The road to Russia – 24 World Cup places still available

Berlin, Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia enters the decisive phase from Thursday. Alongside hosts Russia, seven of the other 31 spots have already been claimed by Brazil, Belgium, Mexico, Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

EUROPE: With the exception of Belgium, eight of the automatic qualifying places from nine groups are still up for grabs. Holders Germany, England, Serbia, Poland and Spain are on the brink of guaranteeing progress but Groups A (France, Sweden, Netherlands), B (Switzerland or Portugal) and I (Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Ukraine) remain too close to call. The eight best group runners-up will enter November 9-14 play-offs, drawn with seeding based on the FIFA world rankings on October 17.

SOUTH AMERICA: Brazil are through and Uruguay, currently second, can progress with a win over bottom side Venezuela. But the fight for the two extra automatic spots is tight with Colombia (26 points), Peru, Argentina (both 24) and Chile (23) in strong contention. Argentina face Peru in a key Buenos Aires clash on Thursday. The fifth-best team enters a play-off with New Zealand.

AFRICA: The five qualifying group winners go to the World Cup but none are yet decided. Tunisia, Nigeria and Egypt look good to progress but Groups C (Ivory Coast, Morocco, Gabon) and D (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Senegal) are tight.

ASIA: Iran, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia have survived the group phase to book places in Russia. The winner of the Syria v Australia play-off enter a further play-off against the fourth-placed CONCACAF team in November.

CONCACAF: Mexico have, almost as usual, qualified while Costa Rica can join them if they don’t lose against Honduras. The race for third, between Panama (10), the United States and Honduras (both 9) is tight and Friday’s meeting between the US and Panama will be crucial.

OCEANIA: New Zealand have progress from regional qualifying and await the fifth-placed team from South America in the play-offs.

Source: Ghana News Agency