Football Alive

Who will make it to Russia 2018? All confederations analysed!

With one game of qualifying left in Europe, South America, North America and Africa, we take a look at which countries could be heading to Russia 2018, and which countries might fall short!

Note: All fixture dates and times are in AEDT

EUROPE

The top team from each of the nine groups qualifies for Russia 2018, whilst the 8th best group runner ups progress to the playoff stage, with the four playoff winners to also qualify for Russia.

Group A

Remaining Fixtures (all to be played Wed 11 October at 5:45am)

Netherlands vs Sweden
Luxembourg vs Bulgaria
France vs Belarus

With Sweden’s goal difference exceeding the Netherlands’ by 12 goals (largely thanks to their 8-0 thumping of Luxembourg this morning), the road to Russia seems all but over for the Oranje. Any 6-goal win or more would do it for the Netherlands, apart from 6-0 which would leave Sweden with superior goals for, but this seems highly unlikely. However, a Dutch win would have a major impact on France, as it would secure them top spot. A Swedish result would see them top if France stumble on Tuesday, but expect the French to be a class above of Belarus regardless of the result in the other game, especially in front of a parochial home crowd.

Prediction – 1st: France, 2nd: Sweden

Group B

Remaining Fixtures (all to be played Wed 11 October at 5:45am)

Portugal vs Switzerland
Latvia vs Andorra
Hungary vs Faroe Islands

What an ending! It all comes down to Protugal vs Switzerland. A Portuguese win in Lisbon and they’re through to Russia, a Swiss win or draw and it’s Shaqiri who’d be packing his bags. Portugal’s only loss in the group stage was away to Switzerland (2-0), but expect Santos’ chargers to get revenge and secure themselves a World Cup berth. Latvia and Andorra will play for pride.

Prediction – 1st: Portugal, 2nd: Switzerland

Group C

No remaining fixtures.

No drama on the final matchday in Group C, as first, second and last spots were already all sealed. However, a win for Northern Ireland against Norway sealed their qualification for the play-offs.

Final Result – 1st: Germany, 2nd: Northern Ireland

Group D

Remaining Fixtures (all to be played Tue 10 October at 5:45am)

Wales vs Republic of Ireland
Serbia vs Georgia
Moldova vs Austria

It’s tight at the top in Group D! If Serbia and Wales were away it would be extremely interesting, but it’s hard to see both sides losing at home, with World Cup qualifcation on the line. It could end in a stalemate, but expect Serbia to have enough firepower to defeat Georgia and progress to Russia. Despite this result, it’s highly unlikely that Moldova will defeat Austria at all, let alone by enough to overcome the gap between their goal difference and Georgia’s (13), so expect Moldova to finish bottom of the group.

Prediction – 1st: Serbia, 2nd: Wales

Group E

No remaining fixtures.

Denmark were held by Romania overnight, with Poland defeating Montenegro and sealing their place at next year’s World Cup. Despite missing out on automatic qualification, the point against Romania was enough to secure Denmark’s place in the playoffs.

Final Result – 1st: Poland, 2nd: Denmark

Group F

No remaining fixtures.

England were already through in Group F, as northern neighbours Scotland failed to fire away in Slovenia overnight. The Slovenians remained undefeated at home, holding Scotland to a 2-2 draw. Slovakia had no issues against minnows Malta, a result which sealed them second place in the group. However, their prospects of qualifying for the playoffs are not looking good, as they need results to go their way in either group D or I if they’re to make it. (More analysis below).

Final Result – 1st: England, 2nd: Slovakia

Group G

Remaining fixtures (all to be played Tue 10 October at 5:45am)

Israel vs Spain
FYR Macedonia vs Liechtenstein
Albania vs Italy

Spain have secured qualification to Russia, whislt Italy have not only secured second spot but also their place in the playoffs. All games on the final matchday will simply be played for pride. One thing to note, Liechtenstein haven’t won a competitive game since the end of 2014, and it was 2015 when they last won a friendly and got a result in a competitve fixture, so a result for them away to FYR Macedonia would be a great news story.

Final Result – 1st: Spain, 2nd: Italy

Group H

Remaining fixtures (all to be played Wed 11 October at 5:45am)

Belgium v Cyprus
Estonia vs Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece vs Gibraltar

Belgium’s top spot is secured, and indeed their late win over Bosnia is a massive result for Greece, who can secure 2nd spot with a win at home against minnows Gibraltar. Expect this to be the case, which will also secure Greece’s spot in the playoffs.

