2014 World Cup: Analyzing the Qualification Standings and Predicting the 32
Have we all caught our breath from Tuesday's international action?
These FIFA days can be quite exhausting, what with 40 big qualifiers all taking place on the same day.
Further, the sheer volume of matches in one day makes it tough for one to follow every kick of every match, which makes it easy to lose track of the standings in this complicated procedure.
So where do we stand right now? And what 32 teams should we expect to be playing in Brazil come 2014?
Here is a breakdown of the whole situation.
Asia: The Process and Where We Are in It
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In World Cup qualifying, each continent gets a different number of entrants based on its number of nations and level of competitiveness.
Why does this make sense? Well, who wants to see the same number of entrants from Oceania as from Europe?
For Asia, its 43 teams are pared down to 4.5. Of course, Asia doesn't really get a half of a team; that's just to represent the team that finishes fifth, which then enters into a playoff with a team from another continent. In Asia's case, that is the fifth-place team from South America.
So far, the qualification process has gone through three rounds, in which 33 teams were eliminated. Of those eliminated, the biggest surprise was North Korea, which made it all the way to South Africa in 2010.
Now, the 10 remaining teams have been split into two groups of five. In those groups, each team will play one another twice (home and away), leaving each team with eight matches played.
Based on normal group tallying rules, the top two nations in each group are automatically through to Brazil, while the bottom two are eliminated from qualifying.
The two third-place teams then enter into a playoff with each other to see who will play the fifth-place South American team.
Asia Group A
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South Korea's draw with Uzbekistan on Tuesday in Tashkent was the Red Devils' first slip-up of its qualifying campaign and a big point for the Uzbeks.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's victory over Iran throws this group into a bit of disarray.
With all teams now within five points of each other and three teams tied for an automatic bid, a playoff bid and an elimination spot, this should be a fantastic run-in.
I can't see South Korea faltering badly enough to not end up at least in one of the top two spots.
Iran does have two matches with South Korea remaining, but it has also only played one match at home to this point. I expect it will hold on to qualify.
Lebanon showed a lot of heart in its victory over Iran, but I doubt it will carry enough of this momentum to make up for its extra match played.
Qatar has a lot to prove ahead of its 2022 World Cup, and I expect it to hold off Uzbekistan for the playoff position.
Automatic bids: South Korea, Iran
Playoff bid: Qatar
Eliminated: Uzbekistan, Lebanon
Asia Group B
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Japan's victory over Iraq just furthered its dominance of the group, putting it one step closer to Brazil.
Australia's loss to Jordan in Amman really shifted the balance of the group. This was expected to be a two-horse race, with Japan and Australia running away from the other three and leaving them to fight for the playoff spot. Now, that second automatic bid is very much in play.
It says a lot about Japan's ability that it is already very close to qualification just halfway through the group. Don't expect Japan to finish anywhere but at the top of this group.
I still think Australia will come through the group in second. The key match will be with Jordan back in Melbourne, which should be a Socceroos win.
If Jordan can stop itself from losing to either Iraq or Oman, its two-point cushion at the moment could hold up. With Iraq being forced to play its home games on neutral territory, I think it could pull this off.
Qualified: Japan, Australia
Eliminated: Iraq, Oman
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Both Jordan and Qatar are formidable home sides that could win this tie.
However, I'm going to lean toward the Qataris here.
Qatar has had a few very impressive results in the past few years and has a defense that could shut down the Jordan attack.
Advance to intercontinental playoff: Qatar
Africa: The Process and Where We Are in It
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Africa's 52 nations will be cut to five teams that will qualify for Brazil.
One round of qualifiers has already taken place, with 12 of the 52 teams being eliminated.
The remaining 40 teams were placed into 10 groups of four, where every team plays the others in its group twice each (home and away). So far, every team has gone through two of the six matches in this phase.
When all matches have been played, the winner of each group will move on to the third round. There, the teams will be paired off. That pairing will play each other in a two-legged tie, with each winner qualifying for Brazil and the losers being eliminated.
