The 2014 World Cup is still over a year away and as yet no team has officially qualified on the field, but we are now just a matter of months from knowing which 32 countries will compete for it. The time will fly in!
I maintain a record of past World Cups here; below is a run-down of where we are with qualifying for Brazil 2014.
In Europe there are nine groups, with each of the nine group winners qualifying and each of the runners-up, bar one, entering into two-legged play-offs for four remaining places. The thirteen thus progressing will seek to become the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas.
Spain is, of course, the current champion and, until recently, that would have earned it an automatic berth. As it is, the Spaniards are making it difficult for themselves in Group I – a baffling draw against Finland last Friday followed the concession of an injury-time equalizer at home to 1998 winner France earlier in the group; anything other than victory in the return match in Paris tomorrow evening would see the French, not the Spaniards, favourites to top the group (leaving the champions to face a play-off).
Spain visits Paris tomorrow evening needing to improve on October’s 1-1 draw against France in Madrid [Jasper Juinen/Getty]
Europe is also notable at the moment for ridiculously strong performances by Iceland
- whose combined population is less than a million! Iceland
is currently in a play-off place in an admittedly weak Group E; even more remarkably, Montenegro
leads Group H ahead of England
. The English visit Podgorica tomorrow, although there is still a way to go in the group and Roy Hodgson’s men must still be tipped to win it with all the other teams beating each other and thus remaining well behind.
Elsewhere, the major European footballing powers are dominating their groups. Germany (three-time winner, seven-time finallist, quarter-finallist at every World Cup since 1954), Italy (four-time winner), the Netherlands (three-time finallist) and Russia (Europe’s most populous country) all seem safe - despite the Germans unbelievably tossing away a four-goal lead in the last half hour at home to Sweden last autumn. Group A will fall between a rapidly improving Belgium and the ever-dangerous Croatia (2-0 winner over Serbia on Friday, essentially eliminating its neighbour); and Group G is still wide open with Bosnia-Hercegovina looking good for a first appearance after a big win over Greece on Friday.
Tip: Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, England and France likeliest group winners with Croatia and Spain to be hardest challengers and likely to qualify also, even if it takes play-off. Greece and Portugal perhaps likeliest of the rest to complete set, but really too early to say and would depend in any case on play-off draw.
Brazil is of course already deemed qualified as host – which means it will retain its record for being the only country to compete in all World Cup Finals tournaments, winning five of the previous 19. However, alongside Spain, Brazil is the only team which has won the World Cup but not won it at home. Will that change in 2014?
South American qualifying is now down to the final nine teams, who play each other home and away in a single round-robin tournament for four places, with a fifth likely to join them via the intercontinental play-off (against an Asian team).
Currently Argentina is romping clear at the top of the group, with Colombia and Ecuador highly likely to join it. Despite its small population, Uruguay is the only Latin American team other than Brazil and Argentina to have won the World Cup (which it has done twice) or even reach the last four away from home (which it has done four times, including 2010), but it is only marginally ahead of the pack for the remaining place; the challenge to Uruguay and for the final play-off spot is wide open between the remaining five teams, with Venezuela, Chile or Peru favoured - Chile hosts Uruguay in the game of the round tomorrow.
Tip: Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador
Chile meets Uruguay in Santiago late tomorrow in another big game in an increasingly tight South American qualifying group [Actualidad Futbol]
and probably Uruguay
to qualify direct; play-off place wide open, perhaps Peru
least likely given not just current position but also remaining fixtures – between Chile
former has heritage and latter has form.
Despite a series of games over the weekend, there is still a long way to go in Africa, where 40 of the continent’s 52 original entrants are currently split into 10 groups of four teams. Each group winner will then face a single play-off tie, over two legs, to determine Africa’s five qualifiers.
In the respective groups, Tunisia (Group B), Ivory Coast (C) and Congo (Brazzaville) (E) look in the most impressive shape (the latter has a flawless record of three wins from three without conceding a goal), followed perhaps by Egypt (G). African Nations’ Cup Winner Nigeria may be the likeliest team to join them, although victory in the Nations’ Cup has been far from a guarantee of successful World Cup qualification in the past. Teams such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Malawi, Guinea, Mali, Benin, Algeria, Cameroon, Libya, Senegal and Angola will still feel they are in with a chance. One team of notable heritage which almost certainly will not make it is Morocco.
Morocco’s feeble 3-1 defeat against Tanzania in Dar-es-Salaam yesterday makes qualification almost impossible [Mohammed Amin]
Just far too early to say.
After a highly confusing series of fixtures, hampered further by ineligibilities, crowd trouble and withdrawals, only ten of Asia’s original 43 entrants remain, competing for four automatic spots, plus a potential fifth via a play-off with South America.
The ten teams are split into two groups of five, with the top two qualifying directly. They are just past the half-way stage and, despite having been unimpressive earlier in qualifying, the one clear qualifier now would appear to be Japan in Group B (requiring effectively just one point from three remaining games).
In Group A, Uzbekistan and South Korea narrowly lead the group and have relative home advantage in their remaining fixtures – but Iran and perhaps even Qatar will not have given up yet.
Despite struggling against Uzbekistan in the previous round, Japan may become the first team to qualify for Brazil 2014 tomorrow [Kiyoshi Oti/Getty]
In Group B, Japan
has a commanding lead – victory in Jordan tomorrow would officially seal qualification. The remainder of the group is tight, but with relative home advantage to come and a strong record in previous rounds, Australia
would appear likeliest to take second, although Iraq’s
visit in June may prove decisive.
Tip: Japan almost there. Otherwise, it is very, very close, but past records and balance of home/away future fixtures seem to favour Uzbekistan for first appearance alongside South Korea and Australia. Do not expect fifth Asian team to come through intercontinental play-off.
The final group of six teams, somewhat ludicrously, sees three direct places available, plus potentially a fourth more via a play-off against the Oceania winner (New Zealand). The six teams play each other home and away on a round-robin basis until October.
The group has barely started, but the United States and Mexico would be regarded as perennial qualifiers (they both have been since Mexico’s bizarre expulsion in 1990). Nevertheless, the former lost its first game in Honduras, which may be the other obvious candidate for the top three. That said, Jamaica and Costa Rica have both also qualified in recent times, with Panama the only true historical outsider remaining.
Honduras’ opening come-from-behind victory over the Klinsmann’s United States sets it up for a second consecutive Finals appearance [Eurosport]
Would be surprise if either United States
missed out. Honduras
likeliest to join them, but yet to be tested away from home at this stage; perhaps Costa Rica
likeliest challenger for final automatic spot. Any fourth-placed team marginally favoured over New Zealand
Memorably the only team to go through the 2010 Finals unbeaten, New Zealand has already won in ‘Oceania’, and faces a two-legged play-off against the fourth-placed team in North/Central America to qualify. This will be a stiffer task than last time, when the ‘All Whites’ faced a comparative weaker Asian team (Bahrain).
Tip: No qualifier.