Prediction – 1st: Belgium (guaranteed), 2nd: Greece.

Group I

Remaining fixtures (all to be played Tue 10 October at 5:45am)

Finland vs Turkey
Iceland vs Kosovo
Ukraine vs Croatia

Turkey cannot qualify for Russia 2018, even if they defeat Finland (as they should do), due to Croatia and Ukraine facing each other. Expect Iceland to secure their qualifcation too with a win at home against group minnows Kosovo, which will hopefully end with a Viking Clap reminiscent of those seen at Euro 2016! So it all comes down to Croatia vs Ukraine for second spot in the group. Ukraine are undefeated at home, winning all games apart from a 1-1- draw with Iceland, whilst Croatia’s record on the road is poor, as they thumped Kosovo but lost to Iceland and Turkey, and just edged out Finland. You have to feel sorry for Luka Modric, who came out in the press and said “That Croatia was waiting for the final whistle against that kind of national team is…It is unbelievable that we are struggling against teams like Kosovo and Finland, where before we would have beaten them with ease”, a rant which many attribute to the sacking of Croatia’s manager just hours later, on the eve of their final qualifier. With Croatia in disarray, expect Ukraine to win at home and seal 2nd spot.

Prediction – 1st: Iceland, 2nd: Ukraine

Second-Placed Teams

Note: The October FIFA World Rankings (yet to be published) will be used to seed teams for the playoff draw. The playoff draw will be conducted at 11pm on Tuesday the 17th of October.

This is where it gets a bit technical. The best 8 second-placed teams qualify to the World Cup playoffs. How is this determined? Firstly, any results against the bottom-placed team in each group is disregarded. (This is why it says that teams have played 7/8 matches, even though they have played 9/10). In the groups with the bottom team still to be determined (A, B and D), according to our predictions above any changes will have minimal effects.

Now we turn our attention to how the teams are ranked. Firstly they are sroted by points, then by goal difference, then by goals scored, then by fair play points and finally by random drawing of lots.

The overnight results in Group F were extremely important for these standings. Slovakia defeated Malta at home, and finished second in the group due to Slovenia and Scotland playing out a draw. Had Scotland defeated Slovenia they would’ve finished with 14 points against the top 5 sides in the group, leaving Greece in a precarious position. As they didn’t, it’s Slovakia who are currently the bottom group runner up, with 12 points, and in danger of missing the playoffs.

It will all come down to results on the final matchdays of Groups D and I. Here’s a reminder of their group tables and their remaining fixtures.

In Group D, Serbia, Wales and the Republic of Ireland respectively have 12, 11 and 10 points against the top 5 sides, with respective goal differences against those sides of +3 (13/10), +2 (7/5) and +1 (6/5). Slovakia would be through if Serbia lost to Goergia, or if Wales and the Republic of Ireland played out a draw. (This is presuming Molodova does not finish above Georgia, which is highly unikely).

In Group I, Iceland, Croatia and Ukraine respectively have 16, 11 and 11 points against the top 5 sides, with respective goal differences against those sides of +6 (12/6), +2 (6/4) and +1 (8/7). Note: Iceland’s next match is against Kosovo, so the result will be insignificant in the playoff standings. Expect Iceland to defeat Kosovo at home and finish top of the group. In that case, Slovakia would be through if Croatia and Ukraine played out a draw, but would finish below the Group I runner up if there is a winner in that match.

Predictions

Group D: Serbia to defeat Georgia at home and finish top of the group, Wales to finish second with either a win or draw against the Republic of Ireland, and thus to finish with either 14 or 12 points against the top 5 sides in their group.

Group I: Iceland to defeat Kosovo at home and finish top of the group, Ukraine to defeat Croatia at home and finish 2nd, with 14 points against the top 5 sides.

This would see either Wales or Slovakia knocked out of the playoffs. Expect Wales, knowing this, to push on and get a win against the Republic of Ireland, seeing Slovakia knocked out as the 9th best group runner up.

What if both Wales/Republic of Ireland and Croatia/Ukraine finished level? Then Slovakia, Wales and Croatia wpuld all finish with 12 points against the top 5 sides in their groups, and with respective goal differences of +5, +2 and +2. Slovakia would be through, and it would come down to goals scored. Two nil-all draws would see Wales through, but a score draw in the Croatia vs Ukraine match (1-1, 2-2…) could see them overcome Gareth Bale and his compatriots.

