World Cup 2018 – How They Qualified: Teams 17-24

World Cup 2018

The third instalment of “How They Qualified” features three UEFA nations, two South Americas, including the story of how Argentina almost missed the World Cup, a CONCACAF team’s debut qualification and an African team who made World Cup 2002 a memorable affair.

Serbia/ Србија

October 9th 2017

All the focus of Group D was on the battle between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, with Serbia taking advantage of these sides dropping points to steal top spot, winning the group on the final match day. The group contained the aforementioned Wales and ROI, along with Austria, Georgia and Moldova. They won six games along the way, drawing three times and losing once, in Vienna, to a last minute Austrian goal. The final match day was close,with Wales, ROI and Serbia all gunning for top spot. Serbia had the easiest match up, facing Georgia at home. Aleksandar Prijović came off the bench late on to stamp the Serbians ticket to Russia, resigning the home nations game to a playoff race. Serbia had a poor time of things in World Cup 2010, beating Germany, but finishing bottom of their group which also featured Australia and Ghana. With Aleksander Mitrović leading the line of Serbia in Russia, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by for the Serbs.

France/France

October 10th 2017

France had a slight struggle to overcome, having not played a qualification game for two years due to hosting the European Championships in 2016. They had a hard group with Sweden, the Netherland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg and Belarus involved. Sweden and the Netherlands battled in out for second, hot on the heels of France, and this meant that France couldn’t qualify until the final day. France lost to Sweden, and dropped a couple more points along the way, notably a 0-0 draw with Luxembourg, but seven wins was enough to see them top the group. They played bottom side Belarus in the Stade de France, and the home side roared them on to a 2-1 victory. Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud put Les Bleus 2-0 up before halftimes. Belarus got a goal back to give France a nervy second half, but the home side held on to their lead. France were surprisingly good in Brazil ’14 and were horribly unlucky to lose the final of Euro 2016, so expectation will be high on them in Russia next summer, especially being on a home continent.

Portugal/Portugal

October 10th 2017

Group B in UEFA qualifying came down to an exciting end, with first placed Switzerland travelling to second placed Portugal, with a three point advantage. Despite Switzerland’s advantage, Portugal had a superior goal difference, having scored 32 in qualifying, only conceding four, in a group which contained Hungary, the Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra. This was largely due to the fifteen goals scored by Cristiano Ronaldo and the nine notched by Andre Silva. Portugal only lost once in this group, to the Swiss 2-0 on the opening day. They faced the Swiss again on the final game of the group knowing that anything less than a win would see the Euro 2016 champions resigned to a playoff game. Johan Djourou score an own goal just before half time to put Portugal on the front foot, and with a half hour to go Andre Silva sealed victory. They won in France last summer despite only winning once in 90 minutes, so will be looking to add style to results for their World Cup endeavours next summer.

Argentina/Argentina

October 10th 2017

It was not plain sailing for Argentina in qualifying for Russia 2018, as they left it until the final match day, against Ecuador, to guarantee a place in next summer’s finals. With the front line of Messi, Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria, to name but a few, it was scandalous how long it took them to cross the finish line. Of eighteen qualifying games, Argentina won only seven, drawing seven and losing four times; to, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador and, most embarrassingly, to Bolivia. What saved Argentina was the size of the opposition that they did beat, getting doubles over Chile and Colombia, as well as a victory over Uruguay. This kept the opposition from running too far ahead of them. It all came down to a game in Ecuador, a place where teams traditionally struggle due to the high altitude of the stadium. Ecuador scored after a minute, dumping Argentina out of the World Cup in the live table. A master class from Messi saved the blue and whites, as he netted a cool hat trick, including a delicious lob for his third. They may have crawled through qualifying, finishing third eventually, but it’d take a brave person to rule Argentina out early next summer, considering the attacking talent within their squad.

