FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – Mid-September 2013

Quite a lot happened over the last week in World Cup qualifying, so let’s take an updated look at who’s in, who’s out and who’s still on the way:

AFC (4.5 Spots)

Already booked – Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia
Still fighting it out – Jordan awaits the November Intercontinental Play-Off match against the 5th-placed CONMEBOL team.

CAF (5 Spots)

Already booked – No one
Still fighting it out – With the group stage concluded, ten teams remain. They’ll be paired September 16 for a home-and-away series scheduled for October and November. The teams still standing are Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon and Senegal. The teams will be seeded based on the September 2013 edition of the FIFA World Rankings. Stay tuned for an update after the draw.

CONCACAF (3.5 Spots)

Already booked – USA, Costa Rica
Still fighting it out – The Hexagonal heated up Tuesday night, firing the USA and Costa Rica ahead to Brazil. However, even Jamaica is still technically in contention for a half spot (based solely on points) thanks to holding Costa Rica to a draw. With matches remaining against Costa Rica and Panama, Mexico has a potentially tough road ahead to avoid elimination. I look forward to watching the battle for third best heat up, but with Honduras still scheduled against Jamaica next month, they’re the safer bet to avoid intercontinental playoffs.
Match to Watch – Mexico-Panama on October 11

CONMEBOL (5.5 Spots)

Already booked – Brazil (host), Argentina
Still fighting it out – With 3.5 spots left up for grabs, Colombia barely missed qualifying on this round of matches and is more or less assured a ticket to Brazil. With Venezuela very nearly eliminated, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay will look to gather points as quickly as they can in their final two matches to avoid having to go to the Intercontinental Playoffs. While the CONMEBOL representative will likely win those playoffs, why take a chance?
Match to Watch – October 11 – Ecuador-Uruguay; October 15 – Chile-Ecuador

Oceania (.5 Spots)

New Zealand awaits the 4th-placed CONCACAF team in November.

UEFA (13 Spots)

Already booked – Netherlands, Italy
Still fighting it out: Of the 53 teams still playing, only 31 are in contention at this point in the game (including the two above), and several of those are hanging on by a thread. Here’s where the groups stand:

  • In Group A, Belgium and Croatia are guaranteed first- and second-in-group, leaving the rest of the teams effectively eliminated. The two teams are still trying to settle who goes top of group, so their head-to-head match on October 11 should be the Match to Watch.
  • For Group B, Italy took top spot, leaving a mess of teams in its wake vying for second place. Technically only Malta is not still in the running for this group. Bulgaria’s game against the Czech Republic will probably be the make-or-break point for second place, but there are enough variables in play that it’s not yet a full-fledged Match to Watch.
  • Group C‘s Germans are guaranteed to advance either to Brazil or the next round of qualifiers at this point. Ireland’s poor performance over the past week has left them virtually eliminated, as their first match in October is against group-leading Germany. The more interesting match will be Sweden-Austria, in which Sweden has the power to lock themselves into a position to advance.
  • For Group D, the Netherlands have sealed the deal, leaving Hungary, Turkey and Romania to fight it out for second (Kazakhstan and Faroe Islands are definitely done). None of the three face each other again in this series, but Romania has the unique advantage of being the only one not still slated to face off against the Netherlands, leaving them optimistic going into October. As such, though, there is no single Match to Watch that will have major implications for this group.
  • In Group E, Switzerland increased its lead to 5 points, which is not quite enough to let them sleep easy between now and October. Cyprus is the only team that couldn’t at least advance to the next round of qualifiers at this point, so there could be a lot of shifting going into the last pair of match days. Of that, Norway will have the best control of its chance at second place, playing both Slovenia and Iceland, but Iceland will likely retain the advantage going against Norway after its match against Cyprus. Slovenia is unlikely to have the same confidence, as its second match is against Switzerland. As with Groups B & D, there is a lot undecided at this point, but Iceland-Norway should play a large role in finalizing the standings.
  • Group F sees Israel hanging on desperately to avoid elimination, but its match against Portugal on October 11 could be its swan song for this competition. With few road blocks in the next two games, it looks as though Russia will finish top of group with Portugal right behind them unless one of the now-eliminated teams manages to force a draw.
  • As we move to Group G, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are locked in at the top of the group. With two sets of matches remaining, the teams are tied at the top of the group with no other contenders in reach. While each team will get its chance to beat up on bottom-of-group Lichtenstein, Greece will have a bit more of a challenge in its game against Slovakia than Bosnia is likely to have against Lithuania.
  • Down in Group H, Moldova and San Marino are the only two teams that can’t be said to be in contention for first or second place. A tight race among England, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland has emerged after England and the Ukraine played to a draw. As it happens, October 11 sees Montenegro face off against England, with the Ukraine taking on Poland. That should help differentiate the group a bit further going into the final matches of the group, in which England takes on Poland while Montenegro and the Ukraine have slightly easier work against Moldova and San Marino respectively.
  • Finally, in Group I, Spain and France have secured the chance to advance at least to the next round of qualifiers. Thanks in part to a France-Georgia draw, Spain appears to have an excellent opportunity to take top-of-group next month as the only team in the group with two matches remaining.

Matches to Watch: October 11 – Belgium-Croatia; October 11 – Sweden-Austria; October 11 – Montenegro-England; October 11 – Ukraine-Poland; October 15 – Iceland-Norway; October 15 – England-Poland

Conclusion

Ten of the 32 spots in Brazil have been secured now, and of the 204 nations that compete in FIFA competitions, 49 teams remain eligible to fill the remaining 22 spots. Of those 22 spots, 11 should be secured next month from October 11-15, more than doubling the number of teams with Brazil on their calendar. UEFA should pare down its contenders considerably during these two match days. Expect to see Colombia, Honduras, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain among the ranks of those with firm tickets for June 2014.

We’ll learn more about the CAF schedule for October and November after the draw on September 16, but the match dates should overlap those of the other confederations. The draw for UEFA’s final round of qualifiers will take place October 21, the Monday after the October qualifiers conclude.

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