2014 World Cup: Breaking Down the Qualification Standings and Predicting the 32
With the 2014 World Cup kicking off in nine months' time, the qualification picture is becoming clearer.
Ten nations have now punched their ticket to the world's biggest tournament, while many others are on the cusp of qualification. Further, 144 of the 204 countries that started the process have been eliminated from contention, leaving just 50 of them vying for 22 places in the tournament.
With so much action over the past week and so many nations fighting for their World Cup dreams, it is easy to get lost in this complicated procedure.
So where does every nation stand in this qualification process? And who should one expect to see come next June?
Here is a complete breakdown of the 2014 World Cup qualifying process.
Asian Qualification Process
Asia's qualification process started off with 43 teams competing for four-and-a-half places in Brazil, where the "half team" enters a playoff with a South American nation.
After four rounds of qualification, 37 nations were eliminated while the four automatic qualifiers were established: Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran. The remaining two teams, Uzbekistan and Jordan, entered into a fifth-round playoff to determine who would advance to the intercontinental playoff with South America.
After two 1-1 draws and a scoreless half-hour of extra time, the two Asian hopefuls entered a penalty shootout.
After an epic 10 rounds of kicks, Jordan finally prevailed 9-8, eliminating Uzbekistan and booking their place in the playoff with a South American nation yet to be decided.
Qualified: Japan, South Korea, Australia, Iran
African Qualification Process
The African qualification process started with 52 national teams competing for five places in the 2014 World Cup.
After two rounds of qualifying, 42 nations have been eliminated.
The remaining 10 nations, each having won its respective group, are to be drawn into pairs, where they will play a two-legged tie to determine the five qualifiers.
The 10 nations that are still alive are Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon and Senegal.
Meanwhile, notable nations that have already been eliminated are Tunisia, Morocco, 2012 Africa Cup of Nations champion Zambia, Mali, Libya and 2010 hosts South Africa.
African Third Round
It is, of course, difficult to predict which teams will come through Africa's qualifying process before the draw for the third round, which will take place Monday, September 16.
However, based on form and ability, the five favorites quickly emerge.
Cape Verde's place among the 10 African nations entering this round of qualifiers is debatable. After all, the Cape Verdeans only overcame Tunisia to win their group because FIFA overturned a Cape Verde loss to Equatorial Guinea due to a clerical error on the part of the Equatoguineans.
Ethiopia's place in this round should have been much more solid, but their own clerical errors allowed South Africa to push them right until the end. With such disorganization at the top, it's hard to trust the Ethiopians.
Cameroon may have the pedigree to do great things, but this team is not what it once was. Samuel Eto'o's second international retirement leaves a void that the team will have trouble filling and could cause problems in this round.
Senegal have been massive underachievers over the past few years, consistently falling as soon as the going got tough. Perhaps they will be able to turn it around this time, but there doesn't seem to be much reason to think so.
Finally, Burkina Faso's run to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations was magical and has carried them through their group in this World Cup qualifying campaign. However, the Burkinabes showed some weaknesses in this group stage, barely scraping through thanks to Congo's inability to hold a lead in their final match.
Of the other five—Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria—no such weaknesses are apparent.
Barring a draw that pits any of them against each other, these should be the five African representatives heading into Brazil.
Qualified: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria
Eliminated: Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Senegal, Burkina Faso
North American Qualification Process
North America's qualification process started off with 35 national teams competing for three-and-a-half places in Brazil.
After three rounds, 29 teams have been eliminated, leaving six nations fighting in a hexagonal group.
The USA and Costa Rica have already booked tickets for Brazil, while the other four nations are still fighting for one automatic berth and a playoff spot.
North American Hex
With two matches to play, the USA and Costa Rica have already established their spots at the top of the table.
While it is still possible for Honduras to fall out of the automatic qualifying place, the fact that they still have to face a struggling Jamaica and a Costa Rica side with nothing to play for should inspire confidence.
On the other side, Jamaica are yet to be mathematically eliminated, but their winless run makes one doubt their ability to turn things around in time.
In the fight for the playoff spot, Panama has a slight edge on Mexico at the moment, but a trip to the Azteca will favor Mexico and almost definitely prove decisive.
However, it wouldn't be very surprising to see the Mexicans fail to come through given their recent form.
