World Cup qualifying starts up again this June. So let’s take a quick look around the world to see what happened in February and what’s at stake over the next few weeks.
The AFC Fourth Round will conclude this June. Japan will play Australia with a direct World Cup berth on the line, having failed in their attempt to clinch last March by losing 2-1 to Jordan. Provided Japan wins or draws against the Socceroos, they will be the first team other than Brazil to qualify for the World Cup. The other four teams in the group (Australia, Oman, Iraq, and Jordan) are all within two points of each other, so Group B could come down to the bitter end. Currently, Australia has played only five matches (along with Iraq; everyone else in the group has played 6) so they will have 3 games to get their house in order and qualify directly.
Group A leaders Uzbekistan and South Korea will be unable to clinch directly on the 4th, but with wins they will be able to on the 11th most likely.
Overall, I would say my favorites to make it out of Group A are Uzbekistan and South Korea with the winner of the 4th’s Iran-Qatar match coming in third. In Group B, I like Japan and Australia to top the group with Jordan coming in third.
While as of the next match no one in Africa can clinch advancement to the play-off, the next match could do the trick for most teams. For instance, with two winnable games against Botswana and South Africa, Ethiopia could clinch in June. Tunisia is in a similar position in Group B. In Group C, the Tanzia-Ivory Coast match on the 16th will likely determine the group. Unfortunately in Group D leaders Zambia and Ghana will not meet until September, so we may have to wait unless one of them stumbles in June. Congo has all but clinched Group E, having gone undefeated and unscored upon so far. Group F is far murkier, with no country having more than 1 win, so that may go to the wire. Group G is home to perhaps the best story in international soccer this World Cup cycle, Bob Bradley’s Egypt. They currently lead the group by 5 points and could clinch in June. In Group H, Algeria and Mali are neck-and-neck, as are Cameroon and Libya in Group I. Finally, Group J has no clear leader right now.
So the short version of the Africa story: check back after June 8.
After the March games, the Hexagonal saw no shortage of controversy. The US currently sits in a three-way tie for 2nd, and is currently third in the group based on goal differential. Mexico is currently 5th, having played 3 punchless (scoreless in two) draws.
Mexico gets back into the action on the 4th due to their appearance in the Confederations Cup later this month. The rest of the confederation is back on the 7th. They play Jamaica, which is likely the worst side in the group. If Mexico can’t find their mojo against the Reggae Boyz, then they will be in real trouble against Panama and Costa Rica in their next two matches.
Even with three games per team this month, it’s unlikely anything will be decided until September.
Not much news here. New Zealand clinched back in March. All they get for their trouble, however, is a home-and-home matchup against the 4th place team from CONCACAF.
The closest anyone is coming to really running away with their group so far is Germany in Group C, where they lead their fellow German-speaking brethren from Austria by 8 points.
Each group in UEFA gets to attempt to set their own qualifying schedule (unless they can’t agree). This leads to some situations like in the aforementioned group C where Germany won’t even play at all on either for the FIFA matchdays in June and is off until September. Here are the what are likely to be some of the more interesting matches from Europe:
- Group A: group leaders Belgium and Croatia won’t play each other directly, but if they win they can eliminate all the other teams in the group.
- Group B: Italy is undefeated (4-1-0) but only leads the group by 3 points over Bulgaria, unfortunately, they don’t play each other.
- Group C: Germany is running away with the group, but three countries are tied for second with 8 points each: Austria, Sweden, and Ireland. Austria and Sweden will play each other on the 7th
- Group D: The Dutch are currently enjoying a 7 point lead over Hungary. This is also likely to be a group where the battle for second is the most interesting part. Unfortunately, this group will play no matches until September.
- Group E: No one is running away with the group, but at the same time it is not super-interesting either. None of the top teams will play in June.
- Group F: Russia, Israel, and Portugal are locked in a tight battle for the two spots at the top of the group. Russia and Portugal will play on the 7th.
- Group G: Bosnia is currently topping the group, but only by 3 over Greece. Nonetheless, it will be a feat for one of the world’s newest international teams to qualify for the World Cup.
- Group H: Speaking of newly minted countries and their soccer teams, Montenegro is still leading England in this group by 2, thanks in part to their draw back in March. They’re back in action in June, and will attempt to gain some separation against Ukraine.
- Group I: In the “Spain, France, and Everyone Else” Group, it, well, pretty much is Spain, France, and everyone else. Unfortunately, neither the world champions or the French will be playing in June, with just Finland and Belarus playing each other home-and-home.
Perhaps after the 7th I’ll do an update. We’ll see! Until then, enjoy the return of international socer!