Africa Group A
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This group has been a big surprise thus far, with the two underdogs leading the way.
South Africa has yet to lose, but it will need wins from here on out to have a chance of making it back to the World Cup just four years after hosting.
Ethiopia has been very impressive, destroying Somalia to qualify and now leading its group.
I can see this group going in any direction at this point, but I'm going to stick with South Africa for now.
Bafana Bafana has quite a bit of talent on its team and should manage a few wins to see it on to the next round.
Africa Group B
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The story of this group is Tunisia getting the job done in a relatively weak group and Sierra Leone playing surprisingly well.
Coming in, Sierra Leone was not viewed as one of the biggest threats to Tunisia. Now, the group looks to be decided by the pair of matches between the two.
Tunisia should easily come through this group without dropping too many points.
Africa Group C
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With Ivory Coast and Morocco in this group, it's a very interesting one. It seems a shame that one of those teams won't have a chance in the playoffs, but that's the way the draw fell.
The two biggest contenders in the group drew 2-2 in their first match, with Ivory Coast twice relinquishing the lead.
Meanwhile, Morocco's 1-1 draw with Gambia in its opening match was a poor result, to say the least.
Morocco could still pull this off, but I'm going for Ivory Coast here.
Yes, it would have been better if the Ivorians had held onto their leads against Morocco, but a draw in Morocco is a great result.
I expect Ivory Coast to at least get a result in Abidjan and hold onto its lead in the group.
Africa Group D
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Here we have a group with the most former African champions and the most successful African team over the past four years...and a different team leads? Talk about must-see.
As of now, most advantages have gone to the home sides. Sudan beat Zambia 2-0 at home. Zambia beat Ghana 1-0 at home. Ghana beat Lesotho 7-0 at home. Lesotho got a draw with Sudan 0-0 at home.
So what have we learned?
This group is wide open.
I'm going for Ghana here.
Sudan had a nice victory at home, but drawing Lesotho proves its poor form away from home.
Zambia has a great chance to win the group as well, but I'll go for Ghana's superior talent.
Africa Group E
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This one is already shaping up into a two-horse race.
Burkina Faso's 1-0 loss to Gabon put it at a bit of a disadvantage, but its 0-0 draw at home to Congo really hurts.
Niger was never a big threat, but its 1-0 loss to Congo and 0-0 draw at home to Gabon are poor results.
Expect Gabon and Congo's matches to be deciding factors.
I'd go for Gabon here.
Expect it to pull away from Congo in their head-to-head matches.
Africa Group F
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Thus far, Nigeria holds a slim lead in the group, with Namibia coming in at second and Malawi at third.
Nigeria got a win at home over Namibia but conceded a stoppage-time equalizer against Malawi in Blantyre.
Namibia and Malawi haven't yet played, so we shouldn't count either out just yet.
Nigeria should run away with this group.
Kenya looks to be the weakest in the section, and Nigeria plays them twice.
Malawi is probably the biggest competition of the other three, and Nigeria's remaining match with Malawi is at home.
The Super Eagles will be heading to the playoff.
Africa Group G
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Egypt not only has the lead in this group, it already owns an away win against the second team in the group.
Guinea and Zimbabwe seemed like they could have been threats to the Egyptians, but Guinea has a big hole with its home loss, and Zimbabwe looked sadly lacking in a 0-0 draw with Mozambique.
Egypt walks away with this one easily. The only question is if it will drop a point.
Africa Group H
Talk about a strange group.
Benin won at home to Mali. Mali won at home to Algeria. Algeria won at home to Rwanda. Rwanda drew at home to Benin.
Home-field advantage is pretty clear.
Yes, it lost in Benin, but I'm still going for Mali here.
They are a deceptively talented side that has been overlooked a bit, even though it finished third in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.
Algeria is a threat, and Benin has the edge right now. But I'll go with Mali.
Africa Group I
The group is still close, but it mostly speaks to the decline of Cameroon and Togo over the past few years.
