The Mega 2018 World Cup Qualifiers Wrap

Over the past 7 days we’ve seen 104 more matches around the world to take us the closer to see who the 32 will be to take part in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia next June. This may take a while but it is a Friday so skive off work, stop worrying about how your team will get on in the finals and have a read…

 

ASIA (AFC)

Let’s get it out of the way shall we? Australia will have to qualify through two two-legged play offs (remember those!) to qualify for Russia after falling agonisingly short of qualifying through the group stage. Against Japan last Thursday our arch rivals were merciless ensuring a win and qualifying themselves for sixth time in a row. Aussie coach Ange Postecoglou took it on himself to take the blame for selections with the result now meaning it would be out of our hands for the final game against Thailand. Questions had to be asked about the starting XI and one of Ange’s favourites. Robbie Kruse (a career cruelled by injury it has to be said) started while Brad Smith (he once played for Liverpool you know!) also started being caught out for Japan’s opener. Pace is about the boy’s only weapon.

Last Tuesday night Australia had to ensure they defeated Thailand by a big margin and hoped Saudi Arabia would only just beat Japan or draw/lose giving Australia second place and the golden ticket to Moscow. Ange made the chances bringing in a fit again Juric, a recovering Mooy and untried but in form Gersbach. He also went to an old favourite in Tim Cahill to try and inspire one last time.

To say the game was frustrating is putting it mildly. In front of a very passionate crowd that thankfully sold out AAMI Park at the last minute the Socceroos constantly hammered the Thai goal but just couldn’t score. There were periods of ‘give it to Mooy or Rogic and hope for the best’ but the Thai defence would throw their bodies in the way blocking and clearing while their keeper made some wonderful saves. Trent Sainsbury should have been perhaps sent off and a penalty given but we got away with that when at 0-0 on one of those nights where teams in horrible form seem to attract referees in horrible form. Cahill shot over when he should have laid it off perhaps indicating it is really Team Tim in his mind ever since he came back to Australia.

The minutes seeped away as we began to realise that the goals scored tally would perhaps not be enough. A goal from Juric finally made it 1-0 but there was further drama when Thailand equalised. A shot from Pokklaw Anan hitting the underside of the crossbar and in when four shots from the Aussie that had hit the woodwork had deflected on to or outside the goal line. With late drama Australia needed a goal and got it through Matt Leckie in a goalmouth scramble to make it 2-1 in the end in a very scrappy affair. Now we had to wait for the other game early the following morning.

In Jeddah in front of 60,000 or so Japan were up for an upset and doing us a huge favour having two chances cleared off the line and forcing the Saudi keeper in to some excellent saves. With all these chances you knew what was coming even when half asleep under a doona on the couch. In the 63rd minute Fahad Al-Muwallad popped up to slide in a goal to make it 1-0 for the home side. Japanese heads dropped and hardly fired another shot in anger as the manic local crowd in the stands got the Saudis to full time. The first appearance in a World Cup for the Green Falcons since 2002 and mission accomplished for Bert Van Marwijk who took the Dutch all the way to the 2010 World Cup Final before taking the oil money job.

Back home the knives had already been out for Ange for some time with tall poppy syndrome in full effect and no one loves to cut down a tall poppy more than Australia soccer fans. Some of it is justified, some of it isn’t. It’s just another argumentative mess for the sport to endure in this country. Ange does have to swallow his pride and change some things that clearly aren’t working like 3 at the back but from the beginning he has always stuck to his plan and taken the players with him. With many of the same players from their successful 2015 Asian Cup campaign in this squad something is terribly amiss though and they just aren’t responding to Ange at the moment. There’s still time, we’re still in it, we finished outside the qualifying spots on goal difference. The team has always wanted to do it a certain way to changing things massively is probably the worst option. That draw in Thailand late last year was now so so costly and serves as a reminder to the casual fan that Asia is no doddle to qualify from.

The Socceroos rivals in the Asian play off will be the fairytale side Syria.

The war torn country finally has something positive to think about after late drama in the other group to see who would go through with Iran to Russia next year. In the penultimate set of games late last week Syria defeated Qatar ensuring the 2022 hosts with the questionable human rights record would not be heading to their first World Cup. The result also kept Syria in the hunt with South Korea winning their match and Uzbekistan losing. In the final set of games all South Korea needed in Tashkent against the Uzbeks was a draw and promptly got it parking the bus for a 0-0 to go through to their seventh straight World Cup Finals.

The Uzbeks didn’t get that second spot but were relying on Syria to go down to an already qualified Iran yet to concede a goal in the campaign. Syria ruined that record in Tehran after only 13 minutes going ahead before Iran scored on either side of half time to have a 2-1 lead. All seemed lost with Syria set to be eliminated before Omar Jihad Al Somah scored with seconds to go to make it 2-2 which was enough for Syria to finish third and progess to the showdown with Australia. This was Al Somah’s first goal for his country after refusing to play for Syria for a number of years as a protest against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

The play off between Syria and the Socceroos will be over two legs on October 5 and 10.

IN SUMMARY: Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia join Iran in Russia. Syria and the Socceroos to see who lives on and possibly join them.

