2014 World Cup Qualifying: 5 Biggest Storylines so Far
There have been some big storylines in World Cup qualifying as we inch closer to the tournament proper.
Interesting results on the field have led to some new names inching closer to qualification, leaving some big nations worried. Every confederation—minus the Asian Football Confederation and the Oceania Football Confederation—has given us plenty to talk about in that regard.
While some stories, like Neymar's move to Barcelona, certainly make things interesting leading up to the World Cup, we're focusing on what's been going on during qualification process.
Here are the five biggest storylines during the 2014 World Cup qualifying period so far.
Mexico's Qualifying Woes
Mexico has been in trouble during this last stage of World Cup Qualifying, and recent results make El Tri's situation a big story.
Losses to Honduras and the U.S. leave the confederation giants in fifth place, one spot outside where they need to be to at least get into a playoff with New Zealand. Mexico has only two games remaining, against Panama and Costa Rica, with wins an absolute necessity in each game.
What's made this situation so intriguing is Mexico's lack of dominance in the fortress that is the Estadio Azteca and its attacking ineptitude. El Tri has three 0-0 ties and one loss at home.
Attacking talents like Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Giovani Dos Santos have only produced four goals in eight games. That's one more than a Jamaican team that is bottom of the group.
Mexico has a talented group of youngsters, as evidenced by the nation's Olympic win last year, and it would be quite a shock if they failed to compete in Brazil next summer.
Undefeated Egypt Waltz to Final Stages of CAF Qualifying
World Cup qualifying in Africa has brought a few interesting storylines, but Egypt's run to the final stage of qualifying is one of the biggest.
Despite being dominant in Africa Cup of Nations during the late 2000s, Egypt has fallen off a little. The Pharaohs failed to qualify for the last two AFCON tournaments and haven't been since 1990.
Add in the fact that the African side had appointed former U.S. Men's National team coach Bob Bradley as a coach, and none could have really expected the response we've seen.
Bradley isn't a bad coach by any means, but in a country so drastically different from one he's coached, a tough period was expected. Despite the Pharaohs' pedigree, the recent domestic failures were also cause to be wary.
Instead, Egypt goes into the final stage as the only team to win all of its games, and they'll feel confident about playing in Brazil next summer.
Cape Verde and Ethiopia in Final Round of CAF Qualifying
Another big story from qualifying in Africa is the progression of Cape Verde and Ethiopia to the final round.
Both sides beat out more established teams—Tunisia for Cape Verde and South Africa for Ethiopia—to put themselves in a decent position at a first-ever World Cup appearance. Interestingly enough, both teams have had bright moments domestically in the not-too-distant past.
They both took part in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, though Cape Verde's performances stand out. They came second in a group that included themselves, South Africa, Morocco and Angola, making it to the quarter-finals as a result.
Given that neither side will rank high enough by FIFA to be seeded for the final stage, they will face tough games. Still, it's really interesting seeing these two nations so close to qualifying for the World Cup.
Uruguay's recent achievements and the quality in the side are major reasons why it's baffling to see them in fifth place in South American qualifying.
La Celeste could have been in a similar situation to Mexico but have had a recent run of good form be thankful for. Instead, with two games remaining compared to Venezuela's one, they look likely to at least finish in the playoff position.
The two games are against Ecuador and Argentina, but Oscar Tabarez's side should pull it out.
Tight Group H in Europe Means Big Boys England May Fail to Qualify
This group has gotten more interesting as World Cup qualifying has progressed, and anything could happen with two games remaining. England, Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine all have a chance to qualify outright or make it to the playoff stage.
At this stage, it's very possible that England could not make it to the World Cup at all. They do have two home games, against Montenegro and Poland, and that's a welcome advantage.
The first set of games in October—when England hosts Montenegro and Ukraine hosts Poland—will be the most important, especially with Ukraine and Montenegro likely to pick up points against Moldova and San Marino.
Poland has the toughest set of games, playing both Ukraine and England away, but anything can happen. This group will be one of the most important to watch come October.
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