This summer, Russia will host the most important national event in the footballing calendar – the FIFA World Cup. The qualification process began after the completion of Euro 2016 last year (in which Portugal battled through as the eventual winners) and now the countdown to the finals reaches its final weeks. But who has qualified?
Scotland got off to a dire start in their qualification group, taking four points from their first four games against Malta, England, Slovakia and Lithuania. Although they picked up some fantastic form from then on – drawing with England, beating Malta, Slovenia, Slovakia and Lithuania – an agonising last-game draw in Ljubljana ensured they finished third in their group and missed out on the play-off spot. A rather uneventful campaign for England saw them secure an expected, easy qualification in the same group.
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland produced a commendable performance to take second in Group C, only behind current world champions Germany. In Group D, Wales and the Republic of Ireland became embroiled in an exhilarating battle for second, eventually won by the Irish. Italy, remarkably, will not be appearing at the World Cup due to a play-off defeat to Sweden… a blow felt worldwide. Their absence will be a definite loss to the tournament.
Argentina survived a scare to qualify – a Lionel Messi hat-trick ensuring they beat Ecuador 3-1 in Quito – whilst Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia also automatically qualified from South America. Clinching the final qualification spot was Peru, who beat New Zealand 2-0 on aggregate in a play-off.
In the Concacaf group (North and Central America), the president of Panama announced a day of national celebration as they beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify for their first World Cup. A terrible result for the United States of America saw them lose 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago and subsequently fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
In Asia, Russia qualified as the host nation, and the spotlight was, once again, focused on Syria. A nation bitterly bruised by war – having to play their ‘home games’ in Malaysia – almost achieved their goal of qualification, but lost in extra time to Australia in the second leg of their play-off battle.
Those are the notable qualified nations, but click here for a link to all of the qualified nations.