America after a wild two days of fixtures, outside of Brazil already in and Venezuela and Bolivia both being out, though both picked up huge scalps despite that.
Currently, Uruguay sit in second on 27 points, looking mostly OK, followed by Colombia on 26, then Peru (!!!!) on 24 followed by Argentina behind them on goals scored. Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador follow. Argentina hosts Peru on October 5, with Colombia hosting Paraguay, Venezuela hosting Uruguay and Chile hosting Ecuador in games that matter the same day. Insanity will likely prevail here, with one or multiple good teams missing out on the World Cup because of sheer numbers.
On the final day, Ecuador hosts Argentina, Uruguay hosts Bolivia, Paraguay hosts Venezuela, Brazil hosts Chile and Peru hosts Colombia. Any number of combinations are possible here, but one thing is for sure: it will be totally insane in every possible respect.
Got all of that? We hope you do, because there is a test coming on everything you’ve just learned. But now you know where everything stands heading in October, when qualification in North America, South America and Europe, Asia’s half berth playoff takes center stage and a critical fifth match day in Africa comes into focus.
We’re getting into the final stage of World Cup qualification. The rest of the 24 spots will be determined over the next two months and it will get wild and wacky, folks.