The Road to Russia 2018 begins to twist and turn

There are only 287 days until the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Mother Russia but with only three countries confirmed to be going to the big dance at present there are still some 91 countries that can qualify for the final 29 spots with 206 qualification games to played on every continent between now and November. Over the next week or so much wheat will be sorted from the chaff over a heap of games. Who will join Russia, Brazil and Iran? Here’s a brief, biased and probably poorly researched guide to what will be happening around the globe in some of the more interesting games.

 

ASIA (AFC) (3.5 qualifying spots left)

 

To say its squeaky bum time for the Socceroos is quite the understatement. A team undefeated but leaking like a sieve at the back has made it tough to watch at times with a squad unfairly compared to the great side of a decade or so ago while at board level the FFA has jettisoned all respect it had. Luck went our way overnight when the UAE once again did Australia a huge favour defeating the Saudis meaning a loss in Japan for Australia is now not the end of the world. A win in Tokyo against the struggling Blue Samurai itching to sack their coach would see Australia qualify with their final game against Thailand next week dead rubber. A draw will mean a win against Thailand in the final game would be still needed to ensure qualification. A loss to Japan will mean a win against Thailand will be paramount hoping that the Saudis do not beat Japan in their final game with the final spot in Group B perhaps coming down to goal difference. You don’t get this drama in Oceania that’s for sure.

 

In Group A Iran have already booked their ticket to Russia and the ‘Red Devils’ South Korea will battle it out with Uzbekistan for the final automatic spot. South Korea will host the Iranians in the penultimate round with Uzbekistan away to China. If they match results then the South Koreans travel to Uzbekistan for the final game in a winner takes all clash next week. It would be safe to say South Koreans are perhaps more concerned with the Red Devils North of the border at the moment too so the big player in Asian football could be in trouble. The decimated Syria can still qualify but would need a minor miracle. Third place and a spot in the playoffs is not out of the question though, a remarkable achievement considering what’s going on back home.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

31/8       8.35pm EST         Japan V Australia

31/8       10pm EST            South Korea V Iran

31/8       10pm EST            China V Uzbekistan

5/9         8pm EST               Australia V Thailand

6/9         3.30am EST        Saudi Arabia V Japan

6/9         1am EST               Uzbekistan V South Korea

 

AFRICA (CAF) (5 qualifying spots left)

 

Africa still has ways to go before they know all five countries heading to Russia. In the third and final round of CAF qualifying there are five groups of four teams with the group winners all qualifying. In Group A the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisia are streaking ahead but play each other in this set of qualifiers which will be pivotal. The indomitable Lions Cameroon have struggled initially in Group B and will need something from their games against Nigeria both home and away to avoid an upset dumping from qualification. The other sides in that group are also no slouches with Zambia and Algeria playing each other in a clash that will pretty much eliminate the loser.

 

In Group D South Africa will have to make hay while the sun shines playing Cape Verde home and away while in the final group heavyweights Ghana will need to get a move on after losing and drawing their first two games letting Egypt (the Richmond of African football nations) get a break and perhaps finally qualify for a World Cup.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

2/9         2am EST               Nigeria V Cameroon

5/9         3am EST               Cameroon V Nigeria

 

NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA (CONCACAF) (3.5 qualifying spots left)

 

CONCACAF is in to their final group stage too with six countries battling over three automatic spots and one play off spot who will come up against a team from Asia.

 

With four games left for each country Mexico are streaking ahead and are a good chance of qualifying in these next set of games hosting Panama at the legendary Azteca Stadium. The United States on the other hand are struggling at present calling back old coach Bruce Arena to try and negotiate the tricky road to Russia and ensure FIFA’s commercial department isn’t ruined by Team USA not qualifying for a World Cup.