 

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA (CONCACAF)

If Australia do get past those plucky Syrians then it is no clearer as to who they will play in the final play off but there is the ever-increasing chance it could be the USA.

After their last set of fixtures Mexico have qualified for their eighth straight World Cup Finals (they were banned in 1990) following results going their way. A 1-0 win over Panama at the Azteca and a 1-1 draw in Costa Rica meant they were on their way to Russia

The United States are in real trouble now after two more uninspiring performances. In New Jersey Team US were awful against Costa Rica losing 2-0 thanks to a brace from MLS player Marco Urena. Following this was a trip to Honduras who were still in the hunt for qualification and went ahead early against the visitors before a late late goal by Bobby Wood got the US a vital draw and saved blushes. These results helped Panama who (after losing to Mexico) thrashed Trinidad and Tobago at home 3-0 to move in to third and the final qualification spot with two games to go and condemning the USA to fourth and a play off spot with Asia the way it currently stands.

In the final two games for each side next month the massive game is between the US and Panama in Orlando with the winner probably stealing that final spot behind Mexico and Costa Rica. In the final set of games the US will travel to already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago while Panama will host Costa Rica in a group that will go right down to the wire.

IN SUMMARY: Mexico have qualified. Costa Rica have all but qualified. The Yanks in big trouble and to battle with Panama for the last automatic spot.

 

AFRICA (AFC)

There’s been plenty happening on the dark continent with everything from former kings of Africa toppled to games having to be replayed due to referees perhaps on the sly. In Africa there are five groups of four teams with the top spot in each group after everyone plays each other home and away qualifying for next June in Russia.

In Group A the powerful Tunisia are top of the group but will be pushed all the way by the Democratic Republic of Congo with two games to go. Having already played each other twice DR Congo will have to hope Tunisia slip against either already eliminated Guinea or Libya.

Group B is the toughest group this time around and already two major powers in the sport are eliminated from qualifying. The indomitable lions Cameroon are amazingly out after losing to Nigeria 4-0 and then only drawing 1-1 at home against Nigeria when a win was needed to stay in the mix. Algeria, a side that had qualified for the past two tournaments, is also out after losing both away and at home to Zambia and leaving many questions being posed. Their star player from Leicester City Riyad Mahrez was allowed to leave the squad to make a move from Leicester and did not play. When a move didn’t even eventuate anyway the hostile anyway Algerian press wanted answers, chasing the coach down a driveway at a hotel yelling abuse. Zambia are still hanging in chasing Nigeria with the two sides to clash in the penultimate rounds of games next month.

It’s tight in Group C with the Ivory Coast, Morocco and Gabon all only separated by two points with Mali all but out. In Group D there was been chaos on and off the pitch. South Africa aka ‘Bafana Bafana’ aka ‘The Richmond of Africa’ managed to blow a great start to lose both home and away to the lowly Cape Verde. Their one win in the group from June was also taken off them when the referee in charge of the game was banned for life by FIFA for unsportsmanlike activities. The game against fellow giants Senegal will now have to be replayed next month with sides up against it to finish above Burkina Faso or Cape Verde for the spot.

Egypt are still top in Group E but lost in Uganda meaning that it will be a tight finish of the group where they’ll be hoping they won’t have to travel to Ghana for the final game in November needing a result. Egypt have a knack of always coughing it up.

IN SUMMARY: Two of the five African sides from 2014 already eliminated. Still too close to call in all groups with two games to go.

 

OCEANIA

The dream of seeing Leo Messi play in Honiara is over after New Zealand easily accounted for the Solomon Islands to advance from Oceania. A 6-1 result in Auckland in the first leg put the tie to bed with Premier League striker Chris Wood scoring a hattrick and deciding to celebrate by dropping his pants. In a virtual dead rubber in the Solomon Islands for the second leg it was a 2-2 draw.

IN SUMMARY: Safe to say the last win New Zealand will have this campaign.

 

SOUTH AMERICA (CONMEBOL)

It’s still very unclear as to who will be taking on the All Whites for a spot in the World Cup after another very random set of fixtures in South America. The top four out of the 10 team league automatically qualify with Brazil already taking one of those place. Fifth will play off with New Zealand for one of the final spot in the tournament.

Peru have now become a big player in who will go to Russia after a two wins in a row against the lowly Bolivia and in Ecuador sending the latter out and Peru in to fourth and an automatic qualifying position. Argentina are still struggling after the expected hack fest and 0-0 result in Uruguay but their shock 1-1 draw with Venezuela in Buenos Aires could have a Socceroos drawing in Thailand like butterfly effect in seeing if they qualify or not. Chile are in even deeper trouble after the much fancied side were embarrassed at home by Paraguay 3-0 and then amazingly went down 1-0 in Bolivia leaving them out of the qualifying spots and even the play off spot with New Zealand the way it stands. Adding to Chilean woes was the fact that they haven’t scored in four games….and even Australia have beaten them!

Both Uruguay and Colombia should stich up qualification to join Brazil in Russia in the next month’s final set of games while Argentina V Peru on the morning of October 6 is huge. Messi really does have to start playing like he gives a shit about Argentina again being captain of his country and all.

