Category Archives: 2018 world cup

2018 World Cup Update: On the Next Matchday… (Oct. 5-6)


In Asia, we’re now in the fourth round, a home-and-home set between Syria and Australia. (Or, more correctly, a home-and-Syria’s-home-away-from-home, Malaysia.) The first leg will take place in Malaysia on the 5th, while the return leg will be in Sydney on the 10th. The winner will be determined by who scores more goals on aggregate. If the teams draw after the end of 90 minutes in the second game, the winner will be determined by who scored more goals on their away legs. If that is also a draw, then 30 minutes of extra time will be played with the away goals rule still applicable, followed by a penalty shootout if the match is still tied.

Suffice it to say, we can only really talk scenarios for the second match. The winner of the fixture will advance to an inter-confederation playoff against a team from CONCACAF.


In Group A, Guinea and Libya have already been eliminated and Tunisia is ahead of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by 3 points.

  • On October 7th, Tunisia will advance to the 2018 World Cup with a win or draw over Guinea and a DR Congo draw or loss to Libya. 

In Group B, Cameroon and Algeria have already been eliminated, and Nigeria is ahead of Zambia by 3 points.

  • On October 7th, Nigeria will advance to the 2018 World Cup with a win over Zambia.

In Group C, no teams have been eliminated as of yet. The Ivory Coast leads with 7 points, followed by Morocco with 6 points, Gabon with 5 points ,and Mali with 2 points. No team can clinch in the coming international window, so we’ll have to wait until November to see who comes out of the group. However, if Mali loses to the Ivory Coast, they will be eliminated. Also, if the Ivory Coast defeats Mali, Gabon will be eliminated if they lose to or draw with Morocco, and Morocco will be eliminated with a loss.

Group D is in a bit of chaos right now, as FIFA ordered the November 2016 match between South Africa and Senegal to be replayed due to a match fixing referee (who subsequently banned for life). The original result had South Africa winning 2-1. Group leaders Burkina Faso have filed a case with the Court for Arbitration in Sport to have the replay not happen and the original result restored. It’s hard to blame them, as the original result was a pretty big upset as Senegal is the power in the group, and the replayed match could make a difference. As a result, it’s hard to really say with any certainty what will happen on the next matchday in this group.

In Group E, Congo have been eliminated. The rest of the group consists of Egypt at 9 points, Uganda at 7 points, and Ghana at 5 points.

  • On October 7th, Ghana will be eliminated if they lose to Uganda.
  • On October 8th, Ghana will be eliminated if Egypt defeats Congo.
  • On October 8th, Egypt will advance to the 2018 World Cup with a win over Congo and any Uganda draw with or loss to Ghana.


The Fifth Round, also known as the Hexagonal, features six teams playing a double round-robin. Mexico lead the table with 18 points and a guaranteed finish in the top three spots, and thus are in the World Cup. Behind them are Costa Rica, on 15 points and a guarantee to finish in the top four, which means either the World Cup or the inter-confederation playoff against a team from the AFC. In third place are Panama on 10 points, followed by the United States with 9. Honduras also has 9 points but also a -7 goal differential. Trinidad and Tobago are in last place with just 3 points, but they are not technically eliminated yet.

The next matchday for all teams is October 6th. On that day:

  • Costa Rica will qualify for the 2018 World Cup with any win or draw against Honduras.
  • Panama will qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a win over the United States.
  • Trinidad and Tobago will be eliminated with any draw or loss to Mexico, or if both the United States and Honduras win or draw with Panama and Costa Rica, respectively. 


There’s still a lot at play in South America because, as previously noted, the second through eighth placed teams are within seven points of each other, and three of those teams won’t qualify. It’s probably just easiest to look at the actual table instead of trying to describe it. The next matchday is October 5th, and on that day:

  • Uruguay will qualify for the 2018 World Cup if they defeat Venezuela and Argentina and Peru draw against each other.
  • Ecuador will be eliminated if they lose to Chile.
  • Paraguay will be eliminated if they lose to Colombia and Argentina and Peru draw against each other.

For everything else, tune back in after Saturday.


There’s 54 teams in 6 groups, so let’s just cut to the chase.

Group A
France and Sweden lead the pack with 17 and 16 points, respectively, followed by the Netherlands and Bulgaria with 13 and 12 points. Luxembourg and Belarus have been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 7th:

  • France will qualify directly for the 2018 World Cup with a win over Bulgaria and a Sweden loss to Luxembourg.
  • Bulgaria will be eliminated if they lose to France.
  • Bulgaria will be eliminated if they draw with France and Sweden defeats or draws with Luxembourg.
  • The Netherlands will be eliminated if they lose to Belarus and Sweden defeats or draws with Luxembourg.

Group B
In Group B, everyone except Switzerland and Portugal have been eliminated. Switzerland currently leads 24 points to 21. On the next matchday, October 7th:

  • Switzerland will qualify directly for the 2018 World Cup with a win over Hungary and a Portugal draw or loss to Andorra.

Suffice it to say, this one’s probably going to come down to the match in Lisbon on the 10th. Again, check back after Saturday.

