Road to the World Cup 2018
World Cup 2018 gets underway on June 14th in Moscow and all 32 teams have booked their place at the tournament. The outright market has been fluctuating between Germany and Brazil with both sides priced up as joint favourites for the event which is set to attract viewers all around the world. We take a look at how each side reached progressed through qualification and booked their place in the World Cup 2018 draw.
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20. Costa Rica
30. Korea Republic
31. Saudi Arabia
England had a relatively straightforward qualification campaign finishing top of Group F with 26 points from their 10 matches. They secured their place at the World Cup 2018 with a couple of games to spare following a 2-1 victory over Slovakia in October. Gareth Southgate’s side only dropped points against Scotland and Slovenia en-route to their success and can look forward to Russia 2018.
Harry Kane was one of the standout stars for the Three Lions as they netted 18 times during the qualification campaign. Although the opposition is likely to be much at the World Cup, England’s defence was one of their strongest areas with just one goal conceded at Wembley during their five home ties.
England finished bottom of their group at the 2014 World Cup taking just a single point from their three matches and their large contingent of travelling fans will be hoping for much better this time around. Gareth Southgate has moulded a decent side who look strong at both ends of the pitch although there is a danger of being overrun in midfield particularly during the latter stages of the tournament should they progress. They’ve been drawn alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in a winnable looking group.
Germany were imperious during their qualifying campaign as they won all ten matches. Joachim Low’s side scored 43 times and conceded on just four occasions as they clinched qualification for the World Cup 2018 with a swagger. The Germans stuck six past Norway, five past Azerbaijan and 15 past San Marino across the two meetings.
Their 3-1 success at Windsor Park against second Northern Ireland secured their inevitable qualification and it was an impressive performance considering Michael O’Neill’s men had been defensively solid throughout their campaign. In the process, they extended their unbeaten run in away World Cup qualifiers to 47 matches.
They have a tremendous squad depth which is likely to come in handy at the World Cup 2018 especially as many of their players arrive off the back of a long and arduous domestic campaign. New names such as Sandro Wagner and Sebastian Rudy could be key to freshen up the squad as the 2014 champions aim to retain their crown in Russia. Leon Goretzka is another impressive figure and he excelled during the 2017 Confederations Cup as he helped Germany to success once again, he could have a big say in this tournament.
Brazil are once again amongst the favourites for Russia 2018 and they enjoyed a terrific qualifying campaign under coach Tite. They finished ten points clear of second place Uruguay and lost just one of their 18 matches in the South American qualifying group.
Tite’s preferred 4-1-4-1 formation appears to be bringing out the best of their talented squad with the likes of Phillipe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus coming off the back of profitable Premier League campaigns. Many of the squad members who were present during the embarrassing 7-1 defeat to Germany during the 2014 World Cup have been moved on with the squad taking on a much younger and fresher look spearheaded by the talismanic Neymar Jr.
Casemiro is another vital commodity in the centre of the park and Tite’s side are likely to sail through the group stage. They ended their qualification campaign with a thumping 3-0 victory over Chile although dropped points on the road against Bolivia and Colombia during the latter stages of 2017.
They scored 41 times during their 18 matches although also conceded 11 times and are certain to provide plenty of entertainment at the World Cup 2018.
France are always an unpredictable side but finished top of Group A to secure their place at the World Cup 2018. They finished ahead of Sweden but lost in Stockholm despite taking the lead back in June.
Didier Deschamps side finished with 23 points from their 10 matches clocking up a goal different of +12. The boss admitted his side are “Are not on the same level as Germany, Brazil or Spain – yet” but his team are blessed with talent such as teenage prodigy Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
They fell agonisingly short against Portugal in the Euro 2016 final and they will feel that they have a point to prove here. There was concern about the mindset of Les Bleues following their shock goalless draw at home to Luxembourg but they quickly followed it up with a professional 1-0 victory in Sofia against Bulgaria.
France reached the Quarter Finals of the World Cup 2014 before being knocked out of the tournament by eventual winners Germany and with such a talented pool of players at their disposal, travelling support will be expecting them to make it into the last four – at least.