For Cameroon, the loss of key players like Samuel Eto'o and Benoit Assou-Ekotto has led the team to a loss at Libya.
For Togo, it looks even worse, as it drew with Libya and lost to Congo DR.
I'm going for Libya here. Cameroon and Togo are in decline, and I think Congo DR is worse than its position in the table suggests.
Two wins against Congo DR and a result in Cameroon should see Libya into the next round.
With the state of that country right now, Libya will be a nice story in this competition.
Africa Group J
Lots of draws in this group so far.
In fact, the only non-draw was a 3-1 victory for Senegal over Liberia.
I still think Angola has an outside chance in this group, but I would be very surprised if Senegal does not win out.
The strike force in Senegal might be the best in Africa and should propel its side to the next round.
Africa Final Round
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This is a tough one to predict given that I do not know what teams will be paired and how the seeding will look when they draw the matchups.
Hence, I will just pick the five teams I believe to be the best of the group winners.
I am not sold on South Africa nor Tunisia just yet. I am not even sure that those two will actually win their groups, so I will not back them for the World Cup.
On the other hand, I feel very good about Egypt and Senegal making it through their groups and winning their playoffs.
Mali and Libya are two more that I would back to fall at the last hurdle.
While they are both fading a bit, Ivory Coast and Ghana should have enough to make it to Brazil.
Of the final two, Nigeria and Gabon, I have to go with the Super Eagles.
Qualified: Egypt, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria
Eliminated: South Africa, Tunisia, Mali, Libya, Gabon
North America: The Process and Where We Are in It
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The North American qualification takes the 35 teams from the region and knocks them down to 3.5 teams to go to Brazil.
After two rounds, we are already down to 12 teams, which have been split into three groups of four.
In each of those groups, each team plays the others twice (home and away) to determine the two teams to move on and the two to go home. Of the six matches each team will play, each has played four thus far.
From there, the six teams to qualify are put into one group in which all play each of the others twice.
After all 30 matches are played, the top three teams qualify for Brazil, while the fourth plays the best team in Oceania in a playoff.
North America Group A
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Well, this is an unexpectedly tight group, isn't it?
Jamaica's victory over the USA in Kingston has thrown the group into disarray, with it being very unclear as to which two teams will go through.
The only thing we can be fairly certain of is that Antigua and Barbuda are not advancing.
With one match at home to Guatemala and another against the weak Antigua and Barbuda, I'm going for the USA to end up topping the group.
Which one of either Jamaica or Guatemala goes through will largely be decided by their match in Guatemala City next month. If Guatemala wins, it has most likely clinched it. If Jamaica gets any result, it is likely to go through given that they have Antigua and Barbuda last, while Guatemala has the USA.
I'll go for Jamaica to get a point in Guatemala and a win over Antigua to get to the hexagonal.
North America Group B
Mexico has made my job pretty easy here, winning every match so far to clinch the top spot in the group.
Guyana haven't looked very good and will need to beat Mexico to have any chance of getting through the group. That's probably not going to happen.
That leaves El Salvador and Costa Rica fighting for one spot. They play each other next, but El Salvador finishes with Mexico, while Costa Rica finishes with Guyana.
This one will really come down to the next match, which pits El Salvador against Costa Rica.
In the first match of the group, El Salvador came from behind twice to draw Costa Rica in San Jose. I'm going for El Salvedor to pull the shocking win in their home country and book a trip to the hexagonal.
North America Group C
Panama have looked like the class of the group, only dropping points once in a 1-0 defeat in Toronto.
Cuba have already been eliminated from the running, leaving Honduras and Canada to duke it out for the second spot.
The next matches have Canada taking on Cuba and Honduras battling Panama, with the final marquee match being Honduras vs. Canada.
Even if Panama slip up at home to Honduras (which I don't expect to happen), a win in their final match against Cuba will get them through the group. I can't see Panama not qualifying.