Group C
In Group C, it’s pretty much Germany looking to wrap things up. On the next matchday, October 5th:

  • Germany will qualify directly for the World Cup with any win or draw over Northern Ireland.

Note that Northern Ireland will not neccessarily be eliminated, as they can qualify for the UEFA Second Round featuring the top 8 second placed teams from all the groups. Again, tune after Saturday.

Group D
Group D features Serbia in first place with 18 points and a guarantee they can’t finish worst than second. Wales is currently in second place with 14 points, followed by Ireland with 13 points and Austria with 9 points. Georgia and Moldova have been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 6th:

  • Serbia will qualify directly for the World Cup if they defeat Austria.
  • Serbia will qualify directly for the World Cup if they draw Austria along with a Wales draw or loss to Georgia and an Ireland draw or loss to Moldova.
  • Austria will be eliminated if they lose to or draw with Serbia, or if Wales defeats Georgia and Ireland defeats Moldova.
  • Ireland will be eliminated if they lose to Moldova and if Wales defeats Georgia.

Group E
Group E features three teams still in play: Poland with 19 points, followed by Montenegro and Denmark with 16 points. On the next matchday, October 5th:

  • Poland will qualify directly to the 2018 World Cup if they defeat Armenia and Denmark and Montenegro draw.

Group F
Group F features England on 20 points, Slovakia on 15, and then Slovenia and Scotland on 14. Lithuania and Malta have already been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 5th:

  • England will qualify directly for the World Cup with a win over Slovenia.
  • England will qualify directly for the World Cup if they draw Slovenia and Slovakia loses to or draws with Scotland.
  • Scotland will be eliminated if they lose to Slovakia.
  • Slovenia will be eliminated if they lose to England and Slovakia defeats Scotland.

Group G
Group G features Spain with 22 points, Italy with 19 points, and Albania on 13 points. Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein have been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 6th:

  • Spain will qualify directly for the World Cup if they defeat Albania and Italy loses to or draws with Macedonia.
  • Albania will be eliminated if they lose to Spain, or if they draw with Spain and Italy defeats Macedonia.

Group H
In Group H, Belgium has already secured first place in the group. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, and Cyprus are vying for second place, with 14, 13, and 10 points respectively. Estonia and Gibraltar have been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 7th:

  • Cyprus will be eliminated if they lose to Greece, or if they draw with Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina defeat or draw Belgium.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina will secure second place if they defeat Belgium and Cyprus defeats Greece.

Group I
Group I is wide open. Croatia and Iceland are tied on 16 points, followed by Turkey and Ukraine with 14 points. Finland and Kosovo have been eliminated. On the next matchday, October 6th:

  • Turkey will be eliminated if they lose to Iceland and Croatia defeats Finland. Ukraine would also be defeated in this case if they fail to defeat Kosovo.

And that’s about it. I hope to put up another post on Sunday with the final scenarios. Stay tuned!

2018 World Cup Update: “Near Disaster” Might Be Giving Us Too Much Credit

And we’re back! The September phase of 2018 World Cup qualifying just completed, so we’re entering the home stretch. In this edition, we’ll review the events of the past week, and then in a separate post we’ll talk about qualification scenarios entering the final matches.

First, let’s congratulate those who just punched their ticket to Russia: Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Next, our condolences to the countries that were eliminated: Gibraltar, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Andorra, Libya, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Hungary, Belarus, Romania, Armenia, Norway, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Guinea, Estonia, Israel, Solomon Islands, Venezuela, Bolivia, Congo, Cameroon, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, China, and Uzbekistan.

We start, as usual, in Asia.


The AFC Third Round concluded, with four teams qualifying, six being eliminated, and another two moving on to a playoff. In Group A, Iran and South Korea topped the group, with Syria eking out Uzbekistan on goal differential. On the one hand, Uzbekistan couldn’t punch a goal at home against South Korea, but on the other this is the second qualification cycle in which the Uzbeks have come up short. (In 2014, they made the playoff round, which was tied 2-2 after both legs, necessitating penalty kicks. After nine rounds, Jordan prevailed 9-8.) China also finished only a point behind Syria and Uzbekistan, which is by far their best result since making the 2002 World Cup. 2022 hosts Qatar went out with a whimper, finishing last in the group and dropping their last two matches to Syria and China.

In Group B, the three that were expected to finish in the top three finished in the top three, but perhaps not in the order expected: Japan won the group with 20 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia finished with 19, with the Saudis prevailing on goal differential.

Thus, Syria and Australia will play two matches in October to determine who gets to play the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF. Who will that be? Well, read on.


African qualifying resumed after a nine-month hiatus, and it was a doozy. We’ll cover each of the five groups.

In Group A, the bottom two teams were eliminated. Group leaders Tunisia and DR Congo played each other twice, with Tunisia coming out ahead with 4 points to DR Congo’s 1. They’ll each go on the road in October and then return home in November. If Tunisia can hold serve, they’ll punch their ticket to the World Cup.

