It’s right there on FIFA’s website on how much it took to determine the 32 qualifiers for next year’s World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 209 teams, 868 matches played, and 2454 goals scored. All 31 available berths up for grabs were decided by November 15th. December 1st was the day to decide the four teams for all eight groups for the World Cup.
Qualifying for the World Cup is already enough of a battle. The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches and conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. The qualifying rounds made a lot of news for those that qualified, but those that didn’t got a lot of news of their own too. The second-round qualifying matches for the CAF saw two of Africa’s best-ever teams–Nigeria and Cameroon– pitted against each other. Only one can qualify and it ended up being Nigeria. Another surprise was the Ivory Coast being surprised by Morocco and Ghana being overtaken by Egypt. Asia didn’t have many surprises, but Qatar finished last in the Second Round group. Not good since they will be hosting in 2022. The CONMEBOL almost saw the non-qualification of Argentina, but they recovered to win their last game and qualify. Instead the most shocking non-qualifier was 2015 and 2016 Copa America winner Chile which was third the day before the final game for all teams.
The biggest shockers in qualifying came from the CONCACAF and Europe. On the last day of CONCACAF qualifying, all the USA needed to do to qualify was beat Trinidad and Tobago in their last game. It was something they could do as Trinidad would finish last of the Final 6. Instead the USA lost 2-1. That was enough for them to kiss their qualification chances goodbye as Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 to earn a berth in the interconfederation playoff against Australia. Europe had some of the biggest shockers as The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for a UEFA playoff round and Italy thwarted their playoff against Sweden losing 1-0 the first game and a scoreless draw the next. Russia 2018 will be the first World Cup since 1958 in which Italy didn’t qualify and only the third World Cup ever with Italy absent!
Now enough of this World Cup’s also-rans. On with those that qualified. Twenty of the 32 teams for Russia 2018 played in Brazil 2014. Brazil makes it 21 for 21. All former World Cup winners except for Italy will be present. The team with the longest absence making a return to the World Cup stage in 2018 is Peru whose last World Cup appearance was back in 1982. There are only two countries that will make their World Cup debut in Russia: Iceland and Panama. Iceland is especially noteworthy as it has become the first nation with a population of less than 1 million to qualify for a World Cup! Actually there aren’t even half a million people living in the nation of Iceland so that makes it even more remarkable.
Now onto the draw. The draw was held Friday at 18:00 Moscow time at the Kremlin. Legends from all eight countries that have won the World Cup in the past were present: Laurent Blanc, Diego Maradona, Gordon Banks, Cafu, Miroslav Klose, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan and Carles Puyol. Gary Lineker was host of the event and Russian legend Nikita Simonyan was also part of the event, Vladimir Putin was defintely in attendance, an d the Igor Moiseyev Ballet provided the performance before the draw.
Now onto the actual drawing. In the past, FIFA has organized the pots to give appropriate correlation with continents and availability. FIFA wants the eight groups of four to be a case of no more than two European teams and only one team of the other confederations. There are fourteen European teams (UEFA) including host Russia, five South American teams (CONMEBOL), three teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (CONCACAF), five African teams (CAF) and five teams from the AFC (Asia and Australia).