Qualified: USA, Costa Rica, Honduras
Eliminated: Panama, Jamaica
South American Qualification Process
The South American qualification process started with nine nations competing for four-and-a-half places in Brazil. They were placed in one big group, where every team would play each of the others twice, home and away.
Thus far, Argentina has already qualified for the World Cup, while Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay have all been eliminated.
The rest of the teams are still fighting for the four automatic qualifying places and the one playoff spot.
South American Group
Argentina is the only team to have already mathematically qualified, while Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay have been mathematically eliminated from contention.
Colombia and Chile can't finish lower than the playoff spot, but it's hard to foresee any of the teams below them catching up.
Ecuador has proved to be a different team when playing away from home but still have a good chance of finishing in an automatic qualifying position.
Uruguay has been coming on lately, but their remaining matches (home to Argentina and away to Ecuador) make it difficult to catch any of the teams ahead of them.
Venezuela has an outside chance of catching Uruguay, but a lot must go right for them to catch the Uruguayans.
Qualified: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador
Eliminated: Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay
Oceania Qualification Process
Oceania's qualification process started off with 11 national teams fighting for just half a spot in Brazil.
After three rounds of qualifying, New Zealand emerged as the half team, eliminating all other 10 nations in the race for the intercontinental playoffs.
They now await the fourth-placed team from North America.
Playoff: New Zealand
European Qualification Process
Europe's qualification process began with 53 national teams fighting for 13 places in Brazil. They were sorted into nine groups of five and six teams.
After these groups, the nine winners gain automatic berths in next summer's World Cup, while the top eight runners-up will be paired together to determine the four remaining qualifiers.
Thus far, two of the nine group winners have been determined, while 22 of the other 51 have been eliminated from contention.
Europe Group A
With Belgium and Croatia separating themselves at the top of the group, the other four nations have already been eliminated.
While both of the top two have a chance to win the group, Croatia need lots to go right in order to automatically qualify. While they may expect to defeat Belgium at home, Belgium will also need to lose at home to Wales in order for Croatia to win.
Luckily, though, the nation that finishes in second is assured of a place in the playoffs.
Eliminated: Serbia, Scotland, Macedonia, Wales
Europe Group B
With their win over the Czech Republic Tuesday, Italy clinched the group and booked their place in next summer's World Cup.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group is in disarray, as only Malta has been eliminated.
Bulgaria has done quite well to get into second place in the group, but they currently sit as the last second-place team and hence the one that would miss out on the playoffs.
One win for Bulgaria would eliminate both Armenia and the Czech Republic, but Denmark's two remaining home matches give them the advantage over the Bulgarians.
Eliminated: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malta
Europe Group C
Germany is edging closer to qualifying for next summer's World Cup, but have not quite clinched a berth just yet.
Both Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands have been mathematically eliminated from the World Cup, but Ireland's hopes have also been all but dashed. After all, they now need to get a victory in Germany and also rely on the Faroe Islands defeating Austria.
That leaves just Sweden and Austria fighting for a potential playoff spot, with their match in Solna in October all but determining the victor.
Sweden has the home-field advantage, Austria's superior goal-differential and the remaining fixtures (Austria is at the Faroe Islands while Sweden plays Germany) mean that the Austrians probably need only a draw to vault the Swedes.
It's easy to see this talented Swedish team coming up big and getting the needed win, though.
Eliminated: Austria, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands
Europe Group D
Thanks to a qualifying campaign in which they have yet to lose a match, the Netherlands have already booked their place in next summer's World Cup.
A terrible campaign has dashed Andorra's hopes, while Estonia haven't capitalized off of a strong Euro 2012 qualifying campaign and are already eliminated. That leaves three teams in a tight race for second.
Because they've already played the Netherlands twice, Romania should be the clear favorites heading into these last two matches.
Eliminated: Hungary, Turkey, Estonia, Andorra
Europe Group E
Switzerland is just one win away from clinching a place in the World Cup, a situation that is a bit disappointing given the weak nature of the group.
While Slovenia is on a great run up the table, two tough matches leave them with plenty still to do.
Albania's fairytale run seems to be over, as their two losses in the past week have pushed them three spots down.
The match between Iceland and Norway could prove decisive. While Norway has the home-field advantage, a draw would suit Iceland perfectly. They would certainly be the shock playoff team in this campaign.
