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World Cup 2018: a guide to the qualified teams

World Cup
Written by Michael Lloyd

Read our guide to who’s qualified for next year’s World Cup in Russia and who’s still in with a shout.

The World Cup 2018 qualifiers finished last week, with 23 teams booking their place in the 32-team tournament. The  nine remaining spots will be decided this November in a series of play-offs.

The European side of the play-offs see Switzerland, Denmark, Croatia, and Italy play Sweden, Northern Ireland, Greece or Republic of Ireland. While for other inter-confederation play-offs, it’s between teams from North and Central America and the Asian representatives, Australia.

As of the teams that have already qualified, here’s all you need to know about them ready for Russia 2018.

Europe

Russia qualified automatically as hosts. This is their fourth World Cup, after making the World Cup in 1994, 2002 and 2014. They’ve also qualified for five European Championships – 1996, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016. However, not including the record of the Soviet Union national side, they’ve passed the group stages of a major tournament just once when they reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008.

France finished top of Group A with 23 points. The last time they won the cup was back in 1998 and once again, they have a strong side strong. They finished the 2016 Euros as runners-up, with key player Antoine Griezmann winning the golden boot at the tournament on six goals. With the talents of Griezeman, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Kylian Mbappe, they’ll fancy their chances next year.

Portugal topped Group B and are another side to watch out for. They are the reigning European champions after beating hosts France 1-0 in Euro 2016 final. In the 2006 World Cup, they made it to the semi-final – but they couldn’t escape the group stages in Brazil 2014. And at 32 years old, this may be the last World Cup for four time Ballon d’Or winner Christiano Ronaldo.

Germany are surely one of the favourites to win, having won all of their qualifying games to lead Group C. They’re the defending World Cup champions, beating Argentina in the final at Brazil 2014, and have won the World Cup an incredible four times. They are the the number one team in the Fifa World Rankings.

Serbia topped Group D. It’s their 12th World Cup appearance. They didn’t quality for Brazil 2014 and in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, they failed to make it out of the group stage. They feature some familiar faces, with Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and their captain and former Chelsea defender Branslav Ivanovic.

Poland finished top of Group E and are ranked sixth in the world. They have a good squad, featuring Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski, their all-time top goal-scorer with 51 international goals in 91 games. Poland have never won the World Cup but came third in 1974 and 1982 and may surprise pundits in Russia.

England qualified top of Group F with a game to spare. After beating Lithuania 0–1 in their final qualifying game, they remained unbeaten in the group. Since winning the World Cup in 1966, they’ve best they’ve done is a semi-final appearance in Italia 1990. They’ve consitently underperformed on the world stage. They were knocked out in the group stage of the last World Cup, the first time since 1958. While at the 2016 Euros, Iceland knocked them out in the last. Can the Three Lions perform better this time around and make their fans proud?

Spain came out on top of a tough Group G, with Italy trailing in second place. They dominated football from 2008 to 2013, winning the Euros in 2008, World Cup in 2010 and Euros once again in 2012. This ended at the 2014 World Cup, where they failed to get out of their group, losing 5-1 to Netherlands and 2-0 to Chile. Italy knocked them out of the 2016 Euros in last sixteen. Can they prove to pundits that they’re better than their current 11th in the Fifa World Rankings?

Belgium finished first in Group H. They made it the quarter finals of the 2014 World Cup, where they lost to eventual runners up Argentina, and again in Euros 2016, when Wales knocked them out. They boast a strong team with Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and captain and Chelsea attacker, Eden Hazard. They’re a team to watch out for next year.

Iceland only have a population of just 334,451 but knocked England out at the 2016 Euros with a 2-1 win. They’ve now qualified for their first ever World Cup, finishing top of Group I. They beat Kosovo 2-0, with Everton midfielder and star man Gylfi Sigurdsson scoring the opening, to qualify and become the smallest World Cup finals side.