IN SUMMARY: Either Argentina or Chile set to miss out. Uruguay and Colombia almost there. Peru the wild card.

 

EUROPE (UEFA)

There were big movements in the UEFA side of things with couple of games played by all concerned throwing doubts up for some and hope for others. Two games were played by each side with two games each left to go next month.

In Group A the Dutch are still a mathematical chance of sneaking in to a play off spot for Russia but only just. France should qualify in the penultimate games of the group next month even after an amazing 0-0 draw at home to Luxembourg. The Dutch must beat Belarus and then Sweden at home in their final game to be a chance or getting to second and a play off spot.

In Group B it will still either be Switzerland or Portugal to top the group with those two being well out in front. Portgual hosting the Swiss in the final game next month is the big one. Everyone else is eliminated. In Group C Germany only need one more point from either of their final two games to ensure they’ll be defending their title in Russia. Northern Ireland are the only team that can catch them after the last set of games with the Irish again impressing in recent games sealing at least a play off spot. Germany travel to Belfast in the next set of games so that should settle it.

In Group D The Republic of Ireland is in trouble and more people are off the Martin O’Neill bus. A disasterous draw in Georgia was followed up a 1-0 loss at home to group leaders Serbia meaning they now drop to third playing uninspiring football. Taking their spot in second and a play off spot are the Welsh who are now finally recapturing the form of their amazing Euro 2016 campaign. Wins at home to Austria and away to Moldova have them now a chance to overtake Serbia and head to their first World Cup since 1958. Wales seemed to have uncovered a new star with Liverpool teenager Ben Woodburn scoring the key goal against the Austrians.

In Group E Poland should hang in there to top the group and go next door to Russia despite going down in Denmark 4-0. Montengro still hang on to second but will have to travel to Warsaw for the final game probably needing a result. England only need one more point from one of their final two games to qualify. Qualification never seems to the issue with the English, it’s when they get to the tournament itself that they turn to water. What is interesting in this group is Scotland’s ability to hang in there. Gordon Strachan’s side won two in a row to leave them just one point off second post playing second played Slovakia at home and then third placed Slovenia away to finish up the group. How will they mess this one up is the question.

In Group G Spain went a long way to topping the group belting Italy 3-0 in Madrid to have a three point lead heading in to the final two games next month with it all now in their hands. In Group H Belgium are going to Russia after a win in Greece confirmed they would top the group. The team spilling over with emerging superstars and perhaps set to go better than the last eight in 2014. Greece’s loss means Bosnia now to go second and could still head to another World Cup.

In the final group (Group I) it’s very tight after the last round of games. Four teams are separated by two points with Croatia currently ahead of Euro 2016 darlings Iceland on goal difference with Turkey and Ukraine just behind and ready to pounce. Iceland’s trip to Turkey in the penultimate round next month is the big one. To say it will be a clash of cultures and style is an understatement and will have a big say in the final make up off a very competitive group.

IN SUMMARY: Belgium qualify. Germany and England pretty much qualified. Wales and Scotland coming home with a wet sail. Iceland still a chance to go again. The Dutch not so much. Northern Ireland yes. Republic of Ireland no.

 

 

THE STATS THAT MATTER (OR NOT):

-8 countries have qualified so far. (Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia)

-59 countries can still qualify for 24 places left for the tournament.

-144 countries have been eliminated so far.

-Approximately 1000 qualifying games have been played so far with 104 games still to play.

-Germany, England, Costa Rica, Egypt, Tunisia, Colombia and Uruguay have all but qualified.

-Holland, Argentina, Chile, Australia, Ireland, USA and South Africa are all in trouble.

 

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Amazing breadth of knowledge and perspectives. Thanks DG. Watched the last half of Spain and Italy the other morning. Maybe Brad Hardie was right – Italy were so listless and defensive I thought Ross Lyon was manager. Still the final goal was sublime with the overlap run from Sergio Ramos and then his “centimetre perfect” cross between the advancing keeper and retreating defenders to give his forward the easiest tap in. Skill of the highest level in any sport.
    Will be taking in a La Liga game when we get to Sevilla at the end of the month. Contemplating paying the ticket touts a week’s salary for Sporting Lisbon – Barcelona tickets in the UCL. Having never used those ghastly sites I am fearful of being ripped off, but it seems the only way to get in for a non-member. Have you ever used them? Any advice?
    Thanks for bringing me up to date on the biggest sport and sporting event in the world El Den.

  2. Hey Peter,
    Thanks, it’s getting to pointy end when some minnows are a chance to make histories and the big boys start to worry, sometimes the qualifying is as dramatic as the tournament itself.

    I saw Celtic play on a continent a few times when living over there and always went through the club or a reputable supporters club as touts just can’t be trusted really. Only time I did buy off a tout with Man United v Celtic and ended up in the Man United end. Captain Cook and places like that in the UK tend to sell tickets for tourists so perhaps try them. Not touts just overpriced tour operators.

    It’s worth the effort though, Sporting Lisbon have a tremendous ground and not only have a football side but sides in dozens or other sports. Plus you get to see Messi et al play for the visitors.

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