So I haven’t done one of these since last March, and in the interim, there’s been a fair amount of qualifying going on. I’ve updated the status page so that we’re current through last Tuesday.
As usual, let’s go confederation-by-confederation and make some quick observations, since it’s still too early to eliminate anyone.
In Group A, things are going pretty according to plan, at least in terms of the top three teams. However, the order may not be what you expect, with Uzbekistan currently in second with 9 points and South Korea in third with 7 points. Also, Iran leads that group with 10 points. They’re four games in, so there’s still six to go. I don’t really expect Syria, Qatar, or China to make any late pushes, though one can continue to marvel at just how bad China is at men’s soccer. They’ve got 1 draw (against Iran, at home) and 3 losses. I would not be shocked if they finished at the bottom of the group.
Over in Group B, it’s a similar story. Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan lead the group with 10, 8, and 7 points, respectively. However, the United Arab Emirates are right there with 6 points. Behind there are Iraq with 3 points and a very woeful Thailand. (Seriously, if China’s got anything going for them, it’s that they probably won’t be the first team eliminated from this round of Asian qualifying.) I expect the teams currently in the top three to finish in the top three, but it’ll take some time to figure out how it’ll shake out.
African qualifying finally got under way this month, however, after November the five groups of four won’t resume until next August due to the African Cup of Nations next summer. So honestly, there’s not much to talk about, but I’ll mention two things.
- Egypt is in the same group as Ghana. Recall that it was Ghana that brutally (7-3 on aggregate) eliminated the Egyptians from their inspired run to the last round of African qualifying during the last World Cup cycle. They will play in Alexandria in November.
- Qualifying geeks will remember Cape Verde from four years ago, when in their last game in the second round of qualifying, they appeared to beat Tunisia 2-0, eliminating Tunisia. However, they fielded a player who was on a four game suspension due to a red card and related actions, so the game was awarded to Tunisia. Tunisia wound losing 4-1 on aggregate to Cameroon. This time around, Cape Verde started off with a 2-0 loss to Senegal.
The CONCACAF fourth round concluded back in September, with no real surprises. The group winners were Mexico, Costa Rica, and the United States. The group runners-up were Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. Notable misses were Canada and Guatemala, which wound up a point short in their groups.
The firth round, or Hexagonal, kicks off in about a month. I’ll be in Columbus, Ohio at the time. In a stunning coincidence, the US will also play Mexico there at the same time. I’m looking forward to it.
That said, if I had to pick the qualifiers, I think Mexico, the US, and Costa Rica will qualify, with Panama in fourth. Honduras just hasn’t been the same since their 2014 World Cup run. In addition to the Mexico game, the US will go on the road to Costa Rica the following Tuesday, so that’ll be two very important games right away.
We’re just past half way through the South American qualifiers, with 10 matches played and 8 to go. And boy howdy, the table is currently a doozy. Brazil is on top with 21 points, which makes sense until you remember that they’ve had an awful run of it since the 2014 World Cup and just fired their coach after the Copa America Centenario. Uruguay is in second with 20 points, followed by Ecuador and Colombia with 17. Okay, makes sense so far, but it seems like there’s two teams missing. Well, Argentina is fifth with 16 points. Messi currently has 1 goal from the run of play. Paraguay is behind them with 15 points, and then finally the team that went into the start of qualifying as Copa America champs and then reconfirmed it this past summer, Chile, is in 7th with 14 points. They’re 1-1-2 since qualifying resumed.
The matchdays for November look pretty bonkers. On the 10th, Chile plays at Colombia, Ecuador plays at Uruguay, and Argentina will visit Brazil. Five days later, you’ll get Colombia at Argentina and Uruguay at Chile. Seriously, watch these games if you get a chance.
They’ll actually play some games in November, but nonetheless if New Zealand loses any of them it’d be a shocking upset.
Europe finally started qualifying back in September and we’re three games in. Let’s go over the groups real quick. Thanks to Gibraltar and Kosovo gaining entrance to FIFA, Europe now features 9 groups of 6. The top team qualifies directly, the top-eight runners-up are paired up and played-off for the remaining four spots from Europe.
Group A features France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. The Dutch are fresh off not qualifying for the Euros this past summer and aren’t off to great that of a start here, sitting on a loss to France, a draw with Sweden, and a victory over Belarus.
Group B features Swizerland and Portugal. I don’t anticipate any other team coming close here. Ronaldo scoring four goals against Andorra might be the most notable thing that’s happened so far. Well, other than them losing to the Swiss.
Group C features Germany and some other teams. Right now Azerbaijan is in second with 7 points, but don’t expect that to hold with Norway, the Czech Republic, and Northern Ireland in the mix. This is definitely a competition for second place, though.
Group D features Serbia, Ireland, and one of Euro 2016’s darlings, Wales. However, the Welsh are off to a pretty disappointing start, drawing with Georgia their last time out.
Group E is a group in UEFA’s qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Montenegro is currently tied with Poland on 7 points for the group. Denmark is currently sitting fourth with just 3 points.
Group F features England, who are currently in the lead, meaning that English fans still aren’t happen since they only have seven of nine possible points. (And even then…) Scotland is also there, but really the teams to look out for are Slovenia and Slovakia, which of course ignores the team actually in second right now: Lithuania.
Group G is Spain and Italy. There are four other teams, which are Albania, Israel, Macednia, and Liechtenstein, but let’s be serious, this is about which of Spain and Italy gets to qualify directly for the World Cup.
Group H features an apparently fully functional battlestation in the form of Belgium, which has 9 points. That said, the rest of the group isn’t much to look at . Greece also has 9 points, then there’s Bosnia and Estonia, and, well, Cyprus and World Cup qualifying newbies Gibraltar. Hey, you guys wanted in, right?
Group I is our final group, and it will probably be pretty spicy. Croatia and Iceland are currently in the lead, but Ukraine and Turkey are right there. This one should be pretty wide open.
That’s about it, for now. We’ll wrap things up for the year after next month’s games. Until then, back to our regularly scheduled college football programming.