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.
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.