It has been 2 years since 209 nations started battling it out for the biggest footballing extravaganza in the globe, the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Nations from 5 continents bleed to book the Russian ticket and 30 have achieved their dream while 4 nations are still sweating over the two spots left.
As usual there were quite a few surprises as four times champion Italy were knocked out by Sweden in the play-offs. Argentina were also struggling till the very last match before their talismanic striker Lionel Messi helped them get their passports. Switzerland displayed great form to win first 9 matches before Portugal defeated them to send them to the play-offs, however that just delayed their chance as they beat Northern Ireland in the play-offs.
Italy getting dumped out was the biggest surprise while Netherlands also missed out on the opportunity while Iceland also sealed a berth to become the smallest nation to book the berth. Senegal won 2-0 in South Africa to seal their first finals appearance since 2002, in a game that was replayed after the referee in the first fixture was suspended. Nigeria dominated a tough group containing Zambia, Cameroon and a disappointing Algeria side to reach the finals for the sixth time.
Brazil became the first team to qualify for Russia during a nine-game winning run, putting their 2014 nightmare behind them. Uruguay looked odds-on for qualification for much of their campaign but it took a final-round victory over Bolivia to make it certain.
Euro champions Portugal, defending champions Germany, Spain and most other had it a routine-affair qualifying for the event.
Qualified: Russia (hosts); Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Serbia, Iceland, France, Portugal; Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden (via play-offs)
Russia qualified automatically as hosts and were joined by Belgium which finished Group H nine points clear of Greece. Germany booked their place by finishing Group C with 10 wins out of 10. England were not as satisfying as they would have loved but they pushed through. Spain were back to best and won 9 of their 10 group matches.
South America (Conmebol)
Qualified: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia
Argentina left it really late in their qualifiers as they had to come display a superb show in the final game to seal the berth. Brazil put their disappointing run by becoming the first team to sail through.
North and Central America (Concacaf)
Qualified: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
Mexico cruised through their groups and never looked in danger. However, Costa Rica left it late, too late in fact. They needed a penalty in the injury time against Honduras.
Qualified: Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Iran were the first Asian team to qualify, and did so way back in June with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Carlos Queiroz’s side topped the group with maximum efficiency – going unbeaten with 10 goals in 10 games. South Korea came second in Group A to secure their ninth consecutive appearance at a World Cup finals.
In Group B, a tight three-way battle ended with Japan topping the group, one point ahead of Saudi Arabia who qualified after edging out Australia on goal difference. The Socceroos narrowly prevailed in a two-legged play-off with surprise package Syria, and will now face Concacaf’s fourth-placed side for a place at the finals.
Morocco are back at a World Cup finals for the first time since France ‘98 after an unbeaten campaign ended with a 2-0 win over nearest rivals Ivory Coast. Senegal won 2-0 in South Africa to seal their first finals appearance since 2002. Nigeria dominated a tough group containing Zambia, Cameroon and a disappointing Algeria side to reach the finals for the sixth time.
Honduras, Peru and Australia earned another chance at qualification alongside Oceania winners New Zealand.
Peru v New Zealand (15 Nov, first leg 0-0)
Australia v Honduras (15 Nov, first leg 0-0)
About the Author
Mohit Raj is a passionate sports lover who venerates Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer. For him it's more about passion than job. He hails from Muzaffarpur and has spent his childhood in the Garden City of India.
Working at SportsFlashes for 6 months