Over the past couple of weeks, the football followers among us have been rightly focusing on England’s attempt to punch a ticket to Brazil next summer. As England have found themselves desperately needing wins to fend off Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland, we’ve been gripped watching the European qualification system unfold. But what’s the situation throughout the other continents of the world? Is it the usual sides from South America and Africa who are destined to qualify? We’ll go round the globe and take a look at who else will be sambaing amongst the Brazilian carnivals come June and July 2014.
We’ll start by going east to Asia, where four teams have already booked their place at next year’s World Cup. The Asian qualifying always seems to finish much earlier than any of the other continents (it’s surprising that 2018 qualifying hasn’t started yet) and this time was no exception, as things were done and dusted by June. The final round saw two groups of five countries, with the top two going automatically through and the third place teams duelling in a playoff to play another playoff against the fifth-placed South American team (confusing isn’t it?).
Iran managed to edge Group A (no nuclear weapons involved in doing so) and perennial qualifiers South Korea narrowly pipped Uzbekistan, who went into the playoff against Jordan. In the other group, Japan and Australia were the two sides to come through. The latter will have a new coach for Brazil though, as Holger Osieck was sacked following two back-to-back 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France. In the playoff then, both matches in the two-legged affair finished 1-1. So a penalty shootout was needed, which Jordan won 9-8. They now go on to face a South American side (potentially Uruguay) in November.
Continuing around the globe, we land in the now Australia-less continent of Oceania. Australia were moved to Asia to give them more of a challenge, as, after destroying all the other surrounding nations, they used to effectively have one playoff game against a team from another continent to get into the World Cup finals. Now, though, New Zealand find themselves in exactly the same position. They triumphed in all six games of the final qualifying group to earn a contest with the fourth-placed North American side (Mexico or Honduras) for a place in Brazil.
Next up, we go to South America, where the world’s biggest and greatest football tournament will be next summer. With hosts Brazil already guaranteed a spot, there were four other automatic places up for grabs. With a game to go in qualifying, the top four are effectively set. Argentina lead the way with nine wins from 15 games, impressively accumulating 33 goals in the process. Colombia, who are fifth in the FIFA world rankings, are surprisingly in second place in the group. They secured their first World Cup finals appearance since 1998 with a dramatic comeback from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 against Chile. Monaco’s Falcao scored two in that game, making his total nine goals in qualification thus far. Amazingly, their manager still got booed at the final whistle though, as the fans only attributed the comeback to Chile going down to ten men.
Chile themselves and Ecuador are both all but assured of reaching the finals too. Both sides have 25 points to fifth-place Uruguay’s 22, but both have superior goal differences. So Luis Suarez’s nation may have to settle for a very winnable playoff against Jordan for a spot in Brazil.
Heading up into North America, the Americans will be at the World Cup again (and will be hoping for some more Robert Green-style gift-wrapped goals). Costa Rica will join them and it’s between Mexico and Honduras for third place. The Mexicans kept their hopes alive through Raul Jimenez’s superb late overhead kick to give them a 2-1 victory over Panama. Honduras still hold a three-point advantage in the group though. Whoever ends up in fourth will take on New Zealand in a two-legged intercontinental playoff.
Over amidst the warmth of Africa, all five of the continent’s allocated places for Brazil are still up for grabs. The winners of the five two-legged contests, which have pitted power nations against each other, will advance. Ghana against Egypt is arguably the most intriguing tie, not just because the Ghanaians have asked the Egyptian home leg to be moved out of Cairo to a neutral venue because of the on-going violence in the country. Ghana reached the World Cup quarter finals in 2010 and will be looking for a repeat in 2014. Egypt always do well in the African Cup of Nations but never qualify for football’s main event. So it should be a close couple of matches between those two nations.
Elsewhere, Ethiopia, who are the only team left from the first round of qualifying, take on Nigeria. The latter side are big favourites to make another World Cup appearance, as are Algeria, who take on minnows Burkina Faso. Senegal against the highest-ranked African team, Ivory Coast, is another big match. Didier Drogba’s men have never lost to the Lions in a major competition. Finally, Samuel Eto’o is back for Cameroon, to lead them against Tunisia.
So there we have it: that’s how qualification is looking in the continents around the world. England’s win against Montenegro leaves them needing just one win against Poland to set up their trip to South America. If they don’t win, it’ll be a playoff with another European side (potentially France, Portugal or Sweden), which would at least be quite exciting as we haven’t had that playoff drama for a while. The draw for the group stage proper takes place on 6th December.