By 90Min
October 11, 2017

The eagerly awaited start of the 2018 World Cup (14th June) is just eight months away and 23 of the 32 nations competing in Russia are now confirmed after the latest round of qualifying took place around the globe this week - that means nine places are up for grabs for those still involved.


The Qualifiers


Russia (as hosts) were the very first team booked in, while five-time winners Brazil joined them as early as March 2017 after an incredibly dominant showing in South American qualifying.

Iran were next on board in June, with Japan securing their place from Asia in late August. In the days that followed, Mexico sealed top spot in the Central/North American region, then Belgium became the first European nation other than the hosts to qualify.

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Saudi Arabia and South Korea took the final two automatic Asian places on 5th September.

As qualifying campaigns came to an end in Europe, South America and Central/North America this month, 15 further countries have been able to book their places in Russia in the last few days.

Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, Portugal and France took the remaining automatic places on offer to European nations after each topping their respective group.

In Africa, Nigeria and Egypt secured top spot of their qualifying groups with a game to spare. For Egypt it will be a first World Cup appearance since 1990 and only a third overall.

An unenviable tight and dramatic South American qualifying campaign drew to a close as Argentina pulled qualification out of the fire with a 3-1 win in their final game - La Albiceleste had started the day outside even an intercontinental playoff place.

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Uruguay secured their place in Russia as expected, while Colombia held on to the final automatic place available to teams from the continent.

A similarly close race concluded in Central/North America. Costa Rica had sewn up their qualification with a game to spare, but Panama were able to reach the promised land of the World Cup for the first time with a heroic win in their last game, bagging the region's third and final automatic berth.


The Hopefuls


There are still final games to play in African qualifying, with three of the five groups still yet to produce a guaranteed winner.

Either Morocco or Ivory Coast will emerge victorious from Group C. The pair face each other in the final game in Abidjan next month in a 'win and you're in' situation.

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Tunisia are in the driving seat in Group A with a thee point cushion with one game remaining, but there remains an outside chance, albeit an unlikely one, they could be caught by DR Congo.

Senegal are two points clear at the top of the final undecided African group, D. They have a game in hand after an earlier defeat was annulled after the referee was later banned from football. But such is the tight nature of the group, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa all still have a chance.

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The European playoffs next month will offer eight group runners-up a second chance to make it.

Switzerland were narrowly beaten to top spot in their group in the final game and will be joined by Italy, Denmark, Croatia, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Greece and Republic of Ireland as the remaining Europeans are whittled down from eight to four.

The draw will take place next week.

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Two-legged intercontinental playoffs next month between countries from four different confederations will determine the identity of two further qualifiers.

New Zealand won the Oceania section, but with only half a place on offer to the region will now have to face fifth place South American finisher Peru for the right to play on the world stage.

Australia confirmed their place as Asia's fifth best team with a playoff win over Syria this week and must contest their intercontinental tie against Honduras from Central/North America.

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The Fallen


A number of expectant countries saw their World Cup dreams come to an end this week as their final qualifying results ensured they fell short of even a playoff opportunity.

Having finished third at the last tournament in 2014, the Netherlands could finish no higher than third in their European qualifying group. The same could be said of Wales, less than 18 months after reaching the semi-finals of the European Championship.

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Slovakia were the only group runner-up in Europe not to get a playoff place after being ranked ninth of nine from all the second place finishers.

Back-to-back Copa America champions Chile were bumped from third to sixth in the South American table after losing their final game and seeing others around them win and draw.

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After final day wins from Panama and Honduras, the United States were the big casualty in Central/North America, finishing shy of an intercontinental playoff place in fifth place. The 2018 tournament will be the first without the stars and stripes since 1986.

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