Group B saw the highest-rated team in Africa at the time of the draw get eliminated, as Algeria only has 1 point through four matches. Instead, it’ll be either Nigeria or Zambia, with Nigeria currently up by 3 points. Nigeria gets Zambia at home in October, so they can clinch qualification with a win.

Group C is a bit tighter, with the Ivory Coast holding a one-point lead over Morocco and a two point lead over Gabon. This group will likely come down to the Ivory Coast’s home game against Morocco in November.

Group D is the most competitive group in Africa, with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde tied on six points, and Senegal right behind with five. However, there was even more drama introduced recently when South Africa’s 2-1 win over Senegal was annulled in a recent decision due to the referee having been banned due to “unlawful influence” of the result. The upshot of which is that the match will have be replayed in November, so if Senegal can’t clinch before then, they’ll have one last chance to do so, unless Burkina Faso or Cape Verde win both of their upcoming qualifiers. Either way, no one can clinch this group before November.

In Group E, the headline isn’t that Egypt is on nine points and topping the group, it’s that Ghana has only five points. Egypt gets a home match against last-place Congo in October, while Ghaha has to go on the road to Uganda, likely needing a win and an Egypt loss or tie to stay alive.


Sigh. Things had gone well so far this year for the US national team: a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras, points on the road at Panama and Mexico, and a Gold Cup win. Relatively speaking, we’d been rolling, the shame of the losses last November nearly erased. Then we couldn’t do anything offensive against Costa Rica in New Jersey and lost 2-0. For the first 84 minutes in San Pedro Sula, it looked like disaster was the order of the day. A loss would make it very hard for the US to qualify directly and even making a fourth place finish questionable. Then this happened:
And thus, our bacon was saved. At least for now.

Mexico qualified and is leading the table with 18 points. Costa Rica nearly qualified, but their 1-1 draw at home against Mexico prevented them from sealing the deal. Panama is in third with 10 points after beating last place Trinidad and Tobago, which enabled them to pass the US, who are now in fourth with 9 points. Honduras also has nine points, but the US is still ahead on goal differential.

Overall, the main surprising result was Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over the US. This makes for plenty of drama in the final set of qualifiers to be played next month, which we’ll discuss further as get closer.


There will be no greater casualty of World Cup expansion than the loss of the South American qualifiers. I’ve talked about this before, but there is a certain elegance in its simplicity. 10 teams play a double round-robin (so 18 matches). The top four teams qualify, while the fifth place team also will probably qualify, just they have to go to New Zealand first. You, as a wisecracking American sports fan, may note that half the teams will qualify, just like in the NHL and NBA’s diluted playoffs. And you’d be correct. Except that World Cup bids aren’t really distributed fairly, because if they were South America would probably have more bids. This article covers the intensity in better depth, but the upshot is that six of the top 20 teams in the world are in South America per FIFA’s Rankings, which is better than any of the highest ranked African or Asian teams.

While order may seem restored at first, with Brazil at the top of the table 10 points clear of the next closest team, Uruguay. And yes, that’s the case. But seven point is all that separates the second place team and the eight placed team, Ecuador. The current Copa America champions, Chile, are in sixth, which means if the qualification ended today they wouldn’t be in the World Cup. The best player in the world might have to fly to New Zealand to see his team through. Venezuela and Bolivia are eliminated, but that doesn’t mean they’re just laying down. Venezuela forced third placed Colombia into a 0-0 draw at home, and then went on the road and were actually leading 1-0 over Argentina before conceding an own goal for a 1-1 draw. Bolivia? Yeah, they lost on the road at Peru, but all they did after that was beat the continental champions Chile 1-0 at home. Like I said, these two teams have already been eliminated.

In other words, unless you’re Brazil in this cycle, nothing is easy. We’ll talk scenarios in a few weeks.


New Zealand formalized their advancement to the inter-confederation playoffs by thumping the Solomon Islands 8-3. They’ll play the fifth placed team from South America in November.


The wheat started to separate from the chaff a little bit in Europe, but no one other Belgium clinched. Let’s go over the groups real quick-like, and we’ll talk shop on what the remaining teams need to do in a couple of weeks.

