World Cup 2014: 5 Biggest Nations Who Might Miss Out
The 2014 World Cup is now just 18 months away, with 31 places remaining to join host nation Brazil at world football's biggest and most prestigious competition.
In some continents' qualifying competitions, it is simply too early to cast judgement on the possible winners and losers. However, in Europe and South America we are reaching the halfway stage and starting to gain an idea of which countries are set to qualify.
While I must stress that this is still guesswork, to some extent, let's take a look at five well-respected footballing nations who face challenges to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
The South American qualifying section is a long, drawn-out affair with all the continent's sides playing out what is effectively a nine-team league campaign.
Now, with nine of 16 rounds already completed, we are starting to get an idea of how the competition is finally shaping up, with Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador currently flying high.
However, for Copa America champions Uruguay, the picture is not so bright.
La Celeste currently lie fifth, in a playoff position, level on points with both Chile and Venezuela. In their next four games, Uruguay face difficult away trips to both their major rivals for qualification, as well as a visit to Lima to face Peru.
First up for Uruguay is a fixture at home to Paraguay which is now a must-win encounter ahead of the three long journeys.
Fail to win the game in Montevideo, or lose to both their major rivals, and Uruguay could be cast adrift in the race for Brazil 2014 with games to spare.
Portugal are already facing a massive challenge to qualify for Brazil 2014, finding themselves lying in third place in their group with four of 10 fixtures already played.
Five points behind leaders Russia, it already looks a major challenge for the Iberians to qualify automatically. However, level with Israel on seven points, it will be far from straightforward to even ensure a playoff spot.
Portugal have recent history of qualifying for major tournaments through the playoff process, but they face six gruelling matches, including visits to some of Europe's more distant outposts, before they even reach that stage.
Should they reach that point, there are always risks attached with relying on a knockout tie to progress to the finals.
It seems very harsh to describe a side who are currently unbeaten in their qualification campaign as candidates to miss out on the World Cup.
Unfortunately for France, though, they are in the same group as reigning champions Spain, with only one side progressing automatically to the finals.
France may have drawn away to their major rivals. However, in spite of that result, recent years would suggest that the Spaniards remain favourite for progression.
Should that be the case, then France will have to deal with the potentially difficult process of the playoffs and whatever opposition that entails.
Didier Deschamps appears to have got a decent balance to his side and is moving in the right direction. Their second seed status, though, could come back to haunt them if they fail in the playoff stages.
To date, Paraguay have qualified for four consecutive World Cup tournaments. However, with the country languishing at the bottom of the pile in qualifying for 2014, they look unlikely to make a fifth.
After nine games Paraguay lie five points off qualification, while their upcoming trips to Uruguay and Ecuador are not promising in terms of gathering a fruitful points return.
Paraguay's qualification hopes currently look bleak at best.
Scoring goals has been the Albirroja's biggest downfall, with just six in nine matches a sure recipe for disaster.
To stand any chance, new coach Gerardo Pelusso must get them scoring and look to improve a record of no points from five away games.
Serbia were handed a tough task to qualify for Brazil 2014, with strong Croatia and Belgium sides also within their group. The two favourites have justified their status and currently lead the group by a six-point margin.
In four group stage games so far, the Serbian side have managed just one win—a 6-1 victory at home to Wales. However, that triumph was followed by disappointing defeats at home to Belgium and away to Macedonia.
In their remaining fixtures, Serbia must navigate difficult away fixtures against both favourites for the group, as well as a trip to Cardiff to face Wales.
Their chances of progression already look minimal, without qualifying even having reached its midway point.