2018 is almost here, and with it the 21st installment of the FIFA World Cup. Hosted by Russia, this competition has been gearing up to be quite an interesting one.
As the host, Russia is automatically in. However, the road isn’t quite so easy for most others. Notably missing from this tournament will be France, and, barring a miraculous last game, the Netherlands. Italy are another team without a guaranteed spot, however their position is much better than that of the Netherlands. Already in the competition are Spain, Belgium, England and the reigning champions Germany. England stands to make a good go at the title this year, as they qualified for the World Cup without losing a single game to a European country, which is definitely the dominant continent of world soccer. Another team to watch is Belgium. Over the past few years Belgium has matured from a promising newcomer to the international stage, to an established force with a seemingly endless roster of young talented players, lead by the incredible Eden Hazard. They only stand to get better as they grow accustomed to playing in the spotlight against the giants of world soccer. If not in this competition, than in the 2022 World Cup, Belgium will make a finals appearance.
In the Asian qualifiers, spots have already been claimed by Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Led by the incredibly talented Keisuke Honda and the workhorse Shinji Kagawa, Japan has an experienced roster with the ability to go all out the entire game, every game. There have also been some bright spots for the South Korean team in recent years, but I would be surprised to see them move past the group stage. Australia, behind star striker Tim Cahill, still have a chance to qualify, and they have helped themselves out greatly by coming from behind to defeat Syria 2-1 in their most recent fixture.
Nigeria and Egypt have already qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Nigeria being no surprise, as they have established themselves as one of the dominant African teams. One dramatic finale to the qualifying round will be Ivory Coast vs. Morocco. This will be the last of these team’s qualifiers, and it will decide which of them goes on. Morocco is 1 point ahead of the Ivory Coast in their group, so unless the Ivory Coast can defeat them on the 11th of November, they will be out of the World cup for the first time since 2006. While they still have some talented players, such as Kalou, Gervinho and Sanogo, one can but wonder if they wouldn’t be better off with their legendary striker Didier Drogba.
North/Central America (CONCACAF)
Already in from the North and Central Americas are Mexico and Costa Rica. Mexico comes as no surprise, as they have been a relevant force in international soccer since the World Cup was founded. USA was control of its own destiny as they say, being third in the group they only needed to do as well as or better than Panama and Honduras. The final round of qualifying matches were Panama playing against Costa Rica, Mexico against Honduras, and USA against last place Trinidad and Tobago. Panama and Honduras won their respective games, with USA losing 2-1 to Trinidad in a crushing defeat that ended our world cup hopes for this season. Panama and Honduras ended tied in points, with Panama advancing based off of goal differential.
Already through the qualifying stage is Brazil, moving through with ease with some help from Neymar. The rest of the group is not yet so certain, however the stage is set for quite a dramatic finale.
Out of the 9 teams who have not yet qualified, 6 of them still have a chance to move forward. Uruguay, currently 2nd place, have reached the World Cup the last three times, and stand to return once more. Argentina, though a little further down, also making a strong case. Though usually they are more known for their offense, they have allowed the 2nd-least amount of goals against them in their South American Qualifiers. And although the national stage is not where he does his best work, you can never count out a team that has Lionel Messi.