FIFA wants to create better parity among the groups for this World Cup. FIFA doesn’t want a case of two or three top-ranked teams in a group as only two can advance past the Group Stage. We all remember the dreaded Group D of 2014 which consisted of three top-ranked teams. This time around FIFA decided to break the draw into four pots of eight. The pots are all based on the teams’ FIFA World Ranking as of October 2017, regardless of continent. The only exception being Russia as the host nation is always automatically in Group A. Here’s how the pots break down with their confederation listed and their ranking in brackets:
- Russia – UEFA (65)
- Germany – UEFA (1)
- Brazil – CONMEBOL (2)
- Portugal – UEFA (3)
- Argentina – CONMEBOL (4)
- Belgium – UEFA (5)
- Poland – UEFA (6)
- France – UEFA (7)
- Spain – UEFA (8)
- Peru – CONMEBOL (10)
- Switzerland – UEFA (11)
- England – UEFA (12)
- Colombia – CONMEBOL (13)
- Mexico – CONCACAF (16)
- Uruguay – CONMEBOL (17)
- Croatia – UEFA (18)
- Denmark – UEFA (19)
- Iceland – UEFA (21)
- Costa Rica – CONCACAF (22)
- Sweden – UEFA (25)
- Tunisia – CAF (28)
- Egypt – CAF (30)
- Senegal – CAF (32)
- Iran – AFC (34)
- Serbia – UEFA (38)
- Nigeria – CAF (41)
- Australia – AFC (43)
- Japan – AFC (44)
- Morocco – CAF (48)
- Panama – CONCACAF (49)
- South Korea – AFC (62)
- Saudi Arabia – AFC (63)
As you can tell by the pot arrangements, they’re trying to make the contest as balanced as possible. In addition, FIFA knows the top seeded teams are Team 1 in each group–host nation being Team A1– but FIFA still wants a drawn ball in all cases to make it official, even drawing the order of the last group team drawn. That explains all those red balls at the beginning of the draw; to make defaults official. Confederation rules still apply as far as maximums per group. Pot 1 had six UEFA teams and Pot 2 had four. It could have been a case where four groups could have reached their maximum two for UEFA teams by the time Pot 2 was all drawn out. Instead it was just two groups with UEFA berths completed. Drawing teams and placing them in the right groups was not as hard and tedious as I had anticipated. In the end, all eight groups had their teams drawn and allotted with only minor complications which were sorted out with ease:
- Saudi Arabia
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
So those are the groups for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It makes for some interesting analyses. The draw usually tries to make for the host nation to have an easy time qualifying to the knockout phase. Russia has a good group with only Uruguay looking to be a real threat to them. Group B is most interesting not because of the challenge of the teams, but of the geography: Spain, Portugal and Morocco! The draw was aimed so that there could be better parity among ranked teams, but there are possibilities of a ‘Group Of Death’ or two. First bet is Group D; Croatia and Iceland are underdogs that can cause a surprise, and Nigeria meet Argentina for the fifth time out of six World Cups. The second potential Group Of Death could be Group F with Germany and Mexico plus possible upsets coming from either Sweden or South Korea.
And there you go. That’s the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The teams now have six months to prepare themselves and be among the top two to advance. Lots of excitement guaranteed.
The news was revealed on December 17th. Kim Jong Il was dead. At first, people thought it was a hoax. Later it became official news. Even images of his body lying in state while North Koreans mourn him have made it official. His successor is his third and youngest son, 28 year-old Kim Jong Un. He has officially assumed the office on December 24th just days before his father’s funeral. The big question is will Kim Jong Un be able to rule the tiny, private, separatist country the way his father has or will North Korea find its grip succumbing to the times?
The nation of North Korea has existed since 1948. Korea was under Japanese occupation for decades before World War II and existed as a nation after World War II ended. However it was divided at the 38th parallel under a United Nations agreement with the Soviet Union occupying the north part and the democratized world occupying the south part. It was the communist North’s refusal to participate in a 1948 UN-supervised election that led to the two Koreas being separate and Kim Il Sung being the leader of what established as the Democratic People’s Republic.
North Korea is not only unique for having only three heads of state in its existence but also from the same family: first Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il and now Kim Jong Un. During Kim Il Sung’s reign, he wreaked havoc of his own. The two Koreas tried to control each other during the first few years of existence. Its escalating border conflicts led the North to invade the South which kicked off the Korean War: a civil war that lasted three years, included support for the south from UN-backed countries like the US, the UK and Canada, and left a total of over 2,000,000 soldiers and civilians dead and the borders restructured as originally planned with a heavily-armed Korean Demilitarized Zone protecting the borders. Despite the peace, relations between the North and South have been tense as was common during the Cold War times and still remain tense to this day. The North has attempted many times to assassinate leaders of the South, North Korea boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympics as Seoul was the host city, and has even attempted to develop its own nuclear weaponry. Even as the South adopted a Sunshine Policy in 1998 to moderate for peace, that hasn’t stopped the North from uttering threats and causing international tension.
