The Netherlands went down in flames. Chile missed the cut after a 3-0 blowout against Brazil. And there’s no need to relive what happened to the USMNT. We’re in the do-or-die moments of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, and we may well see a few more heavy-hitters bow out before the tournament even begins. The UEFA playoffs are especially fertile grounds for an upset and the inter-confederation playoffs could hold a few surprises. Which soccer powers are at the biggest risk of missing out? Let’s look at the current state of affairs.
Odds to Qualify for Russia 2018 World Cup
Italy had the misfortune of being locked in the same group as Spain, but they were mostly to blame for that. Their FIFA ranking had dropped to a dismal 17th, which landed them in the second-seed pot.
Their 3-0 loss to Spain left the Italians rattled. The usually sturdy Italian defense failed to contain Isco and Alvaro Morata, and they didn’t pose much of a threat moving forward. Depending on who they draw in the UEFA playoffs (either Greece, Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Sweden), qualifying could be a lot tougher than expected.
Iceland’s tremendous run left the world in awe, but it also left Croatia in second place and bound for the eight-team UEFA playoff.
With two of the most intelligent playmakers in the sport, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, qualification should have been a breeze for the Croatians. But they fumbled their way through the group games, leaving it up to their final game against the Ukraine to seal the second-place spot.
Croatian football is in a state of turmoil at the moment. There’s widespread corruption in the Croatian Football Federation and fans have even started turning on the national team. They have a lot of issues to address, but for now, the focus is on simply qualifying.
Switzerland won nine of their ten group games but still failed to finish on top. Losing their final group match against Portugal bumped them down to second place, stripping them of an immediate qualification spot. They’ve done very well with the squad they have, but other than Portugal, they didn’t face any real challenges Group B. Like Italy and Croatia, they will now face one of Greece, Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Sweden in a two-game aggregate-goal playoff series.
Peru faces New Zealand for the CONCACAF-AFC playoff spot. It’s a match they’re expected to win, but the Peruvians aren’t looking too hot right now. They qualified by the skin of their teeth, finishing ahead of Chile on tiebreakers. If their 2-0 loss to Bolivia hadn’t been overruled (Bolivia fielded an ineligible player), they would have been eliminated. They’ve been incredibly inconsistent during the qualifiers, and a slip-up against New Zealand cannot be ruled out.
Ok, Australia isn’t exactly a World Cup favorite. But they are the Asian Cup champions and were expected to qualify easily in the AFC. However, an impressive showing by Saudi Arabia bumped them out of qualification and they now face Honduras at the CONCACAF-AFC playoff.