For the other two, Canada definitely has the easier run-in. However, I'm going to back Honduras to defeat Canada in San Pedro Sula and move on to the hexagonal.
North America Hexagonal
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As a quick refresher, I have the final six teams in North America as USA, Jamaica, Mexico, El Salvador, Panama and Honduras. In my estimation, this would be the best lineup of six qualifiers North America has produced in quite some time.
The biggest rivalry in North American football will be the talking point of this group, as the USA and Mexico play twice. However, I can't see anything other than these two nations finishing first and second (probably Mexico first) at the end of the group.
Meanwhile, Panama has been very impressive of late and could cause one or both of the top teams some trouble in their home match. As a result, I see them grasping third place fairly easily.
That leaves Jamaica, El Salvador and Honduras fighting for the playoff spot. Jamaica has shown quite a bit of belief and ability over the past few years, so I'm going with the Reggae Boyz.
Automatic Qualifiers: Mexico, USA, Panama
Eliminated: Honduras, El Salvador
South America: The Process and Where We Are in It
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South America has the simplest qualification process of all of the regions.
The nine nations have been put into one big group, where every team will play each of the others twice (home and away). Of the 16 matches, each team has now played at least seven, with only Venezuela playing eight.
After each team has played all of their matches, the top four will go straight to Brazil. The fifth team, on the other hand, will enter into a playoff with the fifth-place Asian team.
South America Group
Quite a few surprises so far in this group.
First, there's the fact that the World Cup quarterfinalists and Copa finalists, Paraguay, have been downright awful. Almost halfway through the qualifiers, they look in dire straits.
Next, there's Colombia. Radamel Falcao has that team flying, just a point behind Argentina in the pursuit the top spot.
Ecuador is also doing great, sitting in the qualifying spots.
Uruguay and Chile have struggled a bit, barely hanging onto fourth and fifth as Venezuela push them.
Argentina has just been getting better and better as the qualification process has gone on. With Argentina currently sitting in the top spot, I'll go with Argentina to cruise to Brazil.
Uruguay has struggled of late, but I expect the World Cup semifinalist and Copa America champion to work its way into the World Cup.
Colombia has been the surprise package of the qualifiers so far. I suspect Falcao may just lead this team to the promised land of their fifth World Cup.
Chile has hit a bit of a snag of late, losing to Colombia in Santiago on Tuesday after an early red card. Still, I think the Chileans will have enough to stumble their way back to the World Cup.
The last spot is a tough one. Ecuador has had such a great run thus far, but they have only had one point away from home with five such matches remaining. I doubt the impeccable home form can be sustained against the likes of Argentina, and a few more losses away should see Ecuador fall quickly through the rankings.
On the other hand, I have been very impressed by Venezuela so far and think it will be able to nick that playoff spot.
Automatic Qualifiers: Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile
Eliminated: Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia
Oceania: The Process and Where We Are in It
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Another fairly simple qualification process here.
The process will cut Oceania's 10 teams down to just one. That one will compete against the fourth-placed North American side in a playoff.
The process is already through two rounds, in which the number of teams has been cut to four.
Those four were put into one group, in which every team will play each of the others twice (home and away). Of the six matches, each team has already played two.
After the 12 matches in this group have been played, the team that is on top of the group will be the qualifier for the playoff.
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New Zealand already owns victories over both New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, with the win over New Caledonia coming away from home and the one against the Solomon Islands being a 6-1 drubbing.
Meanwhile, the OFC Nations Cup champion, Tahiti, is the bottom of the group.
New Zealand has to be the pick to win this group.
Not only is it already the top of the group, but it has gotten there in style.
Plus, after it suffered a shocking loss in the OFC Nations Cup during the summer, I can't imagine New Zealand letting up during the qualifiers.
Playoff: New Zealand
Eliminated: New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tahiti
Europe: The Process and Where We Are in It
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Europe's qualifying process takes the 53 participating nations and breaks them down into 13 qualifiers.