During the time of Kim Il Sung, he developed a ‘cult of personality’ status that would even make some of the heads of state of most other Communist countries envious. He adopted the title of the ‘Great Leader’: a title repeated constantly amongst the citizens of North Korea of all three Kims. Glorification of him replaced all religion in North Korea. Even after his death in 1994, he’s still referred to as the ‘Eternal President’ and his birthday is a national holiday in North Korea. As a ruler, he came across as the familiar tyrant we know Kim Jong Il to have been through his own methods. During the first years of his reign, he issued a command economy with all industry owned by the state and all agriculture collectivized. His economy was focused on peasants and workers and was aimed at eliminating class differences. Heavy industry and arms production were also predominant as was a large army. While the USSR and China were moving away from de-Stalinization, Kim was infuriated and began distancing North Korea from the two countries, even denouncing any reconciliation or peace attempts with the United States. The times from 1979 onward were very hard for North Korea as China moved towards economic reform and the European Communist countries including the USSR were exercising political reforms that led to the eventual overthrow of Communism. This led Kim Il Sung to make North Korea even more isolated: an isolation that still exists to this day. Its economy was soon hurting and Kim Il Sung was investing in nuclear arms production: a process Kim was fiercely protective of up until a month before his sudden death in July of 1994.
Kim Jong Il was named by Kim Il Sung back in 1980 to be his successor and eventually succeeded his father after his death. Kim Jong Il would wreak the havoc most people are currently familiar with during his reign from his father’s death up until his own death on the 17th. He would keep the heated ‘cold war’ between South Korea alive and well with constant condemnation and threats of war. He too was heavy on developing nuclear military prowess, resisting UN demands to inspect facilities and even threatening a war if North Korea was imposed sanctions. His military prowess kept on growing by number of soldiers and weaponry the Military First policy he adopted. The policy would continue in existence even as the people in North Korea had to deal with flooding in the 1990’s which lead to a huge reduction in arable land and eventually a famine that left anywhere from 1 million to 3 1/2 million North Koreans dead. Relationships with the United States weren’t any nicer either as Kim would still portray the US as the bad guy and George W. Bush referring to North Korea as part of the ‘axis of evil’. Even as relationships appeared to be improving one moment, things appeared to go wrong the next.
Now Kim Jong Un assumes the role as the ‘great leader’ of North Korea. Over the past two weeks, we’ve learned more about him. He attended school in Switzerland as a child, has a degree in computer science and has a military rank as general. He has two older half-brothers but it was believed by many through his personal character that he was most likely to be Kim Jong Il’s successor. In 2009, it was made official by Kim Jong Il. Since Kim Jong Il’s death, it has become a reality as title after title from North Korea’s government is now being bestowed on the younger Kim. Since the funeral and transition, the media has kept a watchful eye on North Korea and Kim Jong Un. There have been countless headlines leaving one to question the state where North Korea is going:
- 24th – North Korea To Be Center Of Japan – China Talks
- 26th – Kim Jong Un Meets With South Korean Delegation
- 27th – North Asks South Korea For Money At Kim Jong Il’s Funeral
- 27th – North Calls For Enactment of Investment Pact
- 30th – Military Says South Korea Will ‘Pay For Hideous Crimes’
Once again, headline after headline that differ, confuse and even make people question about what the North will do next. Also in question is Kim Jong Un’s reign as the new leader. Does a dictator that’s not even 30 have what it takes to run a nation with a Stalinist style governing? Will North Korea still be a fierce hermit to the rest of the world? Will North Korea’s relations continue to be fiery and even lead to the ‘war’ North Korea keeps on talking about? Or will things open up and lead to progress and improvements in North Korea, especially its citizens’ way of life? Those are answers that can only be made as time moves on. Nevertheless it’s important for all to keep a watchful eye on events that unfold.
WIKIPEDIA: North Korea. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korea>
WIKIPEDIA: Kim Il Sung. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Il-sung>
WIKIPEDIA: Kim Jong Il. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il>