Category Archives: world cup

2018 World Cup Update: A Quick Survey of 2016 Results

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.

What Does It Take to Advance At the World Cup?

Five points.

Since the current 32-team format was implemented for the 1998 World Cup, five points is dividing line between advancement and disappointment.

Some background: before the 1994 World Cup, two points were awarded for a win and one point for a draw. What happened? Well, the 1990 World Cup was basically the soccer equivalent of the 1968 baseball season: defenses were dominant and no one felt super inclined to score. To try to encourage more goals, the value for a win was increased to three points for 1994.

Since the tournament still had 24-teams in 1994, I decided to simply look at the data going back to 1998. Here are the results:

Adv % Did Not % Total
0 0 0% 10 100% 10
1 0 0% 18 100% 18
2 0 0% 7 100% 7
3 1 5.56% 17 94.44% 18
4 11 47.83% 12 52.17% 23
5 15 100% 0 0% 15
6 11 100% 0 0% 11
7 16 100% 0 0% 15
9 10 100% 0 0% 10

So the takeaway is obvious: get five and you’re golden. Of course, that still requires going undefeated. Four points is basically a gamble, especially since that’s also the only score that has come down to goal differential.

You might be wondering: who the heck got three points and advanced? Chile in 1998. After drawing all three of their group stage games, they got demolished by Brazil 4-1 in the first knockout stage.

And finally, I was going to do a full day-by-day schedule run-down for various time zones, but there’s already a better-designed website doing that for me. The only thing really lacking is TV info, but at least in the US you have a one-in-three chance of getting that right anyway (ESPN, ESPN2, or ABC).

2014 World Cup Update: Commentary and Selected Scenarios for 10/15

Editor’s note: this was my draft going into last night, but some stuff came up and I could not finish it. I just wanted to publish the work I did for posterity. A proper wrap-up post will come soon.

Lots of stuff is bound to go down on Tuesday. Let’s have a look.


Nothing will conclude in Africa on the 15th, with the return leg of all the matches taking place in November. That said, we can talk about the early results. (INSERT)


The US has secured the top of the table going into their match against Panama. First, let’s talk scenarios.

Team W D L GF GA Diff Pts
United States 6 1 2 12 6 +6 19
Costa Rica 4 3 2 11 6 +5 15
Honduras 4 2 3 11 10 +1 14
Mexico 2 5 2 6 7 -1 11
Panama 1 5 3 8 11 -3 8
Jamaica 0 4 5 3 11 -8 4

No matter what, Honduras can do worse than 4th place, so they have a spot in the inter-confederation playoff against New Zealand at least. Costa Rica already has a ticket to Brazil.

  • Honduras can clinch a spot in the World Cup Final with a win or draw against Jamaica.
  • Honduras can clinch with any Mexico draw or loss to Costa Rica.
  • Mexico can clinch a spot in the World Cup Final with a win over Costa Rica and a Honduras loss to Jamaica. Mexico would also need to win by at least two goals.
  • Mexico can clinch a spot in the Inter-Confederation Playoff with any win or draw.
  • Mexico can clinch a spot in the Inter-Confederation Playoff with any Panama draw or loss to the United States.
  • Panama can clinch a spot in the playoff with a win over the United States and a Mexico loss. Panama would need to beat the US by at least two goals. There are scenarios where Panama can prevail over Mexico if they finish with the same goal difference, provided Mexico does not overtake them in terms of total goals scored.


Colombia clinched on Friday. The remaining three non-eliminated teams can do no worse than the Inter-Confederation playoff against Jordan. The remaining matches that matter are Chile vs. Ecuador and Uruguay vs. Argentina.

  • Ecuador and Chile will clinch a spot in the Final with any Uruguay draw or loss to Argentina.
  • Ecuador and Chile will clinch a spot in the Final if they draw against each other.
  • Uruguay can only clinch a spot in the final if there is a loser in the Ecuador-Chile match and if they beat Argentina. In that case, it will come down to goal difference. Uruguay currently has a –1 differential, while Ecuador is at +5 and Chile is at +3.

2014 World Cup Update: Commentary and Selected Scenarios for 10/11

It’s that time again. In many confederations we’re now in the home-stretch of qualifying. So let’s go confederation-by-confederation as usual and breakdown what we’re looking at.

Before we begin, though, I have updated many of the resources on the site here, including the status of every member of FIFA and the “Everything” chart.