  •  In Group A, group leaders Sweden and France faltered a bit. Sweden lost 3-2 to Bulgaria on the road, and France somehow couldn’t produce a goal at home against Luxenbourg, which has to be somewhere up there on the all-time list of international soccer upsets. Nonetheless, time is running out for the Dutch, who lost 4-0 on the road to France. Three points behind Sweden, they no longer control their own destiny going into the final two matches.
  • In Group B, Switzerland leads Portugal by three points, with all other teams eliminated. Provided nothing unexpected happens, Switzerland’s trip to Portugal will be the deciding contest.
  • Group C is all but decided, with Germany and Northern Ireland advancing, and the Germans five points clear of the Irish.
  • In Group D, Serbia is certain to advance, but Wales and Ireland lurk four and five points behind, respectively. Most likely, Wales and Ireland will be playing off for the second place spot in Cardiff.
  • What’s going on in Group E? Well, a lot. Poland, Montenegro, and Demark are on 19, 16, and 16 points. Montenegro probably controls its own destiny the most, since it will get to play both of its competitors in October. Nonetheless, the Poles still control their own destiny.
  • In Group F, England is probably secure, sitting on a five point advantage over Slovakia with two matches to play. Right behind Slovakia and tied on 14 points are Slovenia and Scotland.
  • Group G remains Spain, Italy, and then everyone else. Spain emphasized the point by beating Italy 3-0 in Madrid, which means that the group is almost certainly going to finish in that order.
  • In Group H, Belgium qualified, so that leaves Bosnia and Herzegovina up a point over Greece and four points above Cyprus for the possible playoff spot.
  • And then there’s the Group of Chaos, Group I. Croatia and Iceland are tied on 16 points, but Croatia has the goal differential tiebreaker. Turkey and Ukraine are right behind with 14 points, and for those two you need to go the goals scored tie breaker. These teams all held serve at home in the last set of matches, which means that just about anything can happen in October.

That’s it for now. The list of teams should be updated soon, most likely by the time you read this. Soon, we’ll look ahead to what will be final chance for the rest of the field. Until then, stay tuned!

2018 World Cup Update: I Ran (So Far Away)

Okay folks, it’s time to run down the results and implications from the June international window. The September window is fast approaching, so we’ll break down things there while we’re at it.

First, let’s welcome Iran to the stage for their second straight appearance. Next, let’s say adios to the following countries: Iraq, Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Luxenbourg, San Marino, Malta, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Finland, and Kosovo.

As usual, let’s go in alphabetical order. Asia, you’re up!

The Asian Football Confederation is currently contesting its third round of qualification. There’s two groups of six teams. In Group A, Iran qualified directly for the World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Elsewhere, China drew Syria and South Korea suffered an upset with a loss to Qatar in Doha. Nonetheless, with two matches to go, the group seems to be setting up for a do-or-die match in Tashkent for Uzbekistan and South Korea on September 5th. Right now, the Koreans are a point ahead in the standings, but a lot can change. For the penultimate match, Korea plays Iran at home, a game that could go any way. The Koreans should well in at home, and some of it will depend on who Iran brings on the road, since they’ve already qualified. Uzbekistan has to go on the road, but they get to play China, a decidedly easier opponent. Again, I expect the scenarios going into the at Tashkent to be very interesting, and I may update if the situation warrants. The outcomes there are either direct qualification to the World Cup or a play-off against the third-place team in Group B.

So speaking of Group B, things are still tight. Japan leads the group with 17 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia are just behind with 16. (The UAE is 6 points behind the Socceroos.) Australia won a crucial home game 3-2 against the Saudis, but Japan wound up drawing Iraq 1-1 on the road. Japan and Australia will play in Japan on August 31st, with Saudia Arabia going on the road to the UAE. Australia gets Thailand at home to close things out, while Saudi Arabia will play Japan. So… pretty much anything can happen.

The Confederation of African Football will finally resume qualification after being on hold since November 2016. There’s five groups of four, with the group winner advancing directly to the World Cup. With only two matches played so far and four to go, it’s hard to really make any predictions at this point, but there’ll be a lot more to say after the next week of qualifying.

The (clears throat) Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football is contesting its fifth and final round of World Cup qualification. The top three teams of six qualify directly to the World Cup, while the fourth place team will have face a team from the AFC in a two-legged playoff in November. Let’s go in order.

Suffice it say, Mexico (in qualification, at least) has shrugged off whatever demons haunted them from the qualifying disaster of four years ago. Mexico is undefeated so far and faces only one difficult road game, at Costa Rica on September 5th. On the 1st, they get Panama at home, which could be challenging, but they should win. Currently three points ahead of Costa Rica at 14, they should wind up topping the group.

Costa Rica has 11 points, three behind Mexico and three ahead of the US. That could change in a hurry, though. The Costa Ricans go on the road to Harrison, New Jersey on September 1st and then get Mexico at home four days later. A result from either game would be absolutely fantastic for Los Ticos. Back in June, they drew Panama at home, but did get 3 points from a 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

The US did exactly what they needed to do back in June. Christian “The Prince” Pulisic did his thing:

Then just three short days later, Micheal Bradley did his best Carli Lloyd impersonation:

Look, your voice would crack too if you saw an American chip the keeper from 40 yards out at the Azteca.

Anyway, the Americans have a pair of tough but winnable games in September. First off, they face a bunch of Costa Ricans who probably haven’t forgotten about the SnowClassico from four years ago. Of course, the Americans hopefully haven’t forgotten about the 4-0 beatdown last November that was the final straw for Jurgen Klinsmann. The US should be favorites at home, though. They will then go on the road to face Honduras, which is always tough but the Hondurans have continued the slide they’ve been on since the 2014 World Cup.

Next up is Panama, who at seven points are a point behind the US. Panama figures to split the upcoming games, with a visit to the Azteca and a home game against Trinidad and Tobago. Their most crucial qualifiers appear to be in October, but for now they look pretty good to finish fourth and advance to the playoff.

