DSD Guide to the FIFA World Cup - Part I
The draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place at the State Kremlin Palace concert hall in Moscow on Friday, December 1, 2017. It will begin at 6PM in Russia (10AM on the East Coast). If you’re watching from your desk like me, Nick Barron, you can tune into the live stream on FIFA’s official website.
In this all new FIFA World Cup DSD mini-series we profiles the nations, the players, and the coaches that will compete next summer for the greatest trophy in the world. We offer insight, analysis, and historic context for you, the most passionate soccer fans. The first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be played on June 14, 2018.
There will be four “Pots” on the stage on December 1. Each pot holds the names of eight nations. The Pots are organized by FIFA rankings (released in October), with the highest ranked teams in Pot 1 (plus host nation, Russia). Pot 2 holds the next eight best teams, Pot 3 the next eight, and Pot 4 the final eight. Teams will be drawn from the four Pots into eight groups (Group A – Group H). Each lettered group will contain one team from each of the four Pots. The Telegraph (telegraph.co.uk) has provided a very fun World Cup Draw Simulator.
Of the six worldwide confederations, UEFA have the most sides at the competition with 14 (Russia, France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Switzerland, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark). South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Peru), Africa (Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal, Egypt) and Asia (Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia) have five each. CONCACAF have three (Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama). Oceania have none after New Zealand lost to Peru in a playoff.
- Russia – FIFA ranking: 65 (Automatically qualified and enters pot 1 as host nation)
Russia began competing as Russia, rather than the Soviet Union, at World Cup ’94 in the United States. The Soviet Union reached the semi-finals at England ’66, losing to West Germany 2-1. Russia qualified in ’94, ’02, and ’14, failing to make it out of the group stages on each occasion. South Africa is the only host nation to be eliminated in the group stages (2010).
- Germany – FIFA ranking: 1
The reigning champions have played 106 World Cup matches (more than any other nation), scored 224 World Cup goals (more than any other nation (3 more than Brazil thanks to the 7-1 thrashing in 2014), and have won 4 World Cup titles (tied for second).
- Brazil – FIFA ranking: 2
Brazil is the only nation to participate in all 20 World Cups. They have won 5 World Cup titles. Will Russia be too cold for them? Or will their free-flowing football inspire Russian fans to ditch their ushanka hats, learn the samba, and stop fighting once and for all?
- Portugal – FIFA ranking: 3
Portugal failed to qualify for the first seven World Cup tournaments. In their first appearance at the World Stage, the late great Eusebio led them to a third place finish. The Portuguese won their first major title at Euro 2016.
- Argentina – FIFA ranking: 4
World Cup champions in 1978 and 1986, Argentina (a.k.a. Lionel Messi) has some work to do to reassure the world that they are, in fact, a global football superpower. Argentina came within one game of missing out on Russia ’18. Messi provided a comeback hat-trick against Ecuador in their final qualification match – after going down 0-1 in the first minute – to book their ticket to Russia.
Belgium – Current FIFA ranking: 5
In their most successful campaign (Mexico ’86) Belgium lost to Argentina 2-0 in the semi-final after beating Spain 5-4 in penalties in the quarterfinal. With a star-studded cast the Belgians hope to make a deep run, but recent history is against them.
- Poland – FIFA ranking: 7
Poland qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2006. The last time they advanced out of their group was in 1982, when they finished third, beating Brazil in the third place match. Now ranked in the top ten, they plan to bring glory back to Poland.
- France – FIFA ranking: 9
France has been the most erratic nation in recent World Cup history. After failing to qualify for Italy ‘90 and USA ’94, Didier Deschamps (current head coach) and Zinedine Zidane led France to their first World Cup title in ’98 on home soil. After an embarrassing dismantling in 2010, young talent emerged in 2014, and now France look to be a favorite in 2018.
- Spain – FIFA ranking: 6
After winning the World Cup for the first time at South Africa ’10, Spain couldn’t make it out of their group in 2014, losing their opening two matches to the Netherlands and Chile. Messi recently called them a team to avoid at Russia ‘18.
- Switzerland – FIFA ranking: 8
As the eighth best team in the world, the Swiss have reason to believe that they could make the best World Cup run in the nation’s history. Switzerland made it to the quarter-finals in 1934, ’38, and ’54. In 2014, Switzerland advanced to the round of 16, where they lost to Argentina on an Ángel Di María goal in the 118th minute.
- Peru – FIFA ranking: 11
Peru will participate at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years (Spain 1982). In their 15 World Cup matches, Peru has tallied 4 wins, 3 draws, and 8 losses.
- England – FIFA ranking: 15
England failed to make it out of their group in 2014 (the first time since 1958). The three Lions have claimed just one World Cup title (1966). Geoff Hurst notched the only hat-trick to be scored in a men’s World Cup final, beating the West Germans 4-2 (Carli Lloyd completed a hat-trick in the 2015 women’s World Cup final against Japan).
- Colombia – FIFA ranking: 13
At Brazil ‘14, Colombia made their most successful run at the World Cup, losing in the quarter-finals to the host nation by a score of 2-1. James Rodriguez, with six goals to his name, brought the golden boot back to Colombia in 2014, adding his name to an elite list that includes Eusébio, Gerd Müller, Ronaldo (the original), and other all-time greats.
- Mexico – FIFA ranking: 16
Mexico played in the first match of the first World Cup on July, 13, 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay, losing 4-1 to France. Mexico will make their sixteenth appearance at the World Cup next summer. Their experience at the world stage makes them a formidable team.