To do this, they take every nation and break them down into nine groups, eight of which have six and one of which has five teams. From there, every team plays each of the other teams twice (home and away). So far, we have gone through two rounds of matches.
At the end of this group phase, the teams in first in their group will advance directly to the World Cup, while those who are third or lower will be eliminated.
The runners-up will then be ranked based on their performances against the rest of the top five teams in their groups. From this ranking, the worst performer will be eliminated from qualifying.
Finally, the other eight runners-up will then be drawn into pairs, where they will play each other in a two-legged tie. The winner of each tie will go to Brazil, while each loser will be eliminated.
Europe Group A
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This group has the makings of becoming the most competitive in all of European qualifying.
Belgium is reaching a "golden generation," with most of their side being young and talented (Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, etc).
Croatia have long been a threat to make a run at a tournament, and it put in a strong showing at Euro 2012 despite falling out in the group stage. To boot, the Croats got a draw in Belgium on Tuesday.
Serbia have made it to the past two World Cups and even had a shocking victory over Germany in the group stage of 2012. The 6-1 drubbing of Wales shows Serbia's talent.
Scotland has a good side and could make a nice push in the group, but draws against both Serbia and Macedonia could hurt its hopes of being in the top two.
Even Wales has an interesting side, with the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to lead. Its two terrible defeats to start off the campaign have made it clear that Wales is not ready to challenge for the top spots, but don't be surprised if the Welsh play spoiler at some point in the group.
As excited as I am by Belgium, I'm going for Croatia here.
Luka Modric and Nikica Jelavic should be able to power the Croats to the top spot in the group.
Belgium will barely nick second ahead of Serbia.
Europe Group B
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Yes, Italy could only get a draw in Sofia, but it still sits atop the group.
Their two biggest challengers, the Czech Republic and Denmark, played to a scoreless draw against each other in Copenhagen.
Don't count out Bulgaria, though, as it has proved its ability to grind out results.
If you were looking for a potential major upset in one of these groups, this could be the place to look. I'm just not brave enough to pick it.
I'm going with Italy at the top, with Denmark close behind.
Europe Group C
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Germany has thumped its way to the top of the group already.
Meanwhile, Sweden had a fairly impressive 2-0 victory over Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Ireland had to come from a goal down in the final two minutes to beat the Kazakhs.
Germany is the clear winner of this group, but the runner-up spot could be interesting.
Don't take this the wrong way, Irish fans: I will be rooting for you. But if you think that the type of scraped-out win you got on Friday is an acceptable result at Kazakhstan, then I doubt the Irish will be able to get second here.
Sweden get runner-up, Trapattoni gets the sack.
Europe Group D
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Romania have sure looked impressive in their first two matches, getting six and conceding none. To be fair, though, it has only gone against the likes of Estonia and Andorra.
The Netherlands' six points are far more impressive, as its wins have come against Turkey and Hungary.
Meanwhile, Turkey looked quite dangerous in Amsterdam despite the 2-0 scoreline, then it thumped Estonia, 3-0.
It looks like the Dutch have woken up from their Euro nightmare and are back firing. I expect them to take this group handily.
Meanwhile, Turkey should vault over Romania once the latter has matches against the tougher sides in the group.
Europe Group E
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When the draws came out, this looked like it had the potential to be the most open and, frankly, the weakest group of the European bunch.
However, Switzerland has looked like a dark-horse candidate these past few months, having already jumped off to a lead.
For second, the crowd gets tighter.
Iceland is unusually strong with Gylfi Sigurdsson in the midfield.
Norway looked dangerous in Euro qualifying and could be a contender just on home form.
Slovenia was in the World Cup in 2010 (remember when it played England and the USA?) but have looked in decline since.
I'm going for Switzerland to take the group very easily, with Norway coming in at second.
Europe Group F
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From the outset, this group looked like a two-horse race, and it's already shaping up that way.
Portugal and Russia, two teams you might remember well from Euro 2012, are set to do battle for the automatic bid, with the other most likely getting to the playoff.