Spain’s team hasn’t had the same radical overhaul that many supporters hoped for but they qualified from Group G with ease. They were drawn alongside Italy but managed to take four points from a possible six from the Azzurri who subsequently failed to progress beyond the play-off stage.
Julen Lopetegui’s side won their last eight qualifiers and conceded just twice during that run as they showed they still have ample quality in their ageing squad. Overall, they were victorious in nine of their ten matches and took 28 points from a possible 30 as they deservedly secured their place at Russia 2018.
There were a couple of tough encounters which required the La Roja to dig deep and battle for the points most notably their 1-0 win in Israel.
Isco has been a great addition to the Spanish squad following a tremendous season at Real Madrid and the playmaker is set to joined by regulars David de Gea, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos, David Silva and Alvaro Morata. They crashed out of the group stage at World Cup 2014 and much better will be expected this time around even with neighbours Portugal drawn in their group.
Argentina didn’t make life easy for themselves and nearly became a casualty of the qualifying campaign alongside Chile, Holland and Italy. The mercurial Lionel Messi came to their rescue and stepped up when it mattered netting a hat-trick inside 63 minutes to send his side through to the World Cup 2018. Despite only winning three of their last ten games in the South American Qualifying group, Jorge Sampaoli’s men made it through and there is a huge sense of relief amongst the coaching staff.
They were victorious in just seven of their 18 matches and conceded 16 times during that run. A 1-0 defeat at home to Paraguay in October 2016 was arguably their lowest point of the qualification although hammerings by Brazil and failure to score at home to Peru weren’t far behind.
They are aiming to secure their first World Cup since 1986 and they will need to significantly improve upon their previous performances if they are to succeed. They were beaten finalists four years ago and it could be the last tournament for a number of their star players to shine.
Belgium were sensational during their qualifying campaign and broke a number of records in the process. Roberto Martinez’s side may finally be starting to live up to expectations which have been weighing heavy on their shoulders for a number of years.
The Red Devils remained unbeaten during their ten matches securing 28 points to finish top of Group H and secure their qualification for World Cup 2018 with plenty in hand.
A whopping 43 goals were netted throughout the qualifying campaign with Manchester United powerhouse Romelu Lukaku scoring 11 times The goals were also spread around as Martinez’s men hit Gibraltar for nine, Estonia for eight and narrowly squeezed past Bosnia with a 4-3 success.
The boss isn’t renowned for his defensive nous and the way they conceded three goals to Bosnia and to Mexico during a recent friendly is slightly concerning.
Eden Hazard is the man to add plenty of creativity to this side and his ammunition is likely to be aimed towards the aforementioned Lukaku. Belgium are always fun to watch but they are liable to implode at the back against better sides.
Portugal crept above Switzerland in Group B during the final match-day but the Euro 2016 Champions weren’t at their fluent best during this qualifying campaign. They did win nine of their ten matches but it was goal difference which propelled them through to the World Cup 2018 draw ahead of the Swiss.
Their goal difference of +28 was far superior and they have 5-1 and 6-0 victories against the Faroe Islands to thank for that total. They also stuck four past Latvia and six past Andorra with Cristiano Ronaldo netting 15 times during the qualifying matches to help send his side to Russia.
Andre Silva has been an important addition to the side and will take some of the reliance off Cristiano Ronaldo going forward. Fans are cautiously optimistic about their chances at World Cup 2018 but their defence is ageing and could be found out in the latter stages of the competition.
Portugal didn’t progress beyond the group stage at World Cup 2014 and will require significant improvement.
Poland have secured their place as one of the top seeds coming into the World Cup 2018 and finished five points ahead of Denmark in Group F. Adam Nawalka’s men won eight of their ten matches to finish with a goal difference of +14 and have plenty of firepower in their squad.
Robert Lewandowski is the focal point of their side and netted 16 times during their 10 matches and they will be looking for him to repeat those heroics in Russia.
Poland have struggled at the back during their qualifiers conceding 14 times which was more than Denmark, Romania and Montenegro, all of whom finished below them in the group. They kept just two clean sheets in ten and that could pose a huge problem for them during Russia 2018.
Switzerland needed a victory away at Portugal during their final group game to secure their passage to Russia 2018 but they slipped up and were required to compete in a play-off with Northern Ireland. A controversial penalty was awarded in their favour and Vladimir Petkovic’s side squeezed through to book their place.
