As the qualifying stage to the 2018 World Cup in Russia is nearing the finish line, there are 10 sides already making plans for next summer, clinching their spot in the tournament. This obviously includes hosts Russia, joining Brazil, Germany, Mexico and England among others.
The hosts don’t have to compete in any qualifying tournaments, but have so far been unimpressive in their preparations for the World Cup. They put in a poor showing in the Confederations cup, beating New Zealand but losing to Portugal and Mexico, never impressing. It’ll be the 11th World Cup for Russia including the USSR’s achievements. They’ve yet to make it past the group stage since the dissolvement of the Soviet Union, failing in 1994, 2002 and 2014.
The five-time World champions were the first side to clinch a spot in Russia, securing a top-spot finish in the South American qualifiers, losing just once through the 17 matches. Brazil haven’t won since 2002 and some of its players are carrying the shame of losing 7-1 to Germany at home in 2014, but it’s hard not to look at them as favorites with such fine form and ability while they still had something to play for. It’ll be Brazil’s 21st World Cup, making it to every one since the tournament was first played in 1930.
Iran sailed through the Asian qualifiers, finishing undefeated in the final group stage through 10 matches. It’ll be the fifth World Cup for Iran and for the first time ever they’ll make consecutive appearances. Team Melli has yet to make it past the Group Stage, making its World Cup debut in 1978.
Two months after Iran clinched their spot, Japan secured the top spot in Group B of the Asian qualifiers, which will make it their 6th consecutive World Cup. The Japanese side has made it to the Round of 16 twice (2002, 2010), but they failed to win a single match on their trip to Brazil more than 3 years ago.
After making things complicated for themselves in 2014, Mexico have yet to lose a match in the final group Stage of the Concacaf qualifiers, conceding only 3 goals in 8 matches. It’ll be the 16th World Cup for El Tri, making each tournament since (and including 1994). They’ve lost in the Round of 16 in their last six appearances.
The Red Devils return to the World Cup after losing in the quarter finals four years ago. Belgium are still undefeated in Group H of the UEFA qualifiers, winning 7 of 8 matches and outscoring their opponents 35-3. With a talented, deep squad filled with players in their prime hailing mostly from the Premier League, the Belgian side is obviously aiming high, hoping to emulate their peak result of semi final in the 1986 World Cup.
Another side with a Red Devils monicker, South Korea will be in the World Cup for the 10th time. They’ve been in every one since 1986, but have made it out of the Group Stage only twice, including making it to the Semi Final in 2002, although there’s plenty of controversy attached to that achievement.
More with Asia, and the fourth side to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Saudi Arabia finished second in their group, enough to make it through for the 5th time, and a first since 2006. The Green Falcons made it into the Round of 16 in 1994 (their World Cup debut), but have since failed to win a single match, including a 3 and out campaign in 2002.
The defending World Champions are 9-for-9 in their qualifying group, which goes hand in hand with their Confederation Cup win. The German side has a +35 goal difference in the tournament. It’ll be Die Mannschaft 19th World Cup, including their appearances as West Germany, hoping to win the tournament for a 5th time.
Ever the underachievers, England are likely to finishing their qualifying campaign undefeated, winning 7 of their 9 matches so far. The 1966 world champions will play in their 15th World Cup (made every one since 1998), and will be hoping to put the disappointment of their 2014 and 2016 failures behind them, not making it out of the group stage in the World Cup and losing to Iceland in the Euro.