Minding the bottom are Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, with 5 and 3 points, respectively. Both are in trouble. If Honduras can’t win at Trinidad and Tobago, then they will badly need a result against the US, though that game is at home. For T&T, things look pretty bleak. They’re not out, but they still have to play Costa Rica and Mexico on the road. The rest of the field figures to leave these two behind entering October.

Next up is the Confederation of South American Football. The format is as elegant as it is simple: nine teams play home-and-home matches. The top four at the end go to the World Cup, while the fifth place team goes to an international playoff against a team from Oceania in November.

Qualification resumes August 31st with four matchdays remaining. Brazil ran away in the competition and has already qualified. Meanwhile, the second through eight placed teams are all within six points of each other. In order, they are Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (23), Argentina (22), Ecuador (20), and then Peru and Paraguay (18). With so many teams and four matchdays remaining, it’s hard to say anything definitive at this point. Let’s check back in a about a month or so.

The Oceania Football Confederation recently whittled down its teams to just two: New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. They’ll play home-and-home on September 1st and 5th, with the winner moving on to the international playoff against a South American team. The Kiwis would have to be, and are, heavy favorites.

The Union of European Football Associations divides its 54 members into nine groups of six each, whereupon they play a double-round robin. The group winners advance automatically to the World Cup and the eight best runners-up are drawn into pairs and play-off for the last four spots. They’ve got four matches left in each group, so we’ll do a quick overview of each because there’s still a lot of wiggle room, as it were.

Group A
Sweden is tied with France with on 13 points, with the Swedes currently ahead on goal differential. Also helpful was a 2-1 victory over France at home back in June. In third and fourth are the Netherlands and Bulgaria, with the Orange in serious danger of not even making the playoff. But hey, they got their groove a little bit by pasting Luxembourg 5-0, but, still, they really need to get a result in France at the end of this month.

Group B
Switzerland currently sit 3 points ahead of Portugal, both of whom have pretty much pulled away from the rest of the pack. Go ahead and check back in on this group for the last day of the first round, when Portugal and Switzerland play each other in Lisbon.

Group C
This could get weird. So Germany, as you might expect, are leading the group with 18 points. Northern Ireland are in second, with 13 points. The problem for the Northern Irish is, well, the first tiebreaker: Germany has an insane +26 goal differential, while Northern Ireland’s is “only” +9. Germany has had the benefit of playing San Marino twice already (so a combined +15 margin right there), but also the Germans’ narrowest result so far was a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the Irish only beat San Marino 4-0, so… I don’t know if they’re going to go out and try to win 17-0 or not, but if they don’t, they’ll be in real trouble: if Germany gets 4 points out of its next matches against the Czech Republic and Norway, which it should, they’ll clinch the group. The Northern Irish are four points ahead of the Czechs, though, so they’re at least in good shape for the playoff.

Group D
Who wants to win Group D? Serbia and Ireland are tied at 12 points, followed by Wales and Austria on 8 points each. The results from June made this pretty much clear as mud, as every team in the group drew the other. Looking at the September matches, it doesn’t look like it’ll get any better, so let’s punt this one to the new edition of this column.

Group E
Poland isn’t, well, running away with this group, but they have a six point lead over Montenegro and Denmark. Fortunately for the Danes, they’ll get a shot at home against Poland on September 1st. Meanwhile, Montenegro will have a chance to make up some ground. They have to go on the road to Kazakhstan, but they should still win, and then they get Romania at home. So still plenty of play here.

Group F
England are topping the group currently, but not by much: with 14 points, they’re two ahead of Slovakia, three ahead of Slovenia, and six ahead of Scotland. You might look at this and think “they should be ahead more, I mean, they just drew at Scotland?” Yeah, well, it could have been worse:

Again, though, we don’t stand to gain a lot of clarity here in September. The group is still tightly packed, and England’s road game is at Malta, which despite their best efforts they’ll probably win. Slovakia and Slovenia are each probably expecting to get somewhere between two and four points, and Scotland may walk away with six. It’s still anyone’s group.

Group G
Not so much anyone’s group: Group G. Spain and Italy both have 16 points, with Spain ahead on goal differential. Both are 7 points ahead of Israel and Albania. The fun part is that Spain and Italy will desperately not want to finish in second, and they’ll play in Madrid on September 2nd.

Group H
Group H features a Belgian side coming into its own and on 16 points, followed by Greece with 12 and Bosnia and Herzgovina with 11. A match between Greece and Bosnia that would’ve provided some much needed clarity ended with a 0-0 draw back in June, so we’ll have to see how the remaining matches shake out. Belgium will have a chance to clinch by pounding Gibraltar into the dirt and then getting a crack at the Greeks on the road. Bosnia, meanwhile, will play Cyprus and Gibraltar, so the Greeks might get left behind going into October.

Group I
Iceland beat Croatia back in June, but they’re still behind due to goal differential, and they probably won’t have a chance to make up for it in September. They’re going on the road to eliminated, but game, Finland and then they have a home match against Ukraine. Turkey and Ukraine sit just two points behind the group leaders, so it’s still anyone’s game, and I think it’ll still be tight going into October.

