Football, with one of the most long-drawn and thorough qualifications for a global event, began with just one sure contender for the 2018 FIFA World Cup – the hosts Russia.
Out of the six confederations and 209 countries in contention. only 31 will make it to Russia and the qualifying matches that began as early as 2015 has now reached its business end.
For the 2018 World Cup, Europe gets the lion’s share of berths with 13, while Oceania sends in just one possible entrant with New Zealand, its top ranked team, facing the fifth placed nation from the CONMEBOL (South American confederation) for a place in the final 32.
From UEFA (European confederation), the only teams that have booked their berths in the World Cup are Russia and Belgium.
Belgium became the first team to secure automatic qualification from UEFA by topping Group H. This will be Belgium’s 13th entry into the finals and are the only team in Group H to remain unbeaten in the 8 games so far with two matches against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus remaining.
From the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia have taken the four automatic spots that were up for grabs.
Japan topped Asia’s Group B and reached a sixth successive FIFA World Cup with a match to spare after defeating Australia 2-0. Japan managed to clinch the top position by a slender margin of one point over Saudi Arabia who pipped Australia for the automatic qualifying spot. Though Saudi Arabia and Australia were on the same points, the West Asian country secured the berth on goal difference and left Australia to take the more arduous journey of first facing Syria in the play-offs.
Asia’s Group A had no such close contests as Iran were the clear winners with a solid seven-point lead over the second-placed South Korea. Iran remained unbeaten in the qualifiers, maintaining clean sheets in every qualifier except the last match against Syria that they drew 2-2. South Korea’s qualification puts them in their ninth successive World Cup.
In the CONCACAF (North/Central America and Caribbean confederation), Mexico are the only team to have secured the automatic qualification and have remained unbeaten so far. While there are two more tickets that remain in contention, the fourth-placed team will face the winners of the Australia-Syria clash for reaching Russia.
With the final round of qualification from the CAF (African confederation) underway, no team has secured an automatic qualification. A clearer picture is expected after the matches that will be held in October.
Brazil is the only team from the CONMEBOL (South American confederation) to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. While the top four teams earn direct qualifications, the fifth team has to fight it out with New Zealand, the team that has qualified from OCF (Oceania confederation). with two matches remaining for all teams in the group, the present fifth-placed team is the Lionel Messi-led Argentina.