The boss praised the spirit of his side but they will need to find more in attack if they are to success in Russia. A 2-0 victory over Faroe Islands and 1-0 success over Latvia helped them collect three pints but did nothing for their goal difference which eventually proved their downfall and the lack of a genuine goalscorer could prove their Achilles heel.
Granit Xhaka is at the heart of the midfield and Xherdan Shaqiri should add some creativity but Switzerland will need to improve on their recent displays if they are to progress to the latter stages.
Peru had to do things the hard way as they finished fifth in the South American qualifying group. They are unbeaten across all competitions in over a year and finished extremely well. Holding Colombia and Argentina to draws in their final two qualifiers helped them secure 5th place but they’d previously beaten Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.
They are an extremely young side and play without fear. They easily saw off New Zealand to secure their place at the World Cup 2018. Alberto Rodriguez keeps things tight at the back and the impressive combination of Jefferson Farfan and Paolo Guerrero provide plenty of firepower.
Peru needed the qualifier to reach Russia but they could prove a surprise package at the tournament.
Despite conceding far fewer goals than leaders Poland, Denmark still needed a qualifier in order to qualify for Russia 2018. The Danes turned on the style as they hit Republic of Ireland for five at the Aviva Stadium with Christian Eriksen impressing. In total, the Spurs player hit 11 goals in 12 matches and he is likely to have a big impact at the World Cup 2018 and they could prove an underrated side at the tournament.
Denmark’s most impressive performance arrived during their 4-0 demolition of leaders Poland in September but they also stuck four past Armenia on their travels.
Denmark have plenty of firepower in their side and are capable of outscoring the majority of sides although it will be tough drawn alongside France and Peru.
It was a stop-start qualifying campaign for Colombia who snuck through in 4th place with 27 points from 18 matches. They didn’t manage to win any of their last four matches as they ended with a whimper.
They used an incredible 58 players during their qualifying period as they struggled to find the right combination of attack and defence. Their most recent successes came against Bolivia and Ecuador, both of whom failed to qualify by some distance.
Coach Jose Pekerman admitted “qualifying was difficult” but his side made it through and significant improvement will be required if they are to progress to the latter stages.
Mexico have few problems during their qualifying campaign as they cruised through the group and secured their place in Russia. The CONCACF Group was always going to be fairly straightforward although the nature of their 2-0 defeat to Honduras didn’t go down well with Mexican fans.
There were a couple of disappointing results along the way with a 0-0 draw against Panama and a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica. Juan Carlos Osorio is still being questioned by some sets of supporters especially considering his side’s knack of falling apart against bigger sides.
Despite those concerns, they finished top of the group during the 5th round of qualifiers with 21 points from 10 matches and will have in-form Hirving Lozano in their side with the PSV man finding the net with regularity.
Croatia needed a play-off to reach the World Cup 2018 but their work was done during the first leg with a thumping victory over Greece. They only lost twice during their qualifying campaign with both of those slip-ups being on the road against Iceland and Turkey.
Croatia possess plenty of firepower but failed to light up Group I with a number of narrow victories including a disappointing 1-0 success over Kosovo. They won six of their ten games finishing two points behind leaders Iceland.
They only scored more than two goals on one occasion during the qualifiers before turning on the style against the Greeks and if they can find their rhythm, they could be a side to watch. Despite being 32, Luka Modric is still a midfield enforcer and is likely to dictate the majority of their play.
Sweden missed out on automatic qualification finishing four points behind France. The Swede’s picked up 19 points from their 10 matches and their superior goal difference sent them through to the play-offs ahead of the Netherlands.
Janne Anderson’s side took the lead in the first leg against Italy and heroically held on at the San Siro to book their place in Russia 2018. Having seen off the Italians, things don’t get any easier as they’ve been drawn in the same group as world champions Germany.
Their away form let them down during their qualification with defeats in France, the Netherlands and Bulgaria but they were extremely effective on their own patch.
Emil Forsberg and Marcus Berg are just two of the key players who will hope to fire Sweden into the latter stages of the competition.