And that’s finally it! I think things are setting up well for an extremely fun last round of qualifying in most confederations. It’s a shame we’ll lose all this in a bloated 48-team World Cup, but at least that isn’t until 2026. Until then, this column will return in a month in change. Meanwhile, I know there’s at least one person out there waiting for the college football preview. Fret not! I have the ratings in hand, I just need to find time to write the darn thing before Week 0.

2018 World Cup Update: The Field Narrows a Bit

Editor’s note: I started writing this post a while back after the March qualifiers, but unfortunately I have been so busy with work and the few hours I’ve gotten outside of work lately that I’ve neglected the site. Since we’re so close to the June qualifiers, I decided to finish the March post and then combine it with the preview for the upcoming qualifiers. So this post will be divided in two. Here’s the review:

Just a quick update. Let’s examine the action from March’s set of qualifiers, leaving the June games for another post.

First, a quick farewell to the five teams that got eliminated on March 28th:

  • Thailand, which lost 3-0 at home to Saudi Arabia and currently are sitting on a single point from a shocking draw with Australia last November.
  • Bolivia got eliminated despite a 2-0 win at home over a Messi-less Argentina. How? It goes down to the matches involved. If Bolivia wins the rest of their matches, they could have 22 points, which would draw Argentina, who are currently in fifth place. It’s not that simple, though. Argentina has 22 points currently and Ecuador has 20. Since Argentina and Ecuador still have one match to play, either Ecuador gets 23 points with a win, Argentina gets 25 points with a win, or Argentina gets 23 points with a draw. 
  • Venezuela’s elimination, however, is much more straightforward. They lost 3-1 to Chile and simply cannot make up the remaining ground from 6 points with four matchdays remaining. Thus La Vinotinto will remain the only CONMEBOL team to have never qualified for the World Cup.
  • Down in the OFC, New Zealand swept their two matches with Fiji to get to 10 points, knocking both Fiji and New Caledonia out.

Meanwhile, we have our first team to qualify for Russia. Appropriately, they’re also the only team to have played in every World Cup. That’s right, it’s Brazil! Last time around it was Japan during the June qualifiers. I’d say that’s a job well done, especially considering the dogfight in the places below them.

Let’s do a quick survey, as per usual. As noted, I’ll do a preview before the June qualifiers, so no scenarios here.

This is going to sound kind of boring, but well, everything went pretty much according to plan. In Group A, everyone held serve at home except for Qatar, where a 1-0 loss to Iran helped hasten their elimination. China did score an upset of South Korea for their first win in this round of qualifying, but game was on the road. Things like that happen sometimes. (Also, China is improving. South Korea only won 3-2 at home thanks to an own goal.)

In Group B, Japan continued to take care of business. Australia slipped a little bit with a 1-1 draw to Iraq in Tehran (Iraq still plays their home games outside of the country) which still leaves the Socceroos 3 points behind… Saudi Arabia? Yep, the Saudis got to play Thailand (a 3-0 win in Bangkok) and got Iraq at home, getting themselves 6 points in the process.

On March 24th, I ventured down to San Jose with some buddies wherein we watched the US pound a suddenly hapless Honduras 6-0. Or maybe they weren’t so hapless, because they managed to salvage a 1-1 draw four days in San Pedro Sula? 6 goals is still a lot of goals, though… and it did wonders for the US’s goal differential, which has been awful after that 4-0 Costa Rica loss.

Panama managed to lose on the road at Trinidad and Tobago, and unfortunately their resolve was stiffened once they got back home to play the US, where they were able to hang on to a 1-1 draw. Mexico took care of business with a 2-0 win at the Azetca over Costra Rica and they managed to get a goal in Port of Spain to snag the 3 points.

The picture is a little more clear for the US now, as the four points allows us to get into fourth place. Panama is in third with, then seven for Costa Rica, and ten for Mexico.

As noted above, Brazil clinched qualification by continuing their run of wonderful form with a 4-1 win over Uruguay and a 3-0 win over Paraguay. Nice.

Not so nice are Argentina’s continuing struggles. They were able to hold onto a 15th minute penalty conversion by Messi at home over Chile, but they absolutely fell on their faces five days later with a 2-0 loss to Bolivia. The result is that the Albicelestes are sitting in fifth, which is probably still good enough, but not where to you expect them to be. However, they might be able to take advantage of Uruguay’s struggles. In addition to the loss to Brazil, they also lost 2-1 on the road to Peru.

Only four matchdays remain in South America, and they’ll take the summer (well, their winter) off and result qualification at the end of August. The teams that haven’t already qualified (Brazil) or been eliminated (Bolivia and Venezuela) are all within six points of each other in the table. My prediction? Drama a-plenty.

New Zealand beat Fiji twice to clinch advancement to the finals of the OFC process. Tahiti split their series with Papua New Guinea, which leaves them in a precarious spot that I’ll talk in the preview post.