South America

Brazil finished top of the CONMEBOL table. South America’s Preliminary Competition offers four guaranteed places and one play-off spot for the World Cup. Brazil has won the World Cup the most times –  1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 – and are ranked second in Fifa World Rankings. With star players like £200m forward Neymar, they’ll be hoping to make their mark on the world stage once again.

Uruguay finished second in the table. They won the first World Cup in 1930 and won the cup a second time in 1950.  They only reached the last 16 at Brazil 2014 after Columbia beat them 2-0. They’ll hope to get further this time, though, with Barcelona forward Luis Suarez. He’s the country’s record goal-scorer, netting twice against Bolivia to secure their qualification.

Argentina finished third. They’ve have won the World Cup twice – in 1978 and 1986 – and been runners-up in 1930, 1990 and in 2014. Lionel Messi, five-time winner of Ballon d’Or, secured qualification for his country by scoring a hat-trick. They came from behind to beat Ecuador 3-1 in in their final qualifier match.

Columbia secured third place. At Brazil 2014, they produced their best ever performance at a World Cup. They knocked out Uruguay, beating them 2-0, and reached the quarter-finals, losing 2-1 to hosts Brazil. James Rodriguez, Real Madrid’s attacking midfielder on loan at Bayern Munich, won the Golden Boot with six goals.

Africa

Egypt are 30th in Fifa’s world rankings, one place below the Netherlands. Liverpool’s summer signing, Mohamed Salah, scored two goals, including a 95th minute penalty, to clinch a win a 2-1 win against Congo and qualify for Russia. It’s their first World Cup since 1990. In 2010, they won the Africa Cup of Nations for the seventh time and after now qualifying for the World Cup, they’ve done their country proud.

Nigeria make a sixth appearance at a World Cup and their third in a row. They’ve reached the last 16 three times, (1994, 1998 and 2014) but never progressed further. They boast a few Premier League players like Chelsea’s Victor Moses Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi. Former Chelsea defender, John Mikel Obi, is their most experienced player with 80 caps.

Asia

Iran became the first team from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to book their place to Russia. It’s the fifth time they’ve qualified for a World Cup, yet they’ve only won one match at a tournament with a 2-1 win over the United States at France 1998. They’re ranked 25th in the Fifa World Rankings

Japan qualified after beating Australia 2–0. They’ve reached the second round of the tournament twice, including in 2002 when they jointly hosted the tournament with South Korea. They are currently 40th in the Fifa World rankings and have some well-known players such as Shinji Kagawa at Borussia Dortmund and Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki.

Saudi Arabia are making their fifth World Cup appearance, their first since 2006. Their first appearance was in 1994 which also featured their only World Cup tournament victories, winning two group matches and reaching the second round. Their best player is striker Veteran striker Nasser Al Shamrani who won the 2014 Asian Player of the Year.

South Korea has the best World Cup Pedigree out of all the Asian teams. Their goalless draw against Uzbekistan secured a place at a 10th World Cup, their ninth in a row. Star players include Tottenham’s Son Heung-min and former Middlesbrough striker Lee Dong-gook – the latter who boasts 105 caps and will be 39 by the time of the tournament.

North, Central America and Caribbean

Mexico was the first team from the The North, Central America and Caribbean’s Preliminary Competition to qualify, topping the group. Currently 14th in Fifa World Rankings, they’ve reached the knockout stage in each of the past six World Cups, making it to the quarter-finals as hosts in 1986.

Costa Rica finished second in the group, qualifying for their fifth World Cup after Kendall Waston’s 95th-minute penalty earned a point against Honduras. At Brazil 2014, they finished top of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and England, before being knocked out on penalties to the Netherlands in the quarter finals.

Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 thanks to Román Torres scoring with two minutes to spare. And because the USA lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago, it meant Panama qualified for their first World Cup. Their record goal-scorer, Luis Tejada, has netted 42 goals for his nation. Although he’s 35, he may be the country’s best hope at the tournament.

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