Eliminated: Slovenia, Norway, Albania, Cyprus
Europe Group F
While Northern Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan are mathematically eliminated, Israel would need a miracle to get past either of the two teams ahead of them.
Despite a terrible start to their campaign, Portugal have recovered nicely and are somehow challenging for the top spot in the group.
However, Russia will need to slip up against Azerbaijan or Luxembourg in order for the Portuguese to take the top spot.
That's hard to see.
Eliminated: Israel, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Europe Group G
This group has gotten quite interesting over the past week.
After their fantastic run in 2010, Slovakia's hopes of even reaching Brazil have been dashed. Further, Latvia, Liechtenstein and Lithuania have also been eliminated from contention. That leaves just Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece fighting over one automatic bid and one playoff spot.
However, while Bosnia-Herzegovina looked like they were well on their way to winning the group and going to Brazil just a week ago, their loss to Slovakia has weakened their position and given Greece hope.
One would not bet against the Bosnians defeating Liechtenstein and Lithuania in their last two matches en route to qualifying for Brazil, but there's now a chance the Greeks can again find a way to overcome the odds.
Eliminated: Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein
Europe Group H
On Tuesday, England continued their perfect record of drawing top competition in this World Cup campaign, as their tilt with Ukraine finished 0-0. The result may be seen as a decent point, but it leaves the standings quite tight at the top heading into the final two matches.
As a result, England need a pair of wins at home to Montenegro and Poland to end their campaign in order to assure their place in Brazil.
Down the table, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland will all like their chances of finishing in the top two.
Ukraine's schedule seems to give them the most hope, as they still have a match with San Marino left.
Still, England hold all the cards as they head back to Wembley.
Eliminated: Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, San Marino
Europe Group I
Spain and France have separated themselves at the top of this group enough so as to mathematically eliminate every other team. Despite the fact that the two nations are even on points, Spain have the distinct advantage with the match in hand.
France will need to win big and have Spain slip up in one or both of their final two matches. It's hard to see that happening with this Spanish squad, though.
Eliminated: Finland, Georgia, Belarus
As a reminder, the nine second-place teams predicted are Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, Romania, Iceland, Portugal, Greece, Ukraine and France.
It is clearly difficult to predict how this playoff system will play out without knowing which of these nine would be the odd one out, how the teams will be seeded for the draw or what ties the draw will give.
As a result, these predictions will merely be based on the form and ability of the teams.
Iceland has had a great campaign, but the other teams in this group would probably be a bridge too far for them. Unfortunately, it's hard to see them getting through any of these teams and to Brazil.
Greece have been a consistent force over the past few years, but they have had trouble against the top competition. This playoff system would probably be a tough ask for the Greeks.
Romania have had some good results and bad results these last few years, but their inconsistencies could rear their ugly head again before this tough playoff tie.
Portugal have consistently proved their abilities in this playoff system. With the talent this side possesses, it would be unwise to bet against them getting through again.
Croatia have been coming up short, but this side is just getting more and more talented. It would be a massive disappointment if they didn't get through to the World Cup this time around, but that is unlikely barring a very tough draw.
France were unlucky enough to draw a group with Spain, but they have done quite well to just hang in there. This side should be too good not to find a way to Brazil.
That leaves just Denmark, Sweden and Ukraine vying for one spot.
While all three have been impressive over the past few years, Sweden seem to have the most potential and talent.
Qualify: Portugal, France, Croatia, Sweden
Eliminated: Denmark, Ukraine, Romania, Greece, Iceland
In the intercontinental playoffs, Jordan currently await the fifth-placed South American nation, while New Zealand await the fourth-placed North American nation.
Based on the predictions, this pits Jordan against Uruguay and New Zealand with Mexico. In the first of these ties, Uruguay seem to be peaking at the right moment and will probably be too much for the Jordanians.
Meanwhile, the second playoff promises to be much more interesting.
While it's hard to bet against Mexico in the tie, the Mexicans' current form would suggest that New Zealand have a good chance of qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup.
Still, it's a tough ask from a New Zealand side that lost to New Caledonia in their continental tournament.
Qualify: Uruguay, Mexico
Eliminated: Jordan, New Zealand
As a recap, here are the 32 nations that look to be headed to Brazil next summer (bold means the team has already qualified):