With the draw for the 2018 World Cup draw just days away, 32 nations eagerly anticipate the results of the draw, which pits the creme de la creme of international football teams against each other. The dust has settled, people have come to terms with the fact that Italy won’t be there, nor will Chile, Ivory Coast, USA and the Netherlands. There has been a lot of coverage on the teams who DID NOT make it to the finals in Russia next year, when instead we should now be focused firmly on those who did qualify. Over the course of this week, the route to the World Cup of all 32 teams will be mapped out, with eight teams per day being analysed. So without further ado, let us revisit the 32 triumphant teams, recapping how they qualified for the biggest show on earth!
December 2nd 2010
Russia had simultaneously the easiest and hardest route to the World Cup finals next summer. They managed to qualify without playing a single minute of qualifying, meaning the struggles and hardships of qualification alluded the Russian team. That being said, they had the task of bidding for the World Cup, which was awarded to them in 2010. The usual questions of corruption have been asked, but due to this World Cup being appointed at the same time as the Qatari one in 2022, allegations against Russia have been minimal. With no competitive games for two years it is hard to judge exactly how the team will perform next summer, however, they have been largely uninspiring during the last couple of tournaments they have participated in, therefore the top seed in group A will be seen as a favourable draw for lesser teams. With a loud and intimidating home support backing the Russians, they will have a huge advantage of their less vocal opposition fans.
March 29th 2017
The five time World Cup champions lived up to their reputation of best in the world by being the first team to qualify for the World Cup next summer. South American qualifying began in October 2015, with each team playing 18 matches. Every country in South America are all placed in the same group for World Cup qualifying. Brazil won 12 of these matches, drawing five and losing only once, to Chile, on match day 1. Since that defeat, they went on to score 41 goals, conceding only nine. They sealed qualification in a 3-0 win against Paraguay in Sao Paulo. Philippe Coutinho scored a beautifully curled shot from outside the box to open the scoring, with Neymar and Marcelo adding goals after the break. Brazil have a number of demons to exercise after their 7-1 mauling my Germany in 2014 and will be elated to be the first team to qualify for Russia. A semi final appearance is the minimum expectation for this talented bunch of players.
June 13th 2017
The Persian team became the second team to qualify for Russia 2018 with a 2-0 win at home to Uzbekistan in Tehran. The Iranians were put in a group with Oman, Turkmenistan, Guam and India, a group which they topped with 20 points (six wins and two draws). This saw them progress to the final round of qualifying, where the top twelve sides were split into two groups of six. South Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan, China and Qatar were the opponents in Group A. South Korea drastically under-performed, leaving the door open for Iran to top the group, without losing a competitive game. Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi scored either side of the half to give the Iranians qualification to next summer, meaning that their missed penalty in the second half proved irrelevant. After being the victims of a dreadful refereeing decision in 2014 which saw them lose to Argentina, Iran will be hopeful of squeezing into the last 16 under Carlos Queiroz.
August 31st 2017
Japan filled slot number four in Russia 2018, qualifying after a hard-fought win over Australia. After storming through a preliminary group featuring Syria, Singapore, Afghanistan and Cambodia with relative ease, undefeated and only failing to in one game, the Japanese were handed a tougher group in the third round of qualifying. Saudi Arabia and Australia were the two big guns rivalling them in the group, with the United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Thailand filling the rest of the spaces. They topped their group by a point, losing only twice: the first being a surprise defeat at the UAE on match day one, the second defeat being away to Saudi Arabia, after qualification had been guaranteed. Japan sealed their qualification with a 2-0 win, Takuma Asano scoring just before the break and Yosuke Ideguchi scoring a screamer after the halftime interval. This is the sixth consecutive World Cup that the Japanese have qualified for, although they have been somewhat underwhelming in their past outings. With a young and hungry side they will be hoping for a favourable draw to push them into the last 16 and maybe even beyond.
September 1st 2017
El Tri qualified for their seventh successive World Cup finals with a tight 1-0 win over Panama. Mexico came through their Fourth Round qualifying group with five wins and a draw against Honduras, Canada and El Salvador. They progressed to the fifth and final qualification group which pitted them against Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, the USA and Trinidad and Tobago. Of the ten games played, they only won six games, losing to Honduras (after sealing qualification) and drawing with Panama, Costa Rica and the USA during the process. Despite these dropped points, they won the group by five points. Hirving Lozano scored a header, converting a lovely cross to put the Mexicans in the driving seat for the game, his goal being the difference maker, sealing qualification for Mexico and making the battle for second, third and fourth place even tighter than before. Mexico have been defeated in unlucky circumstances over a few recent World Cups, an Arjen Robben dive late in a game sticking particularly clearly in the mind. They have suffered poor fortune over the years, so with a bit of luck, a route to the quarter finals is doable.
September 3rd 2017
Belgium became the first European team to seal qualification to Russia 2018 with a victory over Greece, ensuring household Premier League names such as Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertongen and Thibaut Courtois will all be showing off their skills in Moscow. Belgium were handed a relatively straightforward group with Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. They won nine games and drew with Greece at home, scoring 43 goals, including nine and six home and away against Gibraltar and eight against Estonia. The game which saw them gain qualification was a tight and hard-fought win over Greece. Vertonghen scored a screamer on minute 70, Greece replied three minutes later, then Lukaku grabbed a header just one minute after that. Belgium had high hopes going into Brazil 2014, ultimately letting down neutrals with their boring lack of attacking intent. With Roberto Martinez and Thierry Henry coaching the team, the hopes are that Belgium will unleash their attacking talents on the world next June.
September 5th 2017
South Korea managed to qualify for a ninth straight World Cup with a 0-0 draw in Uzbekistan, coupled with Syria failing to beat Iran. South Korean football has been in a bit of turmoil over the past decade; after the elation of hosting the World Cup and reaching the semi finals in 2002, they have been on a steady decline ever since, with fans particularly unhappy after 2014’s World Cup endeavours. They have rebuilt and had a great Second Round campaign, where they won eight of eight against Lebanon, Kuwait, Myanmar and Laos. They struggled in the Third Round draw, losing top spot to Iran and being dragged into a battle for automatic qualification with Syria, Uzbekistan and China. South Korea won only four games out of ten, drawing three and losing three. Even in their final group game, a must win against Uzbekistan, they could only muster a 0-0 draw. With the attacking talent of Spurs forward Son Heung-Min, there is hope for South Korea, although the heroics of 2002 may be a bridge too far.
Saudi Arabia/لمملكة العربية السعودية
September 5th 2017
Saudi Arabia took advantage of Japans World Cup qualification hangover to defeat the group leaders 1-0 to ensure their place in Russia next summer. The Saudi’s topped their Second Round group against the UAE, Palestine, Malaysia and Timor-Leste, though the Third Round group was a little tougher. Japan and Australia were the two big guns in the groups, while the UAE and Iraq were worth adversaries. Thailand were “the whipping boys”, though they could mix it up on their day. Saudi took advantage of a disappointing Australian campaign, qualifying in spite of three defeats, against Japan, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. It came down to the final match day, with Australia and Saudi Arabia on level points, Australia playing Thailand at home and Saudi Arabia hosting Japan. Saudi Arabia pulled off the surprise 1-0 win, with a Fahad Al Muwallad wonder goal to ensure the Saudi’s would qualify without the playoff route. This will be their first World Cup since 2006, and all in the KSA will hope that they surpass the one point mark the ’06 generation set them.