SOUTH AMERICA

The top 4 teams qualify for Russia 2018, whilst the fifth placed team will progress to a playoff against New Zealand, for a place in the World Cup.

Remaining fixtures (all to be played Wed 11 October at 10:30am)

Paraguay vs Venezuela
Brazil vs Chile
Ecuador vs Argentina
Peru vs Colombia
Uruguay vs Bolivia

Brazil are through to Russia 2018, whilst Uruguay are assured of at least 5th place and the bottom three teams cannot make it to next year’s World Cup.

Expect Uruguay to secure their qualification too with at least a draw against Bolivia at home, although they should prevail in that one. As for 3rd to 7th, it’s extremely close to call. A World Cup without Lionel Messi is a very realistic scenario.

Paraguay should be too good at home against Venezuela, finishing with 27 points. Brazil vs Chile, Ecuador vs Argentina and Peru vs Colombia are anyone’s guess. Ecuador were too good when they travelled to Buenos Aires, but that game was played over two years ago. Argentina are winless since March this year, and it’s hard to see them bucking that trend against Ecuador. However, a draw could be enough to make the playoffs, if Brazil were to defeat Chile and if there was to be a winner in the Colombia/Peru game. (Goal difference would also have to swing in Argentina’s favour). Brazil defeating Chile at home is not hard to foresee, given the strength of their squad, and given that Peru were able to hold Argentina away, it’s not unrealistic to think they will defeat Colombia at home too.

Predictions

Paraguay to defeat Venezuela
Brazil to defeat Chile
Ecuador to draw with Argentina
Peru to defeat Colombia
Uruguay to defeat Bolivia

Final points standings:

Brazil (41), Uruguay (31), Peru (28), Paraguay (27)
Chile (26), Colombia (26), Argentina (26)
Ecuador (21), Bolivia (14), Venezuela (9)

Argentina would finish with a goal difference of +1. Chile and Colombia both currently have a goal difference of +2, and thus they would both fall to at least +1 with a loss. Although, Chile and Colombia have both scored more goals than Argentina, so Argentina would either need a high scoring draw, or more likely would need both teams to go down by more than a goal. Given both teams are away to strong sides this will likely happen, leaving Argenting in 5th, advancing to the play-offs.

OCEANIA

No remaining fixtures

New Zealand and the Solomon Islands finished top of their respective groups, advancing them to the intra-confederation playoff. New Zealand prevailed 8-3 on aggregate, advancing them to the inter-confederation playoff. They will face the 5th placed South American team for a place in next year’s World Cup.

NORTH AMERICA

The top 3 sides progress to the World Cup, whilst the 4th placed team advances to the inter-confideration playoff, against either Australia or Syria, for a World Cup berth.

Remaining fixtures (all to be played Wed 11 October at 11:00am)

Trinidad and Tobago vs United States
Honduras vs Mexico
Panama vs Costa Rica

The United States should be too strong for Trinidad and Tobago, and at the very least they should secure a draw, which, given their goal difference, will likely be enough to qualify. Group leaders Mexico should hold Honduras to at least a draw too, leaving Panama only requiring a draw to advance to the playoffs.

Prediction – Mexico, Costa Rica and USA to qualify automatically, with Panama through to the playoffs.

ASIA

Remaining fixture (to be played Tue 10 October at 8:00pm)

Australia vs Syria

Iran, Korea Republic, Japan and Saudi Arabia all advanced to Russia as winners and runners up of their groups. Despite the standings in both groups changing multiple times throughout the final matchday, it was Syria who were just topped by Korea Republic, but who edged out Uzbekistan and China in group A, and Australia who finished below Iraq on goal difference in Group B, who advanced to the intra-confederation playoff.

The first playoff leg was a game of two halves, and it was Australia who had the better start in Malaysia (Syria are not allowed to play in Syria), dominating the game and finding the net through birthday boy Robbie Kruse. However, despite starting the second half well too, with Tomi Juric hitting the post twice, it was Syria who came to dominate it, creating a flurry of chances. Whilst the decision to award them a penalty was clearly a mistake, their goal was not undeserved, and a draw was a fair result and a fair reflection of the match. This leaves Australia with an advantage going into Tuesday’s tie (as the away goals rule is in effect), and the Socceroos should be able to get the job done on home soil.