So there’s nine groups of six teams each to try and cover here, so I’ll try to hit the high notes. (Fortunately, each team only played one game.)

  • Group A: France and Sweden are the current group leaders, and maintained their form by beating Luxembourg and Belarus, respectively. The Dutch continue to struggle, losing 2-0 to Bulgaria and in serious danger of missing their first World Cup since 2002.
  • Group B: Switzerland is currently topping the group, and held serve at home by beating Latvia 1-0. Portugal is just 3 points behind, waiting to pounce.
  • Group C: Germany is running away with the group, 5 points ahead of Northern Ireland. The question is who is going to get second, and the answer is probably going to be either Northern Ireland or the Czech Republic.
  • Group D: This group is extremely tight. Serbia is currently ahead of Ireland on goal differential, and then four points behind them are Wales and Austria. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out in June.
  • Group E: Poland has six points on the rest of the group and are thus far undefeated. I don’t think that will change anytime soon.
  • Group F: England is four points ahead of Slovakia and five points ahead of Slovenia. That’s a good lead for the Brits and they won’t have to face either of those two on the road over the course of their remaining matches.
  • Group G: This group continues to be all about Spain and Italy. Both hae 13 points, but the Spanish have a commanding +17 goal differential to Italy’s +9.
  • Group H: The Belgians hae a +20 goal differential, but unfortunately for them it’s the points that matter, and they’re only two ahead of Greece and three ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Really not helping was in their March home game against Greece, they wound up drawing 1-1.
  • Group I: Iceland is seeking to continue the feel good story of Euro 2016, and picked up a crucial 2-1 road win over Kosovo (in Albania). The team they’re chasing is currently undefeated Croatia.

Having set the scene, let’s proceed directly to our June preview.
Group A

  • Iran will qualify for the 2018 World Cup if they defeat Uzbekistan.
  • Qatar will be eliminated if they lose to or draw South Korea.
  • China will be eliminated if they lose to Syria.
  • China will be eliminated if they draw Syria and Uzbekistan draws or defeats Iran.

Group B

  • Iraq will be eliminated if they lose to or draw Japan.
  • United Arab Emirates will be eliminated if they lose to Thailand and Australia defeats Saudi Arabia.
  • Elsewhere, Australia and will play a crucial match with Saudi Arabia at home to try to get into a tie for one of the top two qualifying spots.

No one can get eliminated or qualify yet, but there’s still plenty of pressure. On June 8th, the US absolutely has to pick up three critical points against Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica will try to hold serve against Panama, and Mexico gets Honduras at home. Due to Mexico’s trip to Russia for the Confederations Cup, they will play the US on June 11th, where the US will attempt to do something they’ve only done a couple of times: get a point. Two days later, Panama gets a chance to pick up some points at home against Honduras, while Costa Rica should definitely get some points against T&T.

Group A: New Zealand has already clinched advancement to the final round.
Group B:

  • Tahiti will clinch advancement if Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands draw both their matches.
  • Either Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands will advance if they win both matches, or if one match is drawn and the other is won.
  • I’m not going to get into all the goal difference scenarios, just know that Papua New Guinea is at -1 and the Solomon Islands are at -2. This will be a lot easier to figure after the first game.

I’m not going to do elimination scenarios for Europe because there are too many right now, but let’s take a quick look at what to watch for in June.

  • Group A: France is up three points on Sweden and plays in Sweden next. To stay at all relevant, the Dutch really need to pound Luxembourg. 
  • Group B: Group leaders Switzerland and Portugal both go on the road to play the Faroe Islands and Latvia, respectively. Expect both to win.
  • Group C: Germany will play San Marino, which will be a thing. More interestingly, Northern Ireland goes on the road to Azerbaijan, who might prove a bit frisky. Norway desperately needs a win at home, but they’ll need to get it from the Czech Republic.
  • Group D: Remember the bit earlier about how the top two and then the next two teams are tied (on points) in this group? Well, conveniently the two last place teams play each other, so bring on first place Serbia hosting third place Wales and second place Ireland hosting fourth place Austria. These should be good.
  • Group E: Poland aims to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the group while Montenegro and Denmark will attempt to sort things out, but not against each toher.
  • Group F: Scotland host England and attempt to get payback for a 3-0 loss last year, but otherwise Slovenia and Slovakia should probably win.
  • Group G: Spain and Italy figure to remain tied on points after playing Macedonia and Liechtenstein, respectively.
  • Group H: Bosnia plays Greece at home, while Belgium figures to reap the benefits if they draw, as they have a plum road trip to go get some points at Estonia.
  • Group I: Iceland will attempt to draw even with Croatia at home and revenge an earlier 2-0 loss.

2018 World Cup Update: Jurgen Klinsmann Memorial Edition

So it’s three days since the US lost one of the most embarrassing games I can recall them playing, a 4-0 humiliation at Costa Rica. (And this is after I had flown to Columbus and back to watch them lose their first home qualifier in fifteen years.) The best thing I can say about this title is that I hope I’m wrong and we’ll still qualify easily without having to fire the coach, but frankly I agree with… just about everyone now in saying that US needs a new face on the sidelines.