Uruguay’s qualification was fairly straightforward and uneventful as Oscar Tabarez’s side finished five points behind runaway leaders Brazil in the South American qualifying group. They ended their qualifying campaign with four games unbeaten and with the exception of a 4-1 hammering at the hands of the Selecao, Uruguay’s consistent home form was largely responsible for helping them reach this tournament.
Luis Suarez will once again be the key man and is bound to take centre stage in Russia although Matias Vecino comes off the back of a decent season in Serie A.
Uruguay have been drawn in an extremely favourable group alongside hosts Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt which should see them progress to the last 16.
Iceland were one of the surprise packages of Euro 2016 and proved far from a one hit wonder with an exceptional qualifying campaign which saw them finish top of Group I. Whilst Turkey, Croatia and Ukraine isn’t the toughest of draws, few were expecting them to finish top the standings with 22 points from 10 games.
They conceded just one goal in their last five qualifying matches and have a tremendous team spirit which has helped them progress in recent tournaments. Their most significant result came away at Turkey with a 3-0 success.
Heimir Hallgrimmson is in sole charge of the team now and has shown more tactical flexibility than his predecessor and they could be a real danger at Russia 2018.
Senegal were the dominant force In Group D of the African Qualifying Groups with four wins from six. They finished ahead of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde and were a hugely entertaining and predictable side to watch.
They remained unbeaten and won their last two qualifiers to cement their place at their second World Cup finals. They have some talented and recognisable players including Liverpool’s Sadio Mane, M’Baye Niang and Monaco’s Keita Balde and they have plenty of flair.
They have plenty of firepower but also only conceded three times in their six qualifiers and could be stiff opposition in favourable World Cup group.
Costa Rica have plenty to live up to following their exploits at the World Cup 2014 and they went about their qualifying campaign in decent fashion. They secured their place in Russia with a couple of games to spare accumulating 16 points in the 5th round of the CONCACAF qualifying.
They managed to book their place at the World Cup despite only winning four of their ten matches but made themselves difficult to beat with just two defeats, one of which came away at leaders Mexico.
Marco Urena notched three goals during the qualifying stage and he will be the man to watch here. The San Jose Earthquakes man is joined by household name Keylor Navas who will hoping to keep the opposition at bay. Costa Rica conceded just eight times in the CONCACAF qualifying.
Tunisia narrowly confirmed their participation at the World Cup 2018 narowly after finishing a point ahead of DR Congo in Group A of the African Qualifying. They managed to stay unbeaten during their six matches clocked up four wins and two draws conceding just four times throughout.
Nabil Maaloul has been responsible for the team’s turnaround and helped them return to the World Cup after a 12 year absence. 4-2-3-1 is the chosen formation and they are a side who are not afraid to attack. They scored four times away at Guinea despite falling behind and although being drawn against England and Belgium isn’t ideal, they could be a danger at the World Cup 2018.
They have a number of players who ply their trade in Ligue 1 Naim Sliti and Bassem Srarfi.
Hector Cuper has made his side hard to beat and there was mass hysteria as his side qualified for their first World Cup since 1990. They made it through at the expense of Ghana, Congo and Uganda with four wins from six and just one defeat which came against the latter.
The Pharaohs don’t concede many, shipping just four during their qualification campaign and have the wing-wizardry of Mo Salah who helped secure their passage to Russia. Ahmed Hegazi is another recognisable name who has been playing his club football for West Brom.
They’ve been drawn into Group A alongside Russa, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay and will fancy their chances of qualifying for the latter stages of the competition.
Iran were amongst the first sides to have qualified for the World Cup 2018 as they eased through Group A of the Asian qualifying rounds. They ended up seven points ahead of 2nd place Korea Republic and remained unbeaten throughout. They won six of their ten games although ended with two successive stalemates once their qualification had been confirmed.
They kept 12 consecutive clean sheets as they strolled to qualification under Carlos Queiroz but netted just 10 times as they made themselves extremely tough to break down.
This is just their second World Cup and they could prove stubborn opposition but they must learn to take their opportunities when they arise.
Serbia were dealt a relatively straightforward qualifying group as they finished ahead of Wales, Austria and Ireland in Group D. They were defeated just once in ten matches and they secured their place at the World Cup 2018.