Prediction – Australia to defeat Syria at home, and advance to the inter-confederation playoff against the 5th placed North American side.

AFRICA

The top team from each group will qualify for Russia 2018. (No prize for the runners up, they will be eliminated).

Group A

Remaining fixtures (to be played Tue 7 November)

Tunisia vs Libya
Congo DR vs Guinea

Tunisia will be too strong for Libya at home, securing at least a draw and their spot at next year’s World Cup.

Prediction – Tunisia to qualify for Russia by getting a result against Libya at home.

Group B

Remaining fixtures (to be played Tue 7 November)

Zambia vs Cameron
Algeria vs Nigeria

Nigeria have already secured their spot in Russia, with Zambia and Cameroon to play a match with pride on the line (the game ended in stalemate when the two teams faced each other in Cameroon).

Final Result – Nigeria has qualified for Russia.

Group C

Remaining fixtures (to be played Tue 7 November)

Côte d’Ivoire vs Morocco
Gabon vs Mali

Group C is set for a blockbuster finish, with Côte d’Ivoire to host Morocco, needing a win to progress to Russia 2018. Conversely, Morocco just needs a draw to secure their World Cup berth. Morocco’s three draws were all 0-0 results, as were both of Côte d’Ivoire’s two draws, so this game could very well end in a dull stalemate, as the reverse fixture did in Marrakesh. However, with World Cup qualification on the line, Côte d’Ivoire should be able to defeat their northern rivals, especially in front of a parochial home crowd, and qualify through to Russia.

Prediction – Côte d’Ivoire to defeat Morocco and advance to the World Cup.

Group D

Remaining fixtures

Burkina Faso vs Cape Verde – to be played Tue 7 November
South Africa vs Senegal – to be played Sat 11 November
Senegal vs South Africa – to be played Wed 15 November

Why the strange fixturing? FIFA ordered the original South Africa vs Senegal match to be replayed after match referee Joseph Lamptey was banned for life, for match manipulation. If you thought the penalty call against Matt Leckie was bad, check out this shocker. A handball given when the ball clearly hits the defender’s legs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_zNJXCkQNE

Even though mathematically any team can qualify from Group D, Senegal will likely pick up one point, at the very least, from their two matches agaisnt South Africa, which should be enough to see them through to Russia, given their goal difference.

Prediction – Senegal to top the group with at least one point from their last two matches, and to thus advance to Russia.

Group E

Remaining fixtures (to be played Tue 7 November)

Congo vs Uganda
Ghana vs Egypt

Egypt secured their spot at next year’s World Cup by defeating Congo at home overnight*. Uganda should be too good for Congo too, keeping 2010 World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana to third in the group.

Final Result – Egypt has qualified for Russia.

*Note: Ghana have lodged a protest over the performance of the referee in their 0-0 draw away to Uganda. This comes after Ghana had two goals incorrectly disallowed (see the videos below), and after they were denied a second half penalty too.

Should their appeal be successful, and the match be replayed, then Uganda would still be mathematically alive in qualifying. However, firstly, there have been no indications that the appeal will be successful, and secondly, Ghana would be favourites going into the re-match. Uganda would need to defeat both Ghana at home and Congo away, and they would also likely need Ghana to defeat Egypt at home. (A draw in that game would see the group come down to goal difference, with Egypt ahead on +4 (and 7 goals scored) compared to Uganda’s +1 (and 2 goals scored), which would rise to at least +3 (and 4 goals scored) after two wins). So, for now, it’s safe to assume that Egypt are the side progressing to Russia from Group E.

First disallowed goal:

Second disallowed goal:

PREDICTION TIME

Who has qualified for Russia?

Europe – Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland

South America – Brazil

Oceania – No one

North America – Mexico, Costa Rica

Asia – Iran, Korea Republic, Japan, Saudi Arabia

Africa – Nigeria, Egypt

Who will join them in Russia, based on the above predictions?

Europe – France, Portugal, Serbia, Iceland

They will be joined by another 4 teams via the playoff route – impossible to call which 4 teams these will be without seeing the matchups, but the 8 teams predicted to make the playoffs are Denmark, Italy, Northern Ireland (those three confirmed), Sweden, Switzerland, Wales, Greece, Ukraine (with Slovakia to miss out)

South America – Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina (to defeat New Zealand in the inter-confederation playoff)

Oceania – No one

North America – USA

Asia – Australia (to defeat Panama in the inter-confederation playoff)

Africa – Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal

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