And in the future, let’s maybe not assume a coach can survive nearly two full cycles. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem to happen.

Anyway, I’ve updated the status of every team page with the latest results from this most recent international window. No one has been eliminated, but we could see a couple in March. Notably, though, no one is on the verge of qualifying. Depending on how things shake out in the AFC, we could see some teams qualify next June, but for everyone else it’ll be around Labor Day next year.

Let’s take a quick glance at each confederation.

The final twelve entrants from Asia are halfway through the qualification cycle. In Group A, it’s race between the three favorites. Iran is currently topping the group with 11 points, followed by South Korea with 10, and then Uzbekistan with 9. Some combination of those three will make it through, but the question is which one will finish where.

  • Iran’s five remaining matches feature three home games against China, Uzbekistan, and Syria. They’ll be favorites in all three. However, they also have to go on the road to Uzbekistan and South Korea. I think they’ll get at least 7 points from their home games, which puts them at somewhere between 18 and 24 points overall.
  • South Korea will play on the road three times, against China, Qatar, and Uzbekistan. They’ve already played all three at home and while they did win all those matches, it wasn’t terribly convincing. The only gimme is the home game against Syria, as they also have Iran at home. They’ve been so inconsistent they could get somewhere between 3 and 15 points from these matches, I think. In other words, they may comfortably qualify, or they could wind up in Tashkent next September really needing a result.
  • Uzbekistan will also play on the road three times, versus Syria, Iran, and China. They’ll be favorites in two of those three, but it will be really tough for them to get out of Tehran with any points. They also get Qatar and South Korea at home. I’d estimate they’ll get somewhere been 4 and 12 points, but I feel a bit better about their chances than I do for South Korea.

Over in Group B it’s not early as obvious how it’s going to go down, but the favorites would seem to be in a bit of trouble. Right now Saudi Arabia and Japan are tied with 10 points, followed by Australia and the United Arab Emirates with 9. The Blue Samurai and Socceroos still have some time to make up some ground, but they also still have to play each other. We’ll check back in on this in March.

There was some action in Africa this time around, but each team so far as only played 2 of 6 matches, so there’s a ways to go, and qualifying there doesn’t resume until next August. Some quick reactions, though:

  • Algeria is currently tied at the bottom of Group B with a single point.
  • In Group D, South Africa scored a pretty solid upset at home by beating Senegal 2-1.
  • In Group E, Egypt got some payback against the team that eliminated them last time around by beating Ghana 2-0 in Alexandria. The Pharaohs currently lead the group with 6 points, while the Black Stars have only 1.

You know about what happened to the US already, so let’s talk about everyone else:

  • Last Friday every away team won their match, though the only one that was anything near a surprise was probably Panama 1, Honduras 0.
  • Los Canaleros then went back home and kept Mexico at bay, earning a 0-0 draw.
  • Trinidad and Tobago are so far playing the “sixth team that doesn’t really belong” role with a 2-0 loss at home to Costa Rica and then a 3-1 loss on the road against Honduras.

Again, we’re just two games into ten overall, so we’ll have more in the spring.

Oceania’s wacky qualification format means two teams didn’t even play this time around. The most shocking thing was probably New Zealand’s scoreless draw on the road against New Caledonia, but nonetheless the All-Whites should have this round wrapped up by the end of March. They’ll meet the winner of Group B in August.

They Europeans have played only 4 matches of 10, so we’ll see them again in March. A quick survey of the groups:

  • In Group A, it looks like the Dutch are back, just behind France’s 10 points with 7 of their own. The question is if the Swedes will continue to stick around.
  • Group B is going to come down to Switzerland or Portugal. Right now the difference is Switzerland’s win at home to start the campaign, The two won’t meet again until the very last match of the round in October.
  • Germany remains completely in control of Group C, but hey, they at least put on a good show at San Marino last weekend (they won 8-0 in front of crowd of 3,500). Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan are fighting it out for the second spot, though the former did beat the latter 4-0.
  • In Group D, the Welsh have now drawn three straight games at Austria, versus Georgia, and versus Serbia. The group remains tight between Ireland, Serbia, and Wales.
  • In Group E, Montenegro’s darkhorse qualification campaign suffered a 3-2 setback in Armenia. Poland continued to cruise and Denmark, 4 points behind and in third place, continues to fight to stay in the mix.
  • In Group F, England beat Scotland 3-0 and remains at the top of the group, but clustered right behind them are Slovenia, Slovakia, and Lithuania.
  • Yes, Israel is currently just a point behind Italy and Spain with 9 points, but that already includes a loss at home to the Italians and they have to play two three more times. Group G may come down to Italy’s road game at Spain next September.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina stayed alive in Group H by picking up a point on the road against Greece, but this still Belgium’s to lose.
  • Last but definitely not least, they’re Group I, which remains the last predictable. Croatia did beat Euro 2016 darlings Iceland, but that was at home. There’s still a lot of games to be played here.

 That’s about it for now. Look for this column again in March!