Two years out from the World Cup are the doldrums of qualifying. Most confederations are in the middle of their qualification process now and there’s little action either way (with some exceptions). I won’t post the map because nothing has changed since July except that Cuba was eliminated. That’s really it. I did, however, update the full list that’s right here on the site to reflect that, as well as Europe beginning its process.
First, let’s start with Asia.
The AFC is in its fourth round of qualification, out of five. They’ll have two more rounds of games in October and November this year, but that still will likely not solve anything except for maybe Japan, who are definitively in the driver’s seat in Group B. They only played one game in September, but the major news is Australia’s continuing underwhelming performances. The Socceroos are still without a victory and lost 2-1 to Jordan. The Aussies could still very easily finish second in their group, but they need to get it together to avoid being upstaged and sent to the play-off round or out of the World Cup entirely. In Group A, South Korea is in control but doesn’t have the same grip on their group that their 2002 co-hosts do. Iran, Quatar, and Lebanon are all sitting on four points in the middle of the group, so this will likely go down to the wire next June.
Not much to report from Africa, since they won’t play again until next March.
North America is where all the action is, since the all the big boys are currently in play and trying to advance final round, with those spots to be decided in October. In Group A, the US, Guatemala, and Jamaica are all sitting on 7 points with only two games to play. The US plays last-place Antigua and Barbuda on October 12 while Guatemala and Jamaica duke it out in Guatemala. If the US and Guatemala win, this is very bad news for the Jamaicans as the two play each other in the last match, meaning that both sides can play for the draw to advance. A draw between the two or a Jamaican victory (or the US not winning) will ensure that things stay very interesting on October 16 though.
In Group B, Mexico has won all its matches and ensured advancement to the next round. This leaves El Salvador and Costa Rica battling for the second spot, with the two going head-to-head on the 12th. The two drew in their previous meeting in Costa Rica. However, if the Salvadorians win at home, things will still be unsettled as they play Mexico in the 16th while the Costa Ricans get last-place Guyana. This one could very easily come down to goal differential.
In Group C, Cuba has already been eliminated and Panama can advance with a win at home against Honduras. Also in this fight is Canada, which really needs to take advantage of playing Cuba at home by getting the three points. The Honduras-Canada match on the 16th seems like it will be a winner-advances, loser-goes-home match.
The main surprise from South America so far is probably that Argentina and Uruguay (considered the two strongest sides in the region along with automatically qualified hosts Brazil) have failed to separate themselves from the pack. Both sides drew last week to teams generally not considered all that strong, with the Uruguayans drawing 1-1 against Ecuador and Argentina drawing 1-1 against Peru. The former is understandable, at least, but the latter less so. But there’s still a long way to go, with most of the teams still having 9 games to play.
New Zealand got off to a good start, recovering from their debacle at the OFC Nations Cup (where they came in 3rd) by defeating New Caledonia and Tahiti. Speaking of Tahiti, though, they won the Nations Cup and thus will be at the Confederations Cup next year, but so far are sporting 0 points and a -6 goal differential after the first two games of this last qualifying round. Whoops. Anyway, if the All Whites take care of business over the next two dates in October, the matches next March will likely not matter.
The Europeans finally got started, with almost everyone having gotten two matches in the books this month. However, it’s too early to really make anything other than general observations so far, so we’ll hit the surprises. For instance, Italy drew in their first match 2-2 with Bulgaria. Group H is just a barrel of surprises. Montenegro opened with a 2-2 draw of Poland and obliterated San Marino (okay, that part isn’t surprising), to get to four points. England needed a penalty to get a 1-1 draw with the Ukraine, putting them at four points (they obliterated Moldolva). The Poles themselves are right there with four points as well, and the Ukrainians probably will be on October once they play again. At first glance one would definitely say there are three strong sides in this group, so the main thing is throwing Montenegro into the mix. I would argue this is the Group of Death, but many would also point to Group I, with Spain and France. While Group I stronger at the top, Group H is much deeper. Nonetheless, the defending world champions Spain began with a somewhat lackluster 1-0 victory over Georgia. The French also opened with a 1-0 win, but after the debacle that was their last world cup cycle they should be more than overjoyed with the two wins so far. (Don’t forget that not only did the French team basically quit at the World Cup, they only got there due to Thierry Henry’s “hand of God” goal in the playoff qualification match against Ireland in 2009.)
That’s about all for now. Look for another post after the action in October, when we’ll eliminate five more teams from CONCACAF.