They finished with a goal difference of +10 as they ended two points ahead of Martin O’Neill’s side and were mightily impressive going forward. An 89th minute goal for Austria was a bit of a blow as Serbia tripped up on their travels but they got over the line and many consider them an outsider for the tournament.
Nemanja Matic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are the two standout players who could both have an impact on the tournament.
The Socceroos weren’t wholly convincing throughout their qualifying campaign but came through their play-off game against Honduras. Ange Postecoglu’s side kept a valuable clean sheet in the first leg before making their dominance pay at home. Postecoglu resigned soon after and his successor remains to be seen.
They almost came undone at the hands of surprise package Syria and Socceroo fans aren’t absolutely convinced that their side has what it takes to progress to the latter stages of the competition. Mile Jedinak is solid in the middle but the ageing Tim Cahill is on the wane and isn’t the force of old.
The 31st team to qualify will have a new boss in charge for this tournament but are drawn in a tough group with France and Denmark.
Morocco were the only African team to reach the World Cup 2018 without conceding a goal and many pundits suggesting they could be a surprise package at the tournament. They ended their campaign with 11 goals scored in their last four matches and are a hard working outfit who don’t give the opposition time on the ball.
Mehdi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech are the standout players who add creativity going forward and although they’ve been drawn alongside Spain and Portugal in Group B, they will be waiting for either of those sides to slip up.
Group B winners Nigeria needed Alex Iwobi’s last gasp strike to secure their place at the World Cup 2018 with the Super Eagles finishing an impressive six points above second place Zambia.
They averaged two goals per game and conceded just four times en-route to success and remained unbeaten throughout. They came back to beat Argentina in a recent friendly and will be facing the South American giants once again in June.
Victor Moses will add some creativity if he can stay fit whilst Moses Simon will be competing for a starting berth with the aforementioned Alex Iwobi.
Despite losing 1-0 in Saudi Arabia, Japan still secured their qualification for World Cup 2018 after finishing a point above their conquerors. They netted 17 times in 10 matches claiming 20 points in the process and were particularly strong at home.
Their lone striker tactic hasn’t been popular with all fans but it has worked effectively and meant that Shinji Okazaki hasn’t been included in the side. Halilihodzic has experience of taking sides to these tournaments and making them hard to beat and being drawn alongside the likes of Poland, Senegal and Colombia gives them every chance of progressing.
Panama’s qualification was one of the stories of the year so far as they celebrated effusively. They qualified for their first ever major tournament and declared a national holiday as a result.
Their 2-1 success against Costa Rica was enough to see them qualify at the expense of USA and they have been drawn alongside England, Belgium and Tunisia.
They went unbeaten at home during their qualifying campaign including keeping a clean sheet against leaders Mexico. Defender Roman Torres has been a rock and was at the heart of the team as they kept it tight and booked their place at Russia 2018.
Korea were far from clinical as their qualification campaign stuttered and they go into this tournament with relatively low expectations. They failed to score in their last two matches with goalless draws against Iran and Uzbekistan. They finished just two points above Syria and were defeated three times in the process.
They conceded more goals than the two teams who finished below them and fans have questioned the tactics of Shin Tae-Yong.
They have been dealt a tough draw with World Champions Germany, Mexico and Sweden.
The lowest ranked qualifiers Saudi Arabia ended their qualifying campaign with a narrow victory against Japan and it was enough to send them through to the World Cup 2018.
Saudi Arabia’s problems came on the road where they lost three of their last four qualifiers and they will be hoping they can keep it solid during the summer. They remained unbeaten on their own patch where they haven’t been beaten in qualifiers since 2011 but they could be exposed here.
They have had a number of different coaches over the past few years with the latest Juan Antonio Pizzi keen to take them to the next level.
As hosts, Russia were not required to go through the qualification system and were automatically placed in Pot A. They endured a torrid time at Euro 2016 but with a change of manager and a number of fresh faces in the squad, they will be expecting better this time around. They drew 3-3 with Spain in a friendly at the end of 2017 and have been drawn in a relatively straightforward group.
It’s set to be a terrific tournament with some very competitive looking groups. Each side can hold their head up high after making it to the competition and football fans are already counting down until World Cup 2018 gets underway on June 14th.