 

Currently in third place, the US host second placed Costa Rica in New Jersey this week in front of a crowd that may feature more Costa Ricans than locals considering the size of the Costa Rican ex-pat community in the Bronx just across the Hudson. The USA will then have to travel to Honduras with the Hondurans at present only three points behind them on the table. A Socceroos v USA play off in November is still a distinct possibility.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

2/9         8.55am EST         USA V Costa Rica

6/9         7.35am EST         Honduras V USA

6/9         12.05pm EST      Costa Rica V Mexico

 

SOUTH AMERICA (COMNEBOL)(3.5 qualfying spots left)

 

The very even South American confederation is again wide open with the exception of Brazil who for once have the coaches, players and their rather large collective egos pulling in the right direction already qualifying. Bolivia and Venezuela are also already out, one still a basketcase despite its unique home ground advantage some 3,650 metres above sea level and the other mired in political headf*ckery.

 

The 2014 World Cup runners up Argentina are currently in fifth place and struggling to get an automatic spot to Russia. Colombia, Uruguay and Chile are a few points ahead in a very tight ladder with Ecuador also just behind Argentina. While it is too close to call at the moment the next round of two games for each side over the next week will make it a lot more clearer.

 

The Argies travel across the River Plate to take on Uruguay at the Estadio Centenario, a ground that would still be in the memories of any Socceroos fan after 2001 and 2005. Forget Brazil and Argentina, this is THE grudge match between the two original World Cup finalists. Whoever loses this one may have to settle for the play offs against an opponent from Ocenia with both Chile and Colombia having easy matches. Hell, if Ecuador also collect points the loser could end up missing out on the World Cup altogether. This game will not be an advertisement for the beautiful part of the game. It will be nasty, cynical, brutal but very passionate. With all he’s achieved this is one of Leo Messi’s great challenges to get Argentina to Russia too. If a team ever needed their captain and best player it’s now.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

1/9         11am EST             Uruguay v Argentina

6/9         6.30am EST         Colombia V Brazil

 

OCEANIA (OFC)(0.5 qualifying spots left)

 

The footballing powerhouse that is Oceania is in to its final phase with New Zealand unsurprisingly in the final two legged play off. Their opponents are the Solomon Islands who won the battle for second best team in the region which is even but really has a touch of country footy about it such is the gulf between some teams. The All Whites will still be wary though after their Oceania Cup defeat to Tahiti a few years ago and will go full strength in the two legs. The Premier League striker Chris Wood could have some fun with that Polynesian defence.

 

The winner of this play off won’t have it easy though taking on a team from South America hell bent on taking out their frustrations of not qualifying automatically out on someone.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

 

None really…

 

EUROPE (UEFA) (13 qualifying spots left)

 

Europe is only now starting to get interesting with nine groups featuring six teams in each. The group winners will all automatically qualify while the best eight runner ups will go in to playoffs. In Group A the Dutch are again in danger of missing out of a major tournament after crashing and burning in the Euro 2016 qualifers. With four games to go they are 3 points behind Sweden and France and take on France in Paris in a massive game on Friday morning. With Sweden away to a fancied Bulgaria at the same time the group could really tighten up and no doubt it’ll go to the final day when the Dutch host Sweden. Let’s face it, the World Cup is always better when the Dutch are there.

 

In other groups many are still too tight to call but more will be known after the next set of qualifiers over the next week. Both defending champions Germany and their neighbours Poland should qualify while England and Belgium will have one foot in Russia, England’s easy draw again masking their inadequacy when it comes to the finals. Italy and Spain and are running away with Group G with Spain hosting the Italians in this round of the games, the winner going a long way to finishing top and getting automatic qualification. Spain have welcomed back David Villa, the 2010 World Cup winning superstar now long in the tooth and who made a brief visit to Australia with Melbourne City sulking his way through a handful of games before heading to New York.

 

Euro 2016 cult side Iceland are also still going strong in their group and look good for a play off spot if they don’t top their group. The draw is favourable towards the Vikings.

 

GAMES WORTH A WATCH:

1/9         4.45am EST         France v Holland

3/9         5.45am EST         Spain v Italy

4/9         3.45am EST         Greece v Belgium

5/9         5.45am EST         England v Slovakia

6/9         5.45am EST         Ireland V Serbia

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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