After a qualification process involving 209 national teams and lasting more than two years, the list of 32 sides who will be in the December draw for the 2018 World Cup is taking shape. Here is the list of who is in and who could still make it:
Russia qualified automatically as hosts, and were joined by Belgium on 3 September when Roberto Martínez’s side beat Greece 2-1 in Piraeus. Belgium finished Group H nine points clear of Greece, who snatched a play-off spot with victory over Gibraltar. The defending champions, Germany, booked their place with a 3-1 win over play-off bound Northern Ireland in Belfast, finishing Group C with 10 wins out of 10.
England were far less spectacular but also went unbeaten in Group F and sealed their trip to Russia with victory over Slovenia on 5 October. Slovakia missed the play-offs as the runners-up with the worst record. Spain, who followed victory in 2010 with an early exit in 2014, were back to their best in racing through Group G, winning nine of their 10 matches as Italy had to settle for the play-offs.
Poland were seeded third in Group E but saw off Romania and second-placed Denmark to reach their first World Cup since 2006. Serbia also emerged from pot three to take an automatic place, edging through with victory over Georgia in their final Group D match. Republic of Ireland will head to the play-offs after their 1-0 win in Cardiff meant they leapfrogged Wales.
Group I was the most competitive, with four teams still chasing automatic qualification with two games to go. Iceland’s away win over Turkey and home victory against Kosovo saw them become the smallest country to reach a World Cup finals. Croatia won their final game in Ukraine to make the play-offs.
France progressed from Group A despite a memorable draw at home to Luxembourg. Holland were expected to compete for top spot but missed the play-offs, with Sweden sneaking in despite defeat in Amsterdam. Finally, Europe’s unluckiest side may be Switzerland, who won their first nine qualifiers but lost in Lisbon to hand top spot in Group B to Portugal after a dramatic two-horse race.
Qualified: Russia (hosts), Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Serbia, Iceland, France, Portugal
Play-offs (seeded teams first): Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Denmark; Northern Ireland, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Greece
The play-off draw will take place on Tuesday 17 October. The first legs will be played on 9-11 November, with the second legs on 12-14 November
South America (Conmebol)
Brazil became the first team to qualify for Russia during a nine-game winning run, putting their 2014 nightmare behind them. Uruguay looked odds-on for qualification for much of their campaign but it took a final-round victory over Bolivia to make certain.
Argentina have had their close calls in qualifying before but left it late even by their standards. They travelled to Ecuador needing to win but went behind after 37 seconds. Enter Lionel Messi, whose hat-trick carried Jorge Sampaoli’s team to Russia after Chile lost in Brazil to miss out altogether.
Paraguay’s 1-0 home defeat to Venezuela ended their hopes, leaving Peru and Colombia battling for fourth place in Lima. A 1-1 draw meant the visitors qualified automatically while Peru, chasing their first World Cup appearance since 1992, finished fifth and will play off against New Zealand.
Qualified: Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia
North and Central America (Concacaf)
Mexico cruised through the six-team final group and never looked in danger of missing out after beating the USA in Columbus in the first game. Costa Rica have also qualified but not without late drama as Kendall Waston’s 95th-minute penalty got the point they needed against Honduras.
USA struggled throughout their campaign and fell 2-1 down to Trinidad & Tobago in their final game. That meant a Panama win over Costa Rica would see them into their first World Cup, and Román Torres struck with only two minutes left. USA dropped to fifth in the table, missing their first finals since 1986, after Honduras fought back to beat Mexico and claim a play-off place.
Qualified: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
Iran were the first Asian team to qualify, and did so way back in June with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Carlos Queiroz’s side topped the group with maximum efficiency – going unbeaten with 10 goals in 10 games. South Korea came second in Group A to secure their ninth consecutive appearance at a World Cup finals.
In Group B, a tight three-way battle ended with Japan topping the group, one point ahead of Saudi Arabia who qualified after edging out Australia on goal difference. The Socceroos narrowly prevailed in a two-legged play-off with surprise package Syria, and will now face Concacaf’s fourth-placed side for a place at the finals.
Qualified: Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
Play-off winners: Australia
Nigeria are through, dominating a tough group containing Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria to reach the finals for the sixth time. Egypt sealed qualification with a dramatic late win over Congo for their first World Cup appearance since 1990 – in the interim, the Pharaohs have won the Africa Cup of Nations four times.
There are still three places up for grabs in the other groups. Tunisia will qualify with a point at home to Libya, with DR Congo hoping to capitalise on any slip-up. Ivory Coast host Morocco on 11 November seeking a win to leapfrog their visitors at the top of Group C.
In Group D, Senegal face two matches against South Africa in quick succession after their away defeat last year was annulled. Barring further appeals from opponents, Aliou Cissé’s side will seal a first World Cup appearance since 2002 with two points from those games.
Qualified: Nigeria, Egypt
Honduras, Peru and Australia have earned another chance at qualification alongside Oceania winners New Zealand. The All Whites will face Peru, while Australia take on the Central American side as the final two places in Russia are decided.
Peru v New Zealand (6-14 Nov)
Honduras v Australia (6-14 Nov)