- Uruguay – FIFA ranking: 21
Two World Cup titles, 5 semi-final appearances, and a total of 51 games played (20-12-19). Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup in 1930, then won again in Brazil in 1950. At South Africa 2010, Uruguay made their fifth appearance in the semi-finals, losing to the Netherlands 3-2.
- Croatia – FIFA ranking: 17
Since gaining independence in 1991, Croatia has qualified for four World Cups in six qualifying campaigns. In their World Cup debut at France ’98, Croatia shocked the world by beating the Germans in the quarterfinals 3-0, then narrowly falling to France in the semi-finals 2-1. They beat the Netherlands 2-1 in the third-place match.
- Denmark – FIFA ranking: 12
Denmark failed to qualify for Brazil ’14 and failed to make it out of their group in South Africa in 2010. In 1998 in France, the Danes made it to the quarter-final before dropping to Brazil 3-2.
- Iceland – FIFA ranking: 22
Iceland will participate in the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever next summer. With a population just under 350,000, Iceland is the smallest nation (by population) to qualify for a World Cup (an honor formerly held by Trinidad & Tobago; population 1.3 million).
- Costa Rica – FIFA ranking: 26
Costa Rica has some recent World Cup success to build on. Los Ticos were a fan favorite in Brazil, topping a group of death that included Uruguay (win 3-1), Italy (win 1-0), and England (tie 0-0). After beating Greece in penalties to advance to the quarter-final, Costa Rica battled the Dutch to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes, ultimately losing 5-3 in penalties.
- Sweden – FIFA ranking: 18
After missing out on South Africa ’10 and Brazil ’14, Sweden will return to the world stage next summer to participate in their twelfth World Cup. The Swedes have made an impressive four semi-final appearances. In 1958 Sweden hosted the World Cup and made it all the way to the final where they lost to Brazil and a 17-year-old Pelé.
- Tunisia – FIFA Ranking: 27
Tunisia will aim to make it out of the group stage for the first time in four WC attempts (’78, ’98, ’02, and ’06). Their qualifying campaign has convinced many that this might be the year.
- Egypt – FIFA ranking: 31
After a successful qualification run leading up to Brazil ’14, Egypt very narrowly lost their spot to Ghana. This year Mohamed Salah sealed their spot with a penalty kick, and the nation erupted in celebration as Egypt qualified for the first time since 1990. The Pharaohs have qualified for just two World Cups (’34 and ’90). They have won more AFCON titles than any other nation (7).
- Senegal – FIFA ranking: 23
In their only World Cup appearance, Senegal advanced all the way to the quarter-finals before falling to Turkey 1-0 in overtime. In 2016, Liverpool completed a transfer for Sadio Mané worth £34 million ($45.5 million), making him the most expensive African player in history. He will be priceless for Senegal next summer.
- Iran – FIFA Ranking: 32
Iran’s only win in their four previous WC appearances came against the United States, winning 2-1 at France ’98. Their WC record is 1-3-8.
- Serbia – FIFA ranking: 37
Serbia first competed as an independent nation in 2006. The White Eagles qualified for South Africa ’10. They didn’t make it out of their group, but they did beat Germany. They failed to book a trip to Brazil in 2014.
- Nigeria – FIFA ranking: 50
The “Super Eagles” first qualified for the World Cup in 1994. In the round of 16 that year, they grabbed a goal in the 25th minute and were minutes away from a spot in the quarter-finals. Roberto Baggio scored in the closing moments to send the game into overtime, then Baggio scored again in overtime to win the match.
- Australia – FIFA ranking: 39
Russia ’18 will be the fifth World Cup appearance for the Australians. The Socceroos qualified in 1974, 2006, 2010, and 2014. They’ve only made it out of their group on one occasion (Germany ’06). In the round of 16 they fell to Italy 1-0 in the 95th minute of regulation on a Francesco Totti penalty kick. Tim Cahill scored one of the best goals at Brazil ’14 against the Netherlands. He’s still playing and still scoring.
- Japan – FIFA Ranking: 55
Japan have made it out of the group stage twice in their history; losing in the round of 16 to eventual third-place finishers Turkey 1-0 at Korea/Japan ’02, and losing 5-3 on penalties to Paraguay at South Africa ’10, also in the round of 16.
- Morocco – FIFA ranking: 40
Morocco will appear at the World Cup for the first time since 1998. In 1986 the Atlas Lions made their best run, going undefeated against Poland (0-0), England (0-0), and Portugal (win 3-1) to advance out of their group before falling to the eventual runner-up, West Germany, 1-0 in the round of 16 on a goal scored in the 87th minute. They were one of two nations (Algeria the other) to represent the continent of Africa in 1986.
- Panama – FIFA ranking: 56
Panama will make their World Cup debut next summer. Roman Torres scored a goal in the 88th minute against Costa Rica, with two minutes left in the qualifying campaign, winning the match 2-1 and leaping over the United States and Honduras in the qualification table.
- Korea Republic (South Korea) – FIFA ranking: 51
Historically the most successful Asian nation at the WC stage, Korea Republic has qualified for eight consecutive World Cups (1986-2014). On home soil in 2002, the Koreans made it all the way to the semi-final before losing to Germany, beating Italy and Spain on the way.
- Saudi Arabia – FIFA ranking: 53
The “Green Falcons” are 2-2-9 in their four World Cup appearances. Saudi Arabia reached the round of 16 at USA ’94, losing 3-1 to Sweden at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX.