Each nation dreams of lifting the World Cup. Not one squad has come to Qatar just for the fun of it – they’re all in it to win it.
But the first stage of eliminations is nearly upon us as the group stage of the tournament draws to a close. Half of the 32 teams that started in Qatar will be packing their bags and heading home.
So, who needs what to survive into the Round of 16?
Host nation Qatar, finding themselves fourth of four in their group, had the ignominious honour of being the first team knocked out of this year’s tournament. But at least they haven’t got far to get home.
Ecuador and the Netherlands are tied at the top of the group table heading into the final round of group games, with four points each. Senegal are just one point behind.
- The Netherlands need a win or a draw against Qatar in order to qualify for the last 16.
- Ecuador need to beat Senegal to guarantee qualification.
- Senegal need to beat Ecuador to guarantee qualification.
- If Ecuador v Senegal is a draw, Ecuador will qualify – unless Qatar beat the Netherlands, in which case Senegal will go through.
This was always likely to be the most competitive group – as well as the most politically charged. The remaining matches see old rivals and geopolitical enemies facing off, and any of the four teams can still qualify, even if Wales – in their first World Cup since 1958 – only stand a mathematical chance.
England top the table with four points from two games. Iran are second with three, after two injury-time goals against Wales on Friday. The USA are third in the group table with two points from two draws, while Wales have the toughest battle for qualification with just one point.
- England will go through to the Round of 16 unless Wales beat them by four goals or more.
- The United States need to beat Iran to progress to the knock-out stages.
- Iran need to beat the USA to guarantee qualification. But a draw with the USA would be enough for Iran to progress – if Wales can’t beat England.
- Wales need a minor miracle. They’ll have to beat England, and have Iran vs USA end with a draw. They could also progress without a draw in that match, as long as they can get a four-goal margin of victory over England. Don’t hold your breath.
Another open group in which all four teams could still qualify at this stage. Mexico have just the one point at the bottom of the group table, while Saudi Arabia and their shock victims Argentina have three points each. Poland, with four points, lead the group – but they aren’t safe yet.
- Poland only need a draw against Argentina to guarantee qualifying, though they’d undoubtedly prefer a win.
- Argentina need to beat Poland to guarantee their place in the Round of 16. A draw here and Argentina are vulnerable to being picked off on goal difference.
- If Saudi Arabia beat Mexico, they’re through to the next round. A draw with Mexico combined with a loss for Poland against Argentina would also see them qualify. If Poland beat Argentina with a huge goal difference, the Saudis may still claim the second qualifying spot.
- Mexico need to win against the Saudis, and have Poland beat Argentina.
World Champions France, with six points from two games, were the first team in Qatar to book their place in the Round of 16. Which makes the rest of the group permutations a little less confusing.
Australia have three points, while Denmark and Tunisia have one each.
- Australia play Denmark – the winner will go through with France
- Tunisia need to beat France by at least two goals, and hope Australia and Denmark draw
Everyone expected Spain and Germany to sail through Group E. And everyone was half-right, at least, with Spain cruising comfortably at the top with four points from two games. Germany, however, languish at the bottom of the group, as coach Hansi Flick’s mission to recover Germany’s pre-2018 football glory appears a longer-term project than first hoped for.
Japan and Costa Rica have three points each after their meeting on Sunday, meaning any of the four teams could still qualify.
- Spain just need a draw against Japan to qualify for the knock-out rounds.
- If Japan win against Spain, they’re through with six points. If they draw, they need Costa Rica and Germany to also draw. If Japan draw, and Germany win, there’s still a chance Japan could go through on goal difference.
- Costa Rica need to beat Germany in their final group match to progress to the Round of 16.
- Germany need to beat Costa Rica, and have Spain beat Japan, in order to guarantee the second qualifying spot. But if Spain and Japan draw, Germany will need to beat Costa Rica by at least two goals. They could possibly still go through with a one-goal margin of victory over Costa Rica if they score more than Japan in their hypothetical draw with Spain – eg a 1-1 draw between Spain and Japan, and a 2-1 win for Germany over Costa Rica will see the Germans progress.
Canada were the second team to be booking their flights home. That means Croatia, Morocco and Belgium can still qualify. The Belgians, ranked second in the world, were expected to top this group, but their 2-0 mauling by Morocco on Sunday changed everything.
- Croatia and Morocco are sitting pretty with four points each; Belgium have three.
- Croatia only need a draw against Belgium on Thursday to guarantee progress to the final 16
- Belgium need to win that match to progress.
- Morocco just need a draw against Canada to qualify from the group.
All four teams can still qualify from Group G, with two games still to play at this end of the World Cup schedule. Brazil and Switzerland have one win each, while Cameroon and Serbia remain without making a mark on the group table.
Cameroon take on Serbia on Monday afternoon, before Switzerland take on Brazil. Whoever wins the second game will qualify comfortably from the group with six points. A draw and things get interesting.
Group H have also only played one game so far, with all to play for. Portugal are sitting pretty at the top of the table with three points; South Korea and Uruguay have a point apiece. Ghana has yet to register a point. Anyone could still qualify or get eliminated at the first hurdle.
A win for Portugal over Uruguay on Monday, which is far from guaranteed, would put Cristiano Ronaldo’s men through to the Round of 16. South Korea face Ghana in Monday’s earlier game. Watch this space.
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