Last month, Jordan clinched advancement to the inter-confederation playoff by defeating Uzbekistan 9-8 in penalties after each side drew 2-2 on aggregate. It’s a disappointing result for the Uzbeks, as at one time they were leading their group and only lost out on qualifying directly on goal difference with South Korea. What will they be haunted by? The own goal in Seoul back in June that led to a 1-0 loss? Allowing Qatar to score before they realized that they needed goals, triggering a furious comeback but ultimately coming up short despite the 5-1 win? Or the two misses in penalties against Jordan?


Saturday and Sunday mark the beginnings of the final play-off matches for Africa. 5 ties for 5 spots in Brazil. The draw?

Cote d’Ivoire Senegal
Ethiopia Nigeria
Tunisia Cameroon
Ghana Egypt
Burkina Faso Algeria

It’s hard not to root for Egypt, and not just because that means if they advance the US can’t lose to Ghana again. And it’s not the Bob Bradley revenge angle either. It’s because, and SI’s Grant Wahl explains, Bradley is the right man for the job, even after he was no longer the right man for his homeland.


Costa Rica and the United States have clinched, and I still love watching these highlights from last month:

(I still get excited when I see the first Eddie Johnson header and see it get saved.)

So let’s look at the table and talk scenarios.

Team W D L GF GA Diff Pts
United States 5 1 2 10 6 +4 16
Costa Rica 4 3 1 11 5 +6 15
Honduras 3 2 3 10 10 0 11
Panama 1 5 2 7 9 -2 8
Mexico 1 5 2 4 6 -2 8
Jamaica 0 4 4 3 9 -6 4
  • Honduras will advance directly to the 2014 World Cup Final with a win and a Panama-Mexico draw. (This also means that Mexico and Panama would be able to do no better than qualify for the Inter-Confederation Playoff against New Zealand.)
  • Jamaica is completely eliminated with any draw or loss.

If there is a winner in Mexico City, then they are in good position to try to catch Honduras on goals on Tuesday, though Honduras will play Jamaica next week so that may still be difficult. Of course, if Costa Rica is following the same philosophy as the US, then Hondurans should have their work cut out for them even at home. Nonetheless, there’s a good chance the US game against Panama on Tuesday will matter, which leads to the question: who will be this cycle’s Jonathan Bornstein? (Let’s also snicker a little about how I asserted that Mexico will qualify. Whoops!)


I’m pretty sure the All Whites just want to know where they’re going to fly to already.


I’m not going to put the table here, but what you need to know is that Argentina has qualified and tat Colombia and Chile have clinched at least a spot in the play-off. Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay have all been eliminated. This leaves 4 teams vying for the three direct spots, plus Venezuela for the play-off spot.


  • Venezuela will be eliminated if Ecuador-Uruguay is a draw.
  • Venezuela will be eliminated if they lose or draw to Paraguay.
  • Colombia will directly qualify with a win over Chile.
  • Colombia will directly qualify with a win or draw against Chile and an Ecuador-Uruguay draw.
  • Chile will directly qualify with a win over Colombia and an Ecuador-Uruguay draw.


I’m just going to go group-by-group here.

Group A

  • Belgium will directly qualify with a win or draw over Croatia.

Group B

Italy has already qualified, leaving a 4-way fight for second place. Unfortunately, having to take the ranking of the 2nd-place teams into account makes things too complicated for me to be willing to figure out. The teams in question are Bulgaria, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Armenia. I will say I’d be pretty crestfallen if my Danish soccer-playing doppelganger doesn’t make it to Brazil.

Group C

  • Germany will qualify with a win or draw over Ireland.
  • Germany will qualify with a loss or draw by Sweden against Austria.

Group D

The Netherlands have already qualified, leaving Hungary, Turkey, and Romania fighting for second.

Group E

  • Switzerland will qualify with a win over Albania.
  • Switzerland will qualify with a draw and an Iceland loss or draw to Cyprus.

Group F

  • Russia will directly qualify with a win over Luxembourg and a Portugal loss to Israel.
  • Israel will be eliminated with a draw or loss to Portugal.

Group G

Both Bosnia and Greece have 19 points, so neither can clinch today. However, Bosnia is 15 goals better in the goal difference column, so Greece would need a ton of goals if they wound up tied in the end. Greece plays Slovakia while Bosnia gets Liechtenstein (and thus a really good chance for them to further pad that goal difference).

Group H

Only Moldova and San Marino have been eliminated in this group, so that means everything’s still in play. However, there is a scenario where one team can qualify directly.

  • England will clinch with a win over Montenegro and an Ukraine loss to Poland.

Group I

Spain and France are both sitting on 14 points, however, Spain has played one less game. They will play that one game today against Belarus, however, a win does not allow them to clinch just yet.

2014 World Cup Update: As of September 5

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.