Category Archives: FIFA World Cup 2014

Updates for World Cup Qualifying and the event itself

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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FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – mid-June 2013

With four days remaining before the World Cup qualifying teams retreat until September (with one exception for a single game scheduled for August), you might be wondering, “What does this weekend even matter? The World Cup is still 363 days away!” First of all, props to you for the countdown. Well spotted. Second, what do you mean, what does it matter? Teams are dropping like flies, other teams are nearing the chance to book their trip to Brazil and it’s still awesome international soccer (or football, whatever).

That said, if you’re just going to soak up the FIFA Confederations Cup for the next 16 days or so “because it matters NOW,” here’s the quick rundown of why you’re wrong what you’re missing:

AFC (4.5 spots)

Japan has booked its trip to Brazil, and that’s kind of a big deal, but that still leaves two and a half spots for contention. Right now, of the 10 teams still playing, Lebanon, Qatar and Iraq are non-issues – they’re just minor speed bumps for the teams that still have a chance. Iraq will likely roll over for Australia, allowing the Aussies to seal in 2nd place in their group.

In the other half of the qualifiers, Iran and Korea Republic (South Korea to us Americans) are going to have a serious battle for top of group. Winner goes to Brazil; loser might get eliminated entirely. The other determining factor will be whether Uzbekistan can knock out Qatar (see: Minor Speed Bumps). If the Uzbeks (that’s not really a thing) can get three points, then the ramifications of that match could have a huge impact on what happens to the loser of South Korea-Iran. In short, these two matches will be CRITICAL in determining representatives for 2014.

Here’s how this works:
Uzbekistan loses or ties: South Korea and Iran are both through
Uzbekistan wins, South Korea/Iran tie: South Korea is through; Iran and Uzbekistan go to tie breakers by goal differential. Iran presently has a goal difference of +5; Uzbekistan has a goal difference of +1.
Uzbekistan wins and South Korea wins: Iran is eliminated
Uzbekistan wins and Iran wins: Iran goes through alongside whichever team has the best goal difference. At present, South Korea’s goal difference is +7, while Uzbekistan’s goal difference is +1.

In short, there’s plenty of math to keep you entertained, but Iran is fighting for its life while the Uzbeks would have to have a huge goal difference swing in their favor to knock out South Korea.

MATCH(ES) TO WATCH: Iran-Korea Republic/Uzbekistan-Qatar
FAVORITES: Japan (obvi), Australia, Korea Republic, Iran

CAF (5 spots)

The African Confederation has a longer road ahead of it than its Asian counterparts, but it has definitely eliminated a number of teams from its ranks already. For whatever reason, the CAF likes to put everyone in 10 groups of 4 and then take the winners of each of those groups and pit them against each other. Each group member plays six matches, and most of those teams will be playing their fifth of six matches this weekend (if they haven’t already). Here’s a quick rundown of who we could see secure a spot in the next round of qualifying elimination:
Group A – HUGE match Sunday as top contenders South Africa and Ethiopia face off. Central African Republic and Botswana are completely eliminated, so this match could lock it in for Ethiopia or give South Africa a little room to breathe going into September’s sixth match. In their previous face-off, play resulted in a draw, so this game should be one worth watching!
Group B – Tunisia is playing Equatorial Guinea, which it dominated last time 3-1. A win for Tunisia puts them through to the next round of qualifying. It seems safe to say we’ll see them go through, particularly given that their next opponent is last-placed Cape Verde Islands.
Group C – With two matches to play, Ivory Coast hasn’t officially sealed the deal, but a second win over Tanzania will save their spot in the next round of CAF qualifiers.
Group D – Zambia and Ghana are neck and neck in Group D, and they each have relatively tame opponents this time around. This group won’t be decided until September 6, when these two are forced to go head-to-head, but I’d give the edge to Ghana.
Group E – The Congo needs a quick win – or even a tie – to lock this group out of reach of Burkina Faso. Their last head-to-head resulted in a 3-0 win in favor of Congo, so I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Burkina Faso on Saturday.
Group F – This group has already played its fifth matches. Nigeria and Malawi will face off September 6 to see who advances. Their last head-to-head ended in a 1-1 draw. I think Nigeria will be able to hold Malawi off long enough to make it to the next round of qualifiers, but it could be anyone’s game.
Group G – Egypt. Just Egypt. The only reason they’re not officially through is because they’re ONLY five points ahead of Guinea, but they’ll get their points from Mozambique this weekend to lock that in.
Group H – Algeria has a clear edge over Mali going into this weekend’s matches, but the teams will each be playing the lower-scoring teams in the group. Algeria may be able to advance their standing in the group, but it’s really up to Benin to hand them the honor of Top of Group by knocking Mali out of the running.
Group I – This entire group is in a dead heat. Almost regardless of who wins this weekend, there will still be contention for top spot going into September. This group is something of a crap shoot at this point, but the numbers point toward Libya edging out Cameroon in September.
Group J – Much like Group I, this group has a very small gap between top of group and bottom of group at this point. Senegal is technically top of group, but only because they managed to hold onto a tie rather than an outright loss like Uganda. Angola can’t seem to do anything BUT play to a draw. If Angola holds Uganda to a draw, Senegal may have a chance to increase its lead with a win over Liberia (the only team in the group with 2 losses), but it will still be a very, very tight race going into September.

