The World Cup is about nine months away but qualifications are being rounded up across the globe. Nations like Iceland and Panama would be making their first appearance at the World Cup while big nations like the Netherlands and USA will miss out.
The group stages across all the confederations have been concluded except in Africa – there is one more game to round up the group stage with three more nations to join Nigeria and Egypt in Russia 2018. Egypt qualified to the final for the first time in 28 years.
In Europe, it was gloom and doom in Scotland, Wales and Netherlands while the jubilations went wild in Iceland. In group A, Netherlands needed to defeat Sweden 7-0 to get into the playoff spots behind France who finished at the top of the group. The Orange boys could only win 2-0 and finish third, signalling the end of a generation and the eventual retirement of Arjen Robben. It was always going to be between the trio of France, Sweden and Netherlands but Netherlands missing the world cup is a surprise – their first in 32 years.
In group B, Switzerland were on a 27 match winning streak in the qualifiers and needed a draw in Portugal to finish top of the table and get an automatic qualification to the World Cup. They were beaten 2-0 but Portugal who finished the group with 100% win rate. Will Ronaldo win the World Cup now?
Group C was already decided. It was so easy for Germany that they didn’t bother fielding their best the last game. Northern Ireland got the qualification spot. In Group D, Wales needed just a draw to get a playoff spot but they bottled it at home by losing 1-0 to Ireland who finished 2nd. Scotland in group F needed a win in group F away to Slovenia to get a playoff spot. They drew 2-2 while Slovakia saw off Malta to finish 2nd. The other groups were not as heart-breaking as the above mentioned ones.
In North America, USA somehow managed to finish 5th in the final qualifying phase in the CONCACAF. They lost to bottom placed Trinidad and Tobago and slipped from 3rd to 5th and out of contention. Panama slipped into third spot and automatically qualified for the world cup for the first time. Honduras grabbed the playoff spot.
In South America, Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to a 3-1 away win at Ecuador. Chile lost 3-0 to Brazil and failed to qualify for the World Cup. There were doubts but Messi rose to the occasion. The South American champions finished behind Peru no thanks to goal difference. Sanchez couldn’t help. Peru finished 5th and have a chance to qualifying to Russia 2018.
So, 23 nations have made it to Russia. Who would the remaining 9 be?
Qualified teams: Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay.
Photo from FIFA