World Cup 2014 Qualifying: Where do were stand?
World Cup qualifying results we now have a clearer picture of who will be there and who won't. So I'm going to clarify where we stand at this point in time. Let's start with Asia.
ASIA: 4 teams qualify directly to Brazil, 5th team competes in a playoff for an extra spot.
Who will be there: Japan and South Korea
Japan could've qualified directly for the World Cup yesterday with a tie or win, instead they lost to Jordan. That changes little though and Japan is still just a tie away from securing automatic qualification. They host Australia and go to Iraq in their final two games, both tough matches. They have atleast qualified for the playoff already if they were to collapse, but expect direct qualification.
Korea do not have one foot in the door yet like Japan does, but they do find themselves in a very good position. With a game in hand they are currently 2nd in their group, with games at Lebanon and at home to Iran and Uzbekistan left (their direct competitors). They will not seal automatic qualification until perhaps the final matchday but I still expect them to do it with little problem.
Likely to qualify: Uzbekistan
Yes that's right, Uzbekistan. The 2014 World Cup will likely be assured of atleast one debutant as Uzbekistan, who have come close in recent qualifying attempts, are likely to qualify. Their only loss came in their opening game with a goal late into extra time and they finish their schedule at home to Qatar, a very winnable game. I fully expect direct qualification from them.
Who else?: Australia and Iran
Neither are in a great position right now but both have the talent necessary to see qualification through. Iran will likely have to do so in the playoff while Australia can secure direct qualification despite a disappointing campaign. I'll put their odds at 50-50 at this moment.
AFRICA: 5 teams qualify for the World Cup
Unlike Asia, There's no way at this moment to tell who will be competing in the World Cup from Africa as there's going to be a final round of the top 10 teams playing off for 5 spots. We can however tell who won't be there and who is likely to make that final round.
Final Round competitors: Tunisia, Cote D'Ivoire, Congo and Egypt
Of the 40 teams still competing in Africa these four have performed head and shoulders over everyone else in their group and their continent. Expect all four to progress to the final round where anything can happen. Tunisia, Congo and Egypt are all one win away from securing their progression to the final round while Cote D'Ivoire stands on top of a group in which their expected direct competitor (Morocco) has failed miserably.
Possible competitors in the Final Round: Ethiopia, Senegal and Cameroon
Ethiopia may come as a shock to everyone (even me) but they have done great so far and are 1st in their group (which includes South Africa). They play South Africa in Ethiopia as well as matches against C.A.R and Botswana to finish their schedule, their destiny is in their hands. As poorly as Senegal and Cameroon have been the past few years, they find themselves in good positions at the halfway point. Both lead their individual group though both of those groups are very tricky.
Teams in a dog fight for their spots: Zambia/Ghana, Nigeria/Malawi and Algeria/Mali
Ghana was expected by many to cruise through qualification and head back to the World Cup, but unexpected occurances have made their path complicated. Zambia had originally lost to Sudan but the result was overturned by FIFA because Sudan fielded an ineligible player. Zambia then proceeded to beat Ghana at home putting Ghana's qualification in jeopardy. A late goal by Lesotho robbed Zambia of the full 3 points there and reduced their lead over Ghana to 1 point. When Ghana host Zambia in the final match everything will be decided then!
Nigeria love to make qualifying difficult for themselves and this time is no different. While they haven't lost a match yet they have won only one, leaving them tied with Malawi on 5 points! Kenya can cause some upsets in this group but if they don't expect the final match between Nigeria and Malawi in Nigeria to decide this group's winner.
Algeria competed at World Cup 2010 but may not even make the final round of qualification for World Cup 2014. They are tied with Mali atop their group on 6 points. The problem is their one loss came to Mali. Like the other close groups this one ends with Algeria and Mali facing off in Algeria to decide it all. Look out for Benin in this group as well as a surprise win here or there for them puts them in the race!
Good teams that are not going to be playing in Brazil: Morocco, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Togo and Angola
A few teams that have played in past World Cups or have a few players playing in Europe's top leagues won't be a factor in what happens at World Cup 2014 due to poor performances and/or reversed results. Among them, Morocco, Togo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Gabon and Burkina Faso. They are all capable of upsetting a top team and preventing their success though. This is the joy of African qualifying. You never know what will happen and who will progress!
CONCACAF: 3 teams qualify for Brazil, a 4th playoffs for a final spot
It is still too early to tell how North America will shape up and after about a third of the schedule, it is extremely close! Three points seperate top team Panama (who would've expected this?) from bottom team Jamaica. Mexico has 3 points from 3 ties and are 2nd to last! USA are only 1 point better at this point! At this point it's difficult to tell how this will all end up but it is shaping up to be an excellent and unpredictable final round for the North American teams. It'll be interesting to see if Panama can keep it up and which of the big teams continue to struggle. I expect a surprise at the end of it all and I guess that means I expect Panama to somehow squeeze into atleast the playoff spot. We will see over the next few months!