World Cup qualifying round up: Europe gets underway

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There was no shortage of action during the recent international break as the UEFA and CONCACAF qualifiers got underway while Asia  resumed their qualification process.


Group A

While many of the groups look like they have the potential to go to the wire, Group A looks much more cut and dried with Portugal and Serbia set to do battle to determine who will qualify directly and who will go to the play-offs.

Aleksander Mitrovic was in fine form, scoring five goals as Serbia beat Azerbaijan and the Republic of Ireland while recovering from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Portugal.

Luxembourg were the other side to win, picking up a famous 1-0 win in Dublin. Stephen Kenny is still yet to win during his tenure as Ireland manager and the feeling among fans is that it will now become 20 years at least between World Cup appearances.

Group B

Spain may lead the way in Group B but it’s Sweden who hold a 100% record thanks to victories over Kosovo and Georgia. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is out of international retirement and will no doubt have the confidence that he can inspire his nation to overcome the Spanish.

Spain needed a last-gasp winner from Dani Olmo to overcome the ever-improving Georgia after stumbling to a 1-1 draw in their opener with Greece. This group already has the look of a two-horse race, similar to Group A.

Group C

Italy continued their impressive form under Roberto Mancini by recording a hat-trick of 2-0 wins to get their campaign off to the best possible start. Switzerland also have a 100% after wins against Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Northern Ireland suffered a disappointing start to qualifying. Defeat in Italy was no great surprise but a 0-0 draw at home to Bulgaria is two points dropped and Ian Baraclough’s men will now find it tough to bridge the gap to the top two, even at this early stage. Another group that looks set to be between the top two.

Group D

Now for the group of draws. France were the only team to pick up any victories over the period, beating Kazakhstan and Bosnia. It was stalemates galore for everyone else which means it’s pretty much as you were. France look like they’ll comfortably claim top spot but for now the play-off place is anyone’s.

Group E

Belgium started off as they always do in qualification these days with some resounding wins, although a draw with the Czech Republic was sandwiched in between. A 3-1 victory over Wales and an 8-0 mauling of Belarus has Roberto Martinez’s men atop of Group E where they will be difficult to shift.

Wales bounced back from their opening game defeat to the Belgians with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic thanks to Daniel James. Belarus kept pace with a 4-2 win over Estonia.

Group F

Despite being the team from pot one that everyone wanted to draw, Denmark have got off to a flyer in Group F, claiming nine points, scoring 14 goals and not conceding any. This included two excellent away wins, beating Israel 2-0 and crushing Austria 4-0.

Scotland have made an unbeaten start and currently occupy the play-off spot. This group has the look of a three horse race for second even at this early stage with the games between Scotland, Israel and Austria appearing key.

Group G

This looked like an intriguing group when it was first drawn and it has proved to be the case. Turkey came roaring out of the blocks, beating the Netherlands and Norway before slipping up at home to Latvia.

The Norwegians and the Dutch have responded well and sit just behind Turkey on six points, level with Montenegro. It will be a while before we can work out what is going to happen here.

Group H

Another group that is looking difficult to call. Slovakia are the only unbeaten side but sit in third after an unