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.
You could say it took a lot to determine the 32 countries that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 204 countries or teams, 820 matches, and a total of 2303 goals to decide the 31 berths up for grabs. Finally on November 20th, all thirty-one berths up for contention were all decided. However deciding the eight groups of four for the Group Stage was also another tricky matter. Yeah, just when you thought it would get easier.
Yesterday, the eight First Round groups were decided at the Costa de Sauipe resort in Bahia. It was broadcast live around the world. I myself saw the live telecast at 9am my time. The draw to form the eight groups for each World Cup involves a process with a lot of thought: four countries per group with continental separation. That would mean each continent other than Europe would have only one of their countries in a First Round group. Europe by means of fielding thirteen berths this World Cup would have a maximum of two countries per group. That’s always been the case since the World Cup expanded to 32 countries back in 1998.
The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches 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. Seeded teams which I will talk about later are in italics:
- Host Nation: Brazil
- South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
- Europe: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland
- Africa: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria
- The CONCACAF (North and Central America, Caribbean): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, U.S.A.
- Asia: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea
That list of qualifiers does provide for some interesting notes. Australia has played for the Asian confederation (AFC) since 2006 because of its superiority in Oceania’s confederation (OFC). Also Spain, the defending World Cup nation, still had to play qualifying matches as the defending World Cup team no longer qualifies its own automatic berth: a FIFA rule in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup.
Dividing the groups into four teams of appropriate continental separation would include something else involved: a seeded pot. Host Brazil was already allocated to Group A: a FIFA regulation in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup. Each of the other seven groups would have to have one of the teams amongst the Top 7 of FIFA’s World rankings from October 2013. In order from 1st to 7th, they were:
There always was a seeded pot for drawing groups for the World Cup that would involve a complicated system involving a multitude of ranks, previous World Cup places and other factors. This time around the seeding was just on that one FIFA ranking list. Sure, it was odd to see countries normally not amongst the top seeds like Belgium and Switzerland in the mix but finally creating a seeded pot was that simple.
The pots meant for continental separation amongst the groups were not that easy. One easy element was that Pot 3 consisted of teams from Asia and the CONCACAF: continents that both fielded four berths. As you could tell, the seeded pot consisted of three South American teams and four European teams. That’s where complications and confusions would arise as Pot 2 would consist of Africa and South America. Pot 2 ended up with seven countries since three of South America’s five berths were seeded teams. Pot 4 consisted of the nine non-seeded European teams. So how do you solve this problem of those pots with the continental maximums?
Yeah, explaining continental limits and parities is easy. Making it happen in the groups this year is the hard part. So FIFA under Sepp Blatter decided to make the following procedures to even it up:
- Draw one European team from Pot 4 and place into Pot 2 for four even pots of eight with the teams assuming the first position of their group.
- Draw from Pot 1 to decide the first teams for Groups B to H.
- Draw amongst the four seeded South American teams and place the drawn out team in auxiliary pot ‘Pot X’ for the sake of continental separation.
- Place the European team drawn out of Pot 3 with the South American team from Pot X.
- Draw from the remaining pots to determine the other qualifying teams.
- After the Pot 1 teams were drawn, draw the positions of the teams of the other three groups as the draw goes group by group.
Yes, it’s hard to make sense. It’s hard to explain. And it’s hard to make it all work out. It’s not like the last World Cup where there were five seeded European teams and you’d easily have a European pot of eight. Nevertheless it was accomplished. The European team from Pot 3 that was drawn out first was Italy. The seeded South American team that was put into Pot X was Uruguay which was already drawn to Group D. That would mean Uruguay and Italy would both be in the same group. The remaining teams would also be drawn out evenly.
So after all that confusion and fretting, all the First Round groups were drawn out. The parity and continental separations took place as FIFA wanted it: maximum two European teams and maximum one team from the other continents in each group. So here are the eight First Round groups for the 2014 FIFA World Cup:
- Ivory Coast
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
The group set-ups sure have gotten a lot of people talking. Some people have noticed that some groups are so tightly put together, it’s hard to declare the one group to call the ‘Group Of Death.’ Some are stating it’s Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. Some are saying it’s Group G with all four of its teams being top contenders. Some are even saying it’s Group B with their very first match—Spain vs. Netherlands—a re-contest of the 2010 World Cup finalists.
Whatever the situation, all 32 teams have to be ready to face their Group Stage opponents and put their best foot forward if they want to advance and be the last team standing that wins the 2014 World Cup. The world will be watching from June 12th to July 13th. I myself will be doing group-by-group reviews on my blog in the weeks leading up to the start. Stay tuned for more action.
It’s always that way whether it’s the Euro or World Cup. The Group Stage is always what separates the contenders from the pretenders. The contenders qualify for the quarterfinals and keep playing until the last team is standing. The pretenders pack for home earlier than they hoped. This Euro has told a lot about each of the four teams in each of the four groups. So with the final game for each group’s teams coming up, here’s my team-by-team rundown:
Russia- They have been the class of the group so far with their 4-1 win against the Czechs. But they would soon find themselves humbled by Poland with a 1-1 draw. Even a simple draw against Greece would have them advancing and it would have to take a win from the Czechs or a big win from the Poles to displace Russia from #1. The only way Russia could fail to qualify is if they lose to Greece by at least a -4 goal differential and either team from the other game winning. Otherwise Russia is very comfortable in qualifying.
Czech Republic- Czechs are also comfortable as they could just simply draw against the Poles and still advance. They may have taken a beating from Russia but their win against Greece keeps their hopes alive. Mind you it’s very chancy. Poland has pulled some surprises. If Poland wins, Czechs are packing early. Simple as that.
Poland-If there’s one team in this group that had the most to prove, it was Poland. The team at Euro with the lowest FIFA ranking (65th), they had something to prove and boy have they done it. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve drawn 1-1 against Greece in the Euro opener and even drawn 1-1 against Russia. The latter is remarkable since Russia had one of the tournament’s biggest winning games so far. Goes to show what a homefield advantage can do. Since Greece and the Czech Republic already have a loss, this puts Poland at an advantage as they face their final Group Stage match against the Czech Republic. Already Poland is ranked 3rd in the group standings. A win, and nothing less, is what it takes for them to qualify for the quarterfinals. Can they do it?
Greece-They drew hosts Poland in the opening game and then lost to the Czech Republic. This is it plain and simple. They need to have nothing less than a win of +3 goal differential against Russia if they are to have any chance at qualifying. The winner of the Poland vs. Czech Republic game will be the one qualifying and Russia already has a 4-1 win. Even if the Poles and the Czechs draw, Czech Republic will be the one moving on if Greece doesn’t win.
Germany- They seem to have it the most comfortable of all teams at this Euro. Two games, two wins. That doesn’t mean they’re completely guaranteed a berth in the quarterfinals. The only ways Germany can fail to qualify is if Portugal wins and Denmark wins either 1-0, 2-1 or with a +2 goal differential. That just shows how tight it is in this Group of Death. There’s no telling what will happen. Even though Germany’s comfortable right now, who know? A simple draw against Denmark can have them qualifying #1 in their group but don’t forget the Danes surprised the Dutch.
Portugal- Portugal started out with a 1-0 loss against Germany and then came roaring back against Denmark with a 3-2 win. Even though Portugal and Denmark have the same win-loss stats and goal differentials, Portugal has the advantage because their win was bigger than Denmark’s 1-0 win. Draws in the next games will help Germany and Portugal advance. The only chance Portugal doesn’t have of qualifying is if the Netherlands wins and both Denmark even so much as draws Germany. Knowing that all final games of the Group Stage are simultaneous, there are no taking chances. And Portugal wouldn’t want to do that.
Denmark-They were the surprise of the group. Lowest ranked of the four but they beat Netherlands 1-0 and give Portugal a strong challenge in their 3-2 loss. They can qualify not just by simply drawing against Germany but if the Netherlands beat Portugal. Otherwise nothing less than a win against Germany is what they need to move on.
Netherlands-The problem with being in the Group Of Death is that even the best teams in the World can face stiff competition and look less powerful than they are. Netherlands is the team that had it the worst here at the Euro. A 0-1 loss to Denmark and a 2-1 loss to Germany. Its only chance of qualifying comes not just in beating Portugal but in Germany beating Denmark. Anything less and the Dutch are packing. This should make for an interesting match. Will the Dutch play hard and well or will it all be in vain?
Spain-Funny how they used to be known as ‘football’s greatest underachievers’ and they sure have been achieving a lot in the last five years. They’ve continued their achieving here with a 4-0 victory against Ireland and a healthy 1-1 draw against Italy. Their lead is comfortable enough that they could still qualify if they lose against Croatia and Ireland draws against Italy. Mind you they could be out if they lose to Croatia and Italy wins. This group may not be as much of a group of death as Group B but they have their own tight statistics that can even cause Spain to be out in the Group Stage. It will all be decided Monday.
Croatia-Like Spain, they too are quite comfortable. A win against Spain means they win the group. A draw against Spain still has them moving on but the draw would have to be at least 1-1 and Italy doesn’t do better than 2-0 against Ireland. A 2-2 draw against Spain would help them qualify provided Italy doesn’t win 3-0. Even if they lose to Spain, Croatia can still qualify if Ireland beats Italy. Mind you I’m sure the Croats won’t want to take any chances.
Italy-After 1-1 draws against Spain and Croatia, this is it. Croatia and Spain both have a win and a draw under their belt. They have to win against Ireland if they are to move on. The real complicated part comes in being #1 in the group. The only way that could happen is if a win of 2-0 and Spain and Croatia have a scoreless draw. A 1-1 draw of Spain and Croatia would mean Italy would have to beat Ireland 4-0 for #1. Yeah, this numbers thing is confusing but for the teams it matters tons. Especially for the Azzuri since they want to recover from their Group Stage ouster form the 2010 World Cup.
Ireland-Simply put, it’s over. A 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 loss to Spain marks the end of Ireland’s chances completely. This should make it interesting in their game against Italy. Even though it’s over, they could still try to beat Italy for the sake of their own pride. I’ve seen it done before at World Cups where the team that’s out and knows it still makes the effort to win with one last thing to prove. Could Ireland do it? They face a tight challenge from the Azzuri hungry for its first win.
France-If you remember the 2010 World Cup, France’s performance was so dreadful the president of the French Football Association resigned before their last Group Stage game. When you hit rock bottom, all that you can do is rebuild. France’s rebuilt team has obviously paid off here. A 1-1 draw against England and a 2-0 win against Ukraine has France top of the group with one last game to play. The only way France can fail to qualify is if they lose to Sweden and Ukraine beats England. And even then it would have to come down to some tricky goal-scoring numbers to deny France a quarterfinal berth.
England-Like France, they too have a draw and a win. Unlike France, their win against Sweden was 3-2. Their single-goal differential is what puts them in second. For England to be top of the group, they not only have to win but France would have to lose or draw against Sweden or England’s win would have to be two more goals than a France’s win. England can simply draw against Ukraine on Tuesday and they’d still qualify. A loss to Ukraine would be what would deny England a quarterfinal berth. The only way they could qualify upon losing against Ukraine is if Sweden beats France by at least two goals. Do you think England would want that to happen?
Ukraine-Like co-host Poland, they too had low expectations but surprised everyone with a 2-1 win against Sweden. The excitement died down four days later with a 2-0 loss to France. Plain and simple, Ukraine has to win against England if they want to qualify. The only other option would be drawing and Sweden beating France by at least 3 goals. Knowing that’s an impossibility, you can imagine Ukraine wants to be ready on Tuesday. Three Euro hosts of the past have failed to make it past Group Stage. You can bet Ukraine doesn’t want to be added to that list.
Sweden-Like Ireland, they’re out. Not even a big win against France can help them qualify for the quarterfinals. Their match against France would be as interesting as Ireland’s match against Italy as it could be one last thing for Sweden to prove. Also interesting for Sweden, Ireland or any of the other six countries that get eliminated is to see in the months ahead what changes they’ll be making to their football board, coaching or even player roster as the World Cup qualifiers start just months from now. The teams will want to take from this experience in all their victories and defeats and learn from it in preparation for qualifying for a World Cup berth. Will they improve? Will they still stay the same? Or will they get worse during the qualifying matches? Only time will tell.
And there you have it. A summary of the teams and what they need to do to qualify for the quarterfinals. Nothing is really sacred for any team right now. Even though Germany has the most comfortable qualifying chances, there’s still a slim chance they may be eliminated: slim but still possible. It will all be decided during these next four days. I have to say there’s something about the final Group Stage match. What is it? The simultaneous play? The heat and pressure of qualifying? The sometimes thrilling moments of some games? Whatever it is, they will finalize all the Group Stage play of Euro 2012 and sports history will be paved from then on.