The battle will probably come down to head-to-head matches between the two, which will happen next month and in June.
I'm going for Portugal to take the group and Russia to take the second spot.
I see both winning every match against the bottom four teams, with Portugal nicking a draw in Russia and getting a big win in Portugal.
The subpar qualifying campaigns of the past for Portugal will finally be cast aside.
Europe Group G
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This should be a very interesting battle for the top two spots.
As much as the public seems to malign Greece, there is no doubting its greatness in qualification processes. The Greeks have only missed one of the past five major tournaments and have usually qualified with an impressive record.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has certainly looked like a team to reckon with so far, destroying Liechtenstein, 8-1. We don't know how bad Liechtenstein are just yet, but Bosnia could be in line to top its past two qualifying campaigns, which both ended in playoff losses.
Slovakia is looking to get back to the World Cup for the second time in a row. In 2010, Slovakia had a great run to the Round of 16, knocking out Italy in the group stage and losing to eventual runner-up, the Netherlands. However, a draw with Lithuania on Friday could hurt its chances of getting through the group.
I think Edin Dzeko and Bosnia and Herzegovina has just the right group to finally get through to a major tournament here.
Greece edges Slovakia for runner-up.
Europe Group H
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Another qualification process, another battle with Montenegro and Ukraine for England.
England's 1-1 draw with Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday will hurt, but it can take solace in the fact that a few key players were missing.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has already looked dangerous, Montenegro has already started another strong qualification campaign, and Poland is lurking.
This one should be interesting .
The draw with Ukraine wasn't enough to push me off of my initial pick of England to win the group.
However, it did show just how good Ukraine can be, which makes me think it will beat out Poland and Montenegro in a tough battle for second.
Europe Group I
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Remember that unwatchable quarterfinal at Euro 2012 where France looked downright awful against Spain?
Yeah, we're going to have to watch that two more times.
Belarus initially seemed like it would be the only threat to those two, but it has already lost twice, one of those losses being against Georgia.
This will clearly be a battle between Spain and France.
Spain should do the business against France in the head-to-head.
Hence, Spain win the group, France finish runner-up.
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As a quick recap, my nine runners-up in the groups were Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Turkey, Norway, Russia, Greece, Ukraine and France.
Just like in Africa's playoffs, this is a tough one to predict. I don't know who will be the one team to not make it to the playoffs, but based on its performance in the groups, I'll go with Norway to drop out.
Further, I don't know who will be paired with who. Hence, I will just pick the four teams that I think are the best and will make it to Brazil.
Belgium is improving with every match and should make it easily.
Russia will not make the same mistake as four years ago and will make it through the playoff easily.
France is a fine team that would probably have made it through their group had it not been paired with Spain. They'll destroy in their playoff and be a dark horse in Brazil.
My final pick would have to be Sweden. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotting in the goals and the rest of the team steadily improving, Sweden will be a handful.
Again, these are just my initial reactions, and they could be ruined by the draw.
Qualifiers: Belgium, Russia, France, Sweden
Eliminated: Denmark, Turkey, Norway, Greece, Ukraine
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My playoff teams in the confederations that have them were:
North America: Jamaica
South America: Venezuela
Oceania: New Zealand
The playoffs would thus pit Jamaica against New Zealand and Qatar against Venezuela.
I have not been too impressed with New Zealand, especially in its loss at the OFC Nations Cup. Conversely, I think Jamaica has a great belief and ability. Thus, Jamaica goes to the World Cup.
In the other, Venezuela will have gone through much more competition and be better readied for the task. Venezuela will destroy Qatar.
Qualifiers: Jamaica, Venezuela
Eliminated: New Zealand, Qatar
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To sum up, here are the 32 nations I have making it to Brazil:
Asia: Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran
Africa: Egypt, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria
North America: Mexico, USA, Panama, Jamaica
South America: Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela
Europe: Croatia, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Russia, France
Well, that's it for me.
Agree? Disagree? Have a thought? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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