MATCH(ES) TO WATCH: Ethiopia-South Africa, Ivory Coast-Tanzania, Congo-Burkina Faso, Mali-Benin
FAVORITES: Ethiopia, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Congo, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Senegal

CONCACAF (3.5 spots)

In the Round of Six, your odds of actually being eliminated are less than your odds of going through, so you really have to botch the job not to be considered in the running at this point  *cough* Jamaica.  With so many matches left to play (4 for Mexico and Jamaica, 5 for everyone else), it’s hard to feel as though this weekend’s matches will have much of an impact with the exception of giving the US team a chance to increase its lead over Mexico to 5 points, but Costa Rica will have a chance to increase its totals as well. While the AFC and CAF games are knocking teams clean out of competition, the CONCACAF matches this weekend are mostly going to be continuing to jockey for position.

MATCHES TO WATCH: USA-Honduras, just because
FAVORITES: The usual suspects USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras

CONMEBOL (5.5 spots)

When you have 10 teams to start and one of them qualifies as the host nation, the remaining nine teams have a better chance of qualifying than of being eliminated. While CONCACAF had to go through three rounds of qualifiers to reduce its company to the final step before international play-offs, CONMEBOL can’t even be bothered to split anyone into groups, and now they’re not even playing again until September. This is nothing new for them, though. *insert resentment*

With 9 teams playing home and away series, that’s 16 games per team (down from the usual 18 – they can thank Brazil for their two extra rest days). Of those 16 games per team, about 3/4 of them have been played now. With 4 match days remaining, that’s a 9-12 point swing in the tank to mix things up.

All that being said, I think it’s safe to say Paraguay and Bolivia have been downgraded to “speed bump” status. As for the rest, call me when they get a better qualifying format. This one takes FOREVER. Seriously, though, Argentina and Chile will go through easily followed by three teams that are going to lose to Argentina an as-yet-undecided remainder of the pack.

MATCHES TO WATCH: (None remaining in June)
FAVORITES: Argentina, Chile

OCEANIA (.5 spot)

You’re kidding, right? New Zealand can’t do much of anything until CONCACAF sorts things out, so they’re just enjoying their summer, which is really a winter. Also, the water swirls the wrong way. Eventually, they’ll probably play Iran, Uzbekistan or Australia. I’d love to see Australia-New Zealand, personally.

MATCHES TO WATCH: Peter Jackson vs JRR Tolkien
FAVORITE: New Zealand (I don’t know why I even bother)

UEFA (392 13 spots)

And of course, last but certainly not least (at least according to them), UEFA. With 13 spots up for grabs, you’d think this would be like the CONMEBOL situation all over again, but UEFA gets organized about this lot and actually gives us a chance to figure out who has a shot and who doesn’t sometime before, I don’t know, October? While I’m still not a fan of the quick way they execute eliminate half their second-place teams, I suppose at least they know it may be coming early on. That said, they only have one match between now and the big September 6 date (lots of qualifiers kicking back off that day), so here’s where we stand at (roughly) the end of summer qualifying dates:

Group A: Belgium and Croatia are set to fight it out at the top – the other four are nearly mathematically eliminated.
Group B: If you expect a team other than Italy to go top of group, raise your hand. No one? Okay. Then for second place, we’ve got a tight race between Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, but I wouldn’t count Denmark out entirely just yet. There are still several games to go. (Malta, on the other hand … )
Group C: I’d love to see Germany and Ireland come out of this group, but it could just as easily be Germany and Sweden or, I begrudgingly admit, Germany and Austria. In short, Germany and _________. September should help split a few hairs on that race, but it’ll be close right up to the end.
Group D: While not mathematically official without at least one more win (or three ties), Netherlands is going top of group. Between Hungary and Romania, I’d put my forints on Hungary.
Group E: I’m getting tired of writing, so I’ll just say I’m thinking Switzerland and Norway. More to follow after September’s games.
Group F: Three of the six teams are essentially eliminated, and it’s unlikely Portugal won’t finish top of group. Russia and Israel will fight it out for second place, but I think Russia will probably come out on top in the end.
Group G: Bosnia and Greece are off to solid starts in this group, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them maintain that to finish in first and second respectively.
Group H: Montenegro leads the group only because they’ve played one additional game. My (metaphorical) money is still on England with Ukraine or Poland locking up second.
Group I: Spain over France for 1 and 2. ’nuff said.

