Soon, a fresh new batch of qualifiers will kick off around the world. We preview where the remaining teams stand and the obstacles they face between themselves and Brazil.
Other than the hosts, 4 teams have qualified, 87 are still in play, and 27 spots remain.
Asia’s automatic qualifiers are now in place: Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. But to determine their playoff qualifier against a South American team, the third place teams from their fourth round, Jordan and Uzbekistan, will kick off tomorrow. The games will take place Friday and Tuesday, and the winner on aggregate advances to the aforementioned playoff. Considering that they lost on a goal differential tiebreaker to South Korea, Uzbekistan should be the favorites. (The Jordanians sported a -9 goal differential to Uzbekistan’s +5.)
As you might’ve seen in the post on what’s needed to advance, there’s plenty of action on the last day of the CAF 2nd Round. Groups C, G, and H are settled though: Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, and Algeria are all through to the third round, which will kickoff in October. Those three teams will join all the other group winners, and they will all be paired off in home-and-home ties. The winner of each of those advances directly to the World Cup.
There’s actually a fun scenario I didn’t list on the page for CONCACAF, but mostly because it requires a very specific set of circumstances: the US must defeat Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras must draw, and Panama must lose or draw against Jamaica. It’s complex because you can’t do the “add future points to current points”, you have to take the remaining schedules into account. (For instances, if Costa Rica wins out after losing to the US, then it’s not possible for Mexico win out, etc.)
Of course, that’s unlikely to happen. Jamaica has earned zero points in road games this round, and managed only a 1-1 draw at home with Panama. Mexico will be (well, they should be) desperate to hold serve at home against Honduras, though it’s not inconceivable Mexico will remain the same punchless team they’ve been most of this year and only manage a draw against what is likely to be a bunkered-in Honduras.
The top four teams currently are Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Chile. Argentina has clinched at least a spot on the AFC-CONMEBOL playoff, but they don’t play Friday so as far as I know they cannot clinch yet. The top four lead the 5th place team, Uruguay, by 5 points, which is comfortable but not yet insurmountable. They also have a winnable game against Peru on Friday that should allow them to keep up with the top 4 for now. Tied with Uruguay though are the surprising Venezuelans, who are seeking their first ever trip to the World Cup.
The European picture lacks a great amount of clarity, despite most teams having four or fewer matches remaining.
The clearest is perhaps Group A, where Belgium or Croatia will make it past the first round, but since they are sitting on 19 and 16 points, respectively, it’s not clear who will come in first yet. Belgium seems to be the obvious candidate, undefeated so far in group play, but they still have to go on the road to Zagreb in October.
Though no one has been eliminated yet in Group B, Italy a slight edge as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic fight for second. If Italy can hold serve against Bulgaria at home on Friday, then they can start to get a little bit of separation.
Germany is close. They have 5 wins, 1 draw, and no losses in group play so far and have a 5 point lead over Austria. The real battle in Group C is the fight for second, as Austria, Sweden, and Ireland all sit on 11 points, so things could get pretty interesting come October.
The Dutch are running away with Group D, holding a 7 point lead over Hungary. Hungary themselves are only a point ahead of Romania. The fight is probably for second in Group E as well. Switzerland has a 4 point lead, but 4 points is all that separates second from fifth.
Group F is a tossup. Portugal (14), Russia (12), and Israel (11) are all within three points of the lead, a situation made all the more interesting when, back in August, Russia lost a snow make-up game to Northern Ireland. All three should win their matches Friday, meaning the real action starts on Tuesday when Russia plays Israel.
It’s tempting to go with the chalk in Group G, where Bosnia has 16 points (and a +20 goal differential), Greece has 13 points, and Slovakia has 9. But I would say don’t count out the Slovaks, who made the Sweet 16 in South Africa.
Group H proves looks can deceiving. Montenegro is topping the group with 14 points, but they’ve played one more game than England (12) and the Ukraine (11). Also on Friday, England and the Ukraine get winnable matches against minnows, while Poland at least stands a chance against Montenegro.
Everyone thought Group I would be a two-horse race, especially since those horses are the reigning champions and France. And, well, that’s pretty much the way it’s played out, but right now the Spanish are only up by a point. The difference in the group could be Spain’s win over France back in March.
That’s that! Don’t forget that ESPN will be streaming a boatload of qualifiers online, so be sure to catch them.