Heading For Russia: The Teams That Have Already Qualified For The World Cup

Josh Challies
Josh Challies
Josh Challies
Contributor

In case you forgot, it’s a World Cup year – which means that next summer we have international football that we can actually care about. On top of that, it’s worth noting that if you get your spouse pregnant now your two weeks of paternity leave will take place during the tournament itself.

Of course, the downside of that is that you’ll have a crying child to worry about but the likelihood is you’ll have tears of your own to shed, as England’s early exit is almost inevitable. Some of us already have money on Dele Alli to be sent-off, for example.

Fortunately, there are 31 other teams other than England to watch at next summer’s World Cup and the slots in the tournament are being filled up fast. Over the next few months, the teams will be finalised ahead of the group stage draw in December.

So far, a number of teams have secured their spot for the tournament and that number will increase in the October international break, before all of the final spots are secured in November – which will kickstart the countdown to the greatest month of football on the planet.

Russia

The first nation to qualify for the World Cup did so without any competitive matches, as it’s customary for the hosts to feature and play the first game of the tournament. There’s been plenty of criticism ahead of Russia’s hosting next summer, namely due to racism and crowd issues, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before and it’s likely to subside in the tournament next year.

With Andrei Arshavin long gone, Russia is looking towards the next generation of stars; which include 21-year-old CSKA Moscow midfielder Aleksandr Golovin and 23-year-old defender Georgi Dzhikiya, both of whom featured in this summer’s Confederations Cup.

Brazil

After heartbreak in their own World Cup in 2014, Brazil has bounced back with a vengeance and have plenty to prove at Russia next year. Currently ranked No.1 in the world, Tite’s side sealed their spot in the World Cup in March and have lost just once in their qualifying campaign.

The hosts relied too much on Neymar three years ago, and their quest for glory was shattered when the now-world’s most expensive footballer saw his tournament ended prematurely by injury, but the squad now boasts increased depth and has winning experience following Olympic gold medal glory in Rio last year.

Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho, Marquinhos and Alex Sandro will be crucial in defence and midfield, as Brazil welcome a new guard to replace their ageing stars, whilst all eyes in attack will be upon Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Luan, with the South American’s now boasting the central stars they’ve lacked in recent years.

Iran

Set for their fifth appearance at the World Cup, Iran have qualified for next summer’s tournament after winning Group A. So far in their history, they’re yet to advance past the group stages of the World Cup and face a stern test to improve next summer.

Managed by former Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz, Iran are certainly a nation on the rise and have a decent mix of experience alongside young assets as their squad includes the likes of 22-year-old attacker Sardar Azmoun as well as 35-year-old 105 cap veteran Jalal Hosseini. However, the squad’s lack of experience in top leagues could be detrimental.

Japan

The second Asian nation to have secured their spot for next summer’s World Cup is Japan, a nation that has arguably underperformed given their previous talent as their best finish has been reaching the Round of 16 stage – which hasn’t been achieved since South Africa.

Veteran midfielders Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa will be crucial next summer but there’s plenty of young talent to look out for, including 22-year-old Takuma Asano, on loan at VFB Stuttgart from Arsenal, and exciting 21-year-old midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi – who scored his first international goal against Australia last week.

Mexico

The first nation to qualify from North America for next summer’s World Cup is a Mexico side who have a solid record since 1994, reaching every World Cup since and making it out of the group stage on every occasion- a record only Germany and Brazil can equal.

Mexico haven’t reached the quarter-finals since their own tournament in 1986 and will look towards a squad with a nice blend of experience and youth to do so. Veteran attackers Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela are the standout names but there’s plenty of excitement surrounding young Edson Alvarez, who has six international caps at the age of just 19, as well as 20-year-old Cesar Montes and PSV’s Hirving Lozano.

Belgium

The Red Devils are the first European nation to qualify for the World Cup next summer, excluding hosts Russia, and sealed their place in the tournament by winning a group that consists of Bosnia and Herezgovina and Greece.

With high expectations for last summer’s European Championships, Belgium will have been frustrated to lose to surprise package Wales in the quarter-finals. Their talented side will be eyeing much better form next summer, in what’s only their third World Cup since the turn of the millennia.

Having gone from dark-horses to a highly-rated side, Belgium will be expected to get a lot out of their illustrious squad that boasts the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne.

Saudi Arabia

Victory over Japan this week saw Saudi Arabia become the fourth nation to qualify from Asia, meaning that the only available spot left is via the play-off; where the likes of Syria and Australia will battle it out, before then clashing with a nation from CONACAF.

Set for their first World Cup participation since 2006, and their fifth tournament overall, the Arabian nation have already matched their expectations and anything else is now a bonus. Their best position at the World Cup was reaching the Round of 16 in 1994, something they’re unlikely to emulate next season.

With a squad that consists entirely of players playing within Saudi Arabia, it’s set to be a stern challenge for the nation next year. However, a strong performance may give younger players like 19-year-old Abdurahman Al-Dossari and 20-year-old Sami Al-Najei the chance to play in a top league.

Korea Republic

Qualification this week means Korea Republic, South Korea to many, are set for their ninth World Cup finals in succession; and they’ll hope to progress past the group stages, something they have only achieved twice- including finishing fourth in the 2002 tournament, where they joint-hosted the tournament with Japan.

There’s certainly a lot more to come from the Asian nation and the tournament in Russia gives them a chance to prove themselves. They boast a wealth of experienced players, including 38-year-old veteran striker Lee Dong-Gook, although they do lack talented youngsters in their recent call-ups.

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