Colombia/Colombia

October 10th 2017

It was a tricky situation in South American qualifying, where even 7th placed Paraguay still could have qualified, if results had gone their way. Colombia had all but qualified, but still had a job to do away to Peru. Had Colombia lost, and if Chile and Paraguay had won, Colombia would have dropped outside the playoff spots. Despite the attacking talents of James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao, as well as some sturdy defensive players, Colombia only won seven of eighteen games, drawing six and losing five, including two losses to Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. In the final game of qualifying, Colombia travelled to Lima. James Rodríguez put his side ahead, pouncing on a loose ball in the box, turning and firing low into the bottom corner on 55 minutes. With twelve minutes to go, Peru equalised through a wonderfully struck Paolo Guerrero. This saw Colombia finish 4th. Colombia were woefully unlucky to bow out to Brazil in World Cup ’14, and will hope to go a stage further next summer. Their poor record against “the big teams” in qualifying will make alarming reading for Colombian fans hopeful of making it to the latter stages of the competition next year.

Uruguay/Uruguay

October 10th 2017

The darlings of World Cup 2010 and two time winners of the competition qualified for their third straight World Cup on match day 18 in an emphatic home win over Bolivia. They won nine of their games in qualification, drawing four matches and losing five games. Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Peru all defeated the sky blues, with four of those five loses occurring away from home. Uruguay were in a relatively safe position, knowing that a win would guarantee a place in Russia, a draw should be enough and that even a loss could be enough, as it involved three other teams all winning. There was mild concern as Bolivia took the lead early on in the final game, through a Gaston Silva own goal. Goals from Martiín Cácares, Edinson Cavani and a Luis Suárez double ensured that Diego Godin’s late own goal was unimportant, as Uruguay finished 2nd in their group. Uruguay lost a lot of the love they gathered in 2010 after Luis Suárez bit Giorgio Chiellini in Brazil, so they will need a stellar performance in Russia to get fans back on side.

Panama/Panamá

October 10th 2017

Panama made it to the World Cup and the USA didn’t. That is almost as ludicrous as Iceland qualifying and Italy not. It’s unbelievable… almost! Panama got a bye to the Fourth Round of CONCACAF qualifying, to a group compiled of Costa Rica, Haiti and Jamaica. They won three games, drew one and lost twice, both times to Costa Rica. Their ten points saw them progress to the final round where they met Mexico, USA, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago and, their fourth round rival, Costa Rica. They are statistically one of the worst teams to go to Russia next year, winning only three of ten games with a negative one goal difference. They won their opening match against Honduras, then two games later lost to Trinidad and Tobago, these results sandwiching a 0-0 against Mexico. Three draws and a loss to a Mexico looked to have Panama down and out, but an emphatic win over Trinidad and Tobago reignited Panama hope. It all came down to their final game, at home to Costa Rica. They knew automatic qualification was unlikely, as the US only had to draw against Trinidad and Tobago to qualify, but Panama’s win, entwined with a US loss, saw the Panamanians secure their first ever trip to a World Cup. They will be perceived as the whipping boys of whatever group they are put in. It is hard to see them setting the World Cup alight next year, but for a poor nation, just being there will be an event.

Senegal/Sénégal

November 10th 2017

Senegal qualified for 2018 with an away win in South Africa, a game which had been replayed after referee Joesph Lamptey was given a lifetime ban for match fixing in the original fixture. Senegal disposed of Madagascar 5-2 on aggregate in the second round, which progressed them to the third round. Senegal topped the group, featuring Burkina Faso, South Africa and the Cape Verde islands. They didn’t lose any of their six qualifiers (their original game against South Africa away was a 2-1 defeat, but was annulled by FIFA). They did draw two of their six games, however, drawing against Burkina Faso home and away. Senegal travelled down to South Africa knowing that a win would guarantee them qualification to Russia next year. They got off to an excellent start at the Peter Mokaba Stadium, Diafra Sakho sprinting beyond the defence to turn the ball into the back of the net after only twelve minutes. They scored the second minutes before halftime, Saido Mane sliding in for a cross, the ball spinning off the back of Thamsanqa Mkhize and into the net, leaving the goalkeeper stranded. Senegal showed flashes of brilliance during qualifying, along with some diabolical defending, this won’t win them the World Cup, but it should make for some entertaining games at least.