Every nation dreams of lifting the World Cup. No team has come to Qatar just for fun – everyone is out to win it.
But the first stage of eliminations is almost upon us as the group stage of the tournament draws to a close. Half of the 32 teams that started in Qatar will pack up and head home.
So who needs what to survive in the round of 16?
Host nation Qatar, sitting fourth out of four in their group, had the ignominious honor of being the first team eliminated from this year’s tournament. But at least they haven’t had to go far to get home.
Ecuador and the Netherlands are tied at the top of the group table heading into the final round of group play, with four points each. Senegal is only one point behind.
- The Netherlands need a win or a draw against Qatar to qualify for the round of 16.
- Ecuador needs to beat Senegal to guarantee qualification.
- Senegal needs to beat Ecuador to guarantee qualification.
- If Ecuador v Senegal is a tie, Ecuador will qualify, unless Qatar beat the Netherlands, in which case Senegal will go through.
This is likely to always be the most competitive group, as well as the most politically charged. In the remaining matches, old rivals and geopolitical foes square off, and any of the four teams can still qualify, even if Wales, in their first World Cup since 1958, have only a mathematical chance.
England top the table with four points from two games. Iran are second with three, after two stoppage-time goals against Wales on Friday. The United States sit third in the group table with two points from two draws, while Wales have the toughest battle for qualification with just one point.
- England will progress to the round of 16 unless Wales beat them by four goals or more.
- The United States needs to beat Iran to advance to the knockout stages.
- Iran needs to beat the United States to guarantee qualification. But a draw with the USA would be enough for Iran to advance if Wales cannot beat England.
- Wales needs a little miracle. They will have to beat England and have Iran vs USA end in a tie. They could also advance without a draw in that match, provided they can get a four-goal winning margin over England. Don’t hold your breath.
Another open group in which all four teams could still qualify at this point. Mexico has just one point at the bottom of the group table, while Saudi Arabia and its shock victims Argentina each have three points. Poland, with four points, leads the group, but is still not safe.
- Poland only needs a draw against Argentina to guarantee qualification, although they would certainly prefer a win.
- Argentina needs to beat Poland to guarantee their place in the round of 16. A draw here and Argentina is vulnerable to being intercepted on goal difference.
- If Saudi Arabia beats Mexico, they will advance to the next round. A draw with Mexico combined with a loss for Poland against Argentina would also see them through. If Poland beat Argentina on a huge goal difference, the Saudis can still claim the second qualifying spot.
- Mexico needs to win against the Saudis and for Poland to beat Argentina.
World champions France, with six points from two games, were the first Qatari team to book their place in the round of 16. Which makes the rest of the permutations in the group a bit less confusing.
Australia have three points, while Denmark and Tunisia each have one.
- Australia plays Denmark: the winner will go with France
- Tunisia need to beat France by at least two goals and hope Australia and Denmark draw
Everyone expected Spain and Germany to cruise through Group E. And they were all at least half right, with Spain comfortably sailing on top with four points from two games. Germany, however, languishes at the bottom of the group, as manager Hansi Flick’s mission to recapture Germany’s pre-2018 football glory looks like a longer-term project than initially expected.
Japan and Costa Rica each have three points after their meeting on Sunday, meaning any of the four teams could still qualify.
- Spain only needs a draw against Japan to qualify for the round of 16.
- If Japan win against Spain, they will be eliminated with six points. If they tie, they need Costa Rica and Germany to tie as well. If Japan draw and Germany win, there is still a chance that Japan will go through on goal difference.
- Costa Rica needs to beat Germany in their last group game to advance to the round of 16.
- Germany needs to beat Costa Rica and Spain need to beat Japan to guarantee the second qualifying spot. But if Spain and Japan draw, Germany must beat Costa Rica by at least two goals. They may still be able to get by with a one-goal winning margin over Costa Rica if they score more than Japan in their hypothetical draw with Spain, for example a 1-1 draw between Spain and Japan, and a 2-1 win for Germany over Costa Rica will see the Germans progress.
Canada was the second team to book their flights home. That means Croatia, Morocco and Belgium can still qualify. The Belgians, ranked second in the world, were expected to top this group, but their 2-0 thrashing of Morocco on Sunday changed everything.
- Croatia and Morocco sit well with four points each; Belgium has three.
- Croatia only needs a draw against Belgium on Thursday to guarantee a place in the round of 16
- Belgium need to win that game to progress.
- Morocco only needs a draw against Canada to qualify from the group.
All four teams can still qualify from Group G, with two games still to play in this final of the World Cup schedule. Brazil and Switzerland add a victory each, while Cameroon and Serbia remain without scoring in the group table.
Cameroon takes on Serbia on Monday afternoon, before Switzerland takes on Brazil. Whoever wins the second game will comfortably qualify from the group with six points. A draw and things get interesting.
Group H has also only played one game so far, with everything to play for. Portugal is quite high in the table with three points; South Korea and Uruguay have one point each. Ghana has yet to register a point. Anyone could qualify or be eliminated at the first hurdle.
A victory for Portugal over Uruguay on Monday, which is far from guaranteed, would put Cristiano Ronaldo’s men into the round of 16. South Korea faces Ghana in the previous game on Monday. Watch this space.