The World qualifications for Russia 2018 began more than two and a half years ago, and after 872 games the 210 countries that started out have been whittled down to a final 32.
On Friday December 1 representatives om every country gathered at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace concert to see who they will face in Russia next summer hosted by Gary Lineker and Russian sports journalist Maria Komandnaya.
There will be debuts for Iceland and Panama, while four-time winners Italy provided the shock of the qualifiers as they miss out the major tournament for the first since 1958 after losing to Sweden in their play-off and European giants the Netherlands miss out once again.
COUNTRIES THAT QUALIFIED
From Europe, hosts Russia and group winners Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia and Spain are joined by play-off victors Croatia, Denmark Sweden and Switzerland.
Africa’s representatives are Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia. From North and Central America and the Caribbean, it is Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
South America’s sides are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay. And the Asian qualifiers are Australia, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Defending champions Germany, who are bidding to become the first country to win back-to-back World Cups since Pele’s Brazil in 1958 and 1962, are the bookmakers’ favourites, followed by Brazil, Spain, Argentina, France, Belgium and then England.
MISSING IN ACTION
The Czech Republic, Wales, Scotland, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey were among the other countries to also miss out in the group stages – with the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Greece losing in the play-offs.
In the Concacaf region the United States finished below Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras as they failed to secure even a play-off berth. It is the first time since 1986 that they will not compete at a World Cup.
The Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana – all of whom were in Brazil in 2014 – were among the big African nations to miss out.
Chile, ranked ninth in the world, went out in South American qualifying, missing out on a play-off on goal difference to 10th-ranked Peru.
WHO PLAYS WHO?
Neighbours Spain and Portugal will meet at next year’s Fifa World Cup after being drawn in the same group during Friday’s draw in Moscow while Champions Germany are in Group F with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.
The opening game of the World Cup will see hosts Russia take on Saudi Arabia in Group A on Thursday, 14 June.
Group B sees 2010 winners Spain and current European champions Portugal drawn with Morocco and Iran, who are managed by Portuguese Carlos Queiroz.Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo plays with several of Spain’s players for Real Madrid and has been managed by Queiroz with Portugal, as well as working together at Manchester United.
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