2018 World Cup Update: Let’s Kick-Off 2016

The first qualifiers of the year are here, due to take place over the next week or so. Asia plus North and South America will all be in action, so let’s do our usual thing. Plus, the status of all FIFA members page has been updated, just in case you’re curious about where your favorite country stands. Overall, we still have 123 countries competing for 31 spots, though with the AFC Second Round ending that number figures to be a bit slimmer this time next week. Anyway, let’s get to it.

The Asian Football Confederation is finishing its second round of World Cup qualifying, plus its own Asian Cup qualifying. This is post about the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, though, so we only really care about the former.

There are 7 groups of five teams and 1 group of four teams. The group winners automatically advance to the Third Round, plus the best four runners-up.

Group A
Saudi Arabia currently leads the group with 16 points, followed by the United Arab Emirates with 13. The Saudis, though, play Malaysia and their -25 goal differential at home on Thursday, which means they will almost assuredly get the three points. The UAE, meanwhile, get Palestine, which is currently sitting on 9 points. Palestine will be desperate for a road win, as they will otherwise be eliminated from the World Cup. If the UAE fails to win, then the Saudis will clinch the group with a win or a draw. If Saudi Arabia somehow fails to do either, then their match on Tuesday will be for the group.

Group B
Not much looks to be settled Thursday in this group. Australia currently leads with 15 points, but Jordan is right on their heels with 13. Both teams get the two worst teams in the group (Tajikistan and Bangladesh, respectively), which means the match Tuesday in Sydney would probably be a big deal, except as it currently stands either team will probably finish as one of the top-four runners-up. More on that next week, if I have time.

Group C
Qatar has already topped the group, so all the action here is between Hong Kong and China. While the former is in the lead, it doesn’t look good for everyone’s favorite plucky Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong has to go on the road and play at Qatar, while China gets the 4th place team in the group at home. They’ll meet again on Tuesday, with Hong Kong probably looking to play spoiler.

Group D
Iran and Oman are the only remaining non-eliminated teams in the group (with 14 and 11 points), and they will play the bottom-most teams in Guam and India. After collecting their three points, they’ll meet in Tehran on Tuesday with the group on the line. It’s hard to forecast right now, but considering their relatively low point totals, it may really, really be on the line.

Group E
It’s Japan (16 points), Syria (15), and then everyone else. They’ll play (you guessed it) the bottom two teams in the group in Afghanistan and Cambodia and meet in Saitama on Tuesday. (I guess I might really have to take a look at where everyone stands again on Monday!)

Group F
This one should be interesting. This is the group that Indonesia was in, so this is the one that’s making everything else that much harder to calculate. At any rate, Thailand currently leads with 13 points, and will clinch with a win or draw over 2nd place Iraq, with 8 points. Vietnam, meanwhile, only has 4 points, but they have two games to play, one against Taiwan Chinese Taipei, and then another against Iraq, so they could still finish in the top 4 of the runners-up pool. Realistically, though, Iraq is going to need to pull out a win against the Thais. Neither match is on the road, but they’re not at home either, as Iraq is currently playing all their matches in Tehran. (Apparently the stadium is named after a casualty of the Iraq-Iran War. Oof.)

Group G
So Kuwait is currently suspended by FIFA, but unlike Singapore or Zimbabwe, they got suspended in the middle of qualifying last fall. They wound forfeiting a match last fall, which meant that South Korea actually qualified for the Third Round in the middle of January without playing anyone. Their matches for this international break will not be played, which will probably force another forfeit. So the only team in action will be Lebanon, which will probably lose on the road at South Korea and then beat Myanmar at home. More on this as it developes.

Group H
This is pretty much North Korea, Uzbekistan, and everyone else. Currently those two have 16 and 15 points, though the Koreans also have a game in hand. The most likely scenario is that the Uzbeks will wind up topping the group, with North Korea finishing as one of the top-four runners-up. But hey, we’ll see.

The Confederation of African Football finished their Second Round last November, but there’s not much else going on until the draw for the Third Round in June, and even then, matches won’t resume until November. All the usual suspects (Cote d’Ivorie, Algeria, Ghana, and Senegal) are all in, though, plus Egypt and South Africa. Overall, 20 teams will be split into five groups of four, with the group winners qualifying directly for the World Cup. It’s more fair than their previous system, but the pressure will be on.

The CONCACAF Fourth Round got underway back in November. The three groups of four still have four more matchdays to go, so there’s still plenty of play in most of these groups. Let’s have a look, though.

Group A
Mexico looks back to being, well, Mexico with six points through two matches, including a road win over Honduras. Canada, meanwhile, scored a 1-0 win over the Hondurans at home, and drew on the road at El Salvador, putting them in pretty good position to move on to the hex, provided they can get a point or three off Mexico during their home-and-away. Honduras and El Salvador are still in, though, and if one of them can keep pace with the Canadians that will make things exciting in September. If Mexico goes 2-0 against Canada they will have all but topped this group.

Group B
Costa Rica currently leads with 6 points, with Panada and Jamaica right behind with 3 points, and then Haiti with none. This group has the most potential to be a mess out of the three, so I’m hesitant to say anything definitive at this point, though I’d be surprised if Costa Rica lost either of their upcoming matches with Jamaica.

Group C
The most likely scenario is that the US and Trinidad and Tobago will both get six points here. T&T plays St. Vincent and the Grenadines home-and-home, which, well, we’re talking about a team with a -9 goal differential after two games, here. The US gets Guatemala, and the US is gunning to get six points and make the games in September academic.

It’s matchdays five and six down in South America, so we’ll still have 12 more go after this. In the meantime, the most surprising result is that Argentina is currently sitting out of the advancement zone, but, again, there’s still a lot of soccer to be played here.

Not much has changed here since last fall, check back in May.

The Europeans won’t start qualifying until September, so check back then.