FAVORITES: For top of group, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England and Spain; advancing to the head-to-head, I’ve got Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, Norway, Russia, Greece, Ukraine, France

FIFA World Cup 2014 Qualifying – Mid-March Edition

(The most recent post on this topic will also be posted under “FIFA World Cup 2014” in the menu for easy reference)

While the men’s tournament itself won’t start until June 2014, not everyone outside of the soccer community is aware of how long the road to the World Cup is. As I write this in mid-March, approximately 40% of the eligible nations have already been eliminated from consideration for a series of games that don’t take place for another 16 months. By December (six months ahead of the tournament), they’ll be announcing not only which teams have qualified but who is going to be playing against whom. If you’re stalking the results before then, you might be obsessed with the World Cup.

AFC (Asia & Australia) – 43 teams competing for 4.5 spots
Chance to advance? 10.4%

CAF (Africa) – 52 teams playing for 5 spots
Chance to advance? 9.61%

CONCACAF (North America) – 35 teams playing for 3.5 spots
Chance to advance? 10%

CONMEBOL (South America) – 9 teams competing for 4.5 spots (plus Brazil already qualified as host nation)
Chance to advance? 50% (plus Brazil)

Oceania (Southeast Asia/New Zealand) – 11 teams battling for .5 spots
Chance to advance? 4.5%

UEFA (Europe) – 53 over-entitled nations playing it out for 13 spots
Chance to advance? 24.5%

As you can tell, you have about a 1 in 10 chance of surviving your regional association if you’re from Asia, Africa or North America. Your chances more than double if you’re coming out of Europe, and it’s actually harder to get eliminated than to advance this year in South America.

Oceania?

Well … sucks to be them. Even if you’re top in your region, you still have to play someone from another region just to get INVITED to the World Cup, let alone play well. That said, with Australia’s transfer to Asia in the last World Cup qualifiers, New Zealand usually has a pretty clear shot at playing for a seat at the table. At present, the qualifier should be settled within Oceania when New Zealand takes on New Caledonia, as they’re both presently the top-ranked teams remaining in contention. It’s not quite winner takes all (there are caveats), but New Zealand could certainly use a win to secure its advancement on March 22. Otherwise, the final standings will be settled March 26, when New Zealand takes on Solomon Islands and New Caledonia takes on last-place Tahiti. The winning team won’t be expected to play again until November, against the CONCACAF fourth-place team.

Tally of Those Still Standing (121/204)

(Last updated 3/14)
AFC – 10 teams are still actively playing – the next set of games is March 26, and only Japan has secured itself a spot at the Cup so far; the other 9 teams are remarkably close, but the dust is slated to settle by June 18 for the four primary qualifiers

CAF – There are 40 teams playing in 10 groups right now, and the games will continue into September for this round of qualifying. While there are a few teams with early leads, it’s too early to call anything conclusively for the region’s five spots.

CONCACAF – Only 6 teams remain in contention for the regions 3.5 spots, but the games have just started and are slated to go into mid-October. The next set of games will take place March 22 and 26.

CONMEBOL – With Brazil already qualified as host, only 9 teams remained to fight it out for the region’s 4.5 designated slots. With a 50% chance of advancing, is it even worth looking all that closely at the current standings? Not really. It is, however, safe to say that it doesn’t look good for Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia right now. Pope Francis’ Argentinians are top of the group.

Oceania – With two sets of games left to play, New Zealand and New Caledonia are poised well to continue on with the .5 spot delegated to the region. One of those teams should take a commanding lead later this month when the two play each other. Solomon Islands and Tahiti are just playing to redeem some pride at this point.

UEFA – All 53 teams are still playing, and it’s still early enough (relatively speaking) that none of them are statistically eliminated. The Europeans are divided into 9 groups, and you have to finish first in your group for a guaranteed advancement or second in your group for a play-off against another second-place team. These matches will continue forever, and they won’t decide much for at least another couple months, when the June round of play concludes. That should at least result in a few teams who are statistically ineligible to qualify, reducing the teams in the running from 53 to 50.

In short, with 15 months left to go until the tournament kicks off, very little is decided for certain except that Brazil will be playing for its sixth World Cup title (with home field advantage this time) and that 120 teams are still struggling to get there to join them in the remaining 31 slots.

Upcoming Qualifying Match Dates

March 22-26 – Oceania will determine its champion in these matches
June 4-18 – AFC reduces its field by 40%.
September 6-10 – CAF reduces its field considerably; AFC decides its candidate for the international playoff
October 11-15 – The field should shake out here for CONMEBOL and UEFA. CONCACAF eliminates 2 of 6 remaining teams.
November 15-19 – The CAF field firms up; International playoffs conducted (Oceania v CONCACAF; CONMEBOL v AFC); UEFA finalizes last four qualifiers.

The pool drawing for the tournament is on December 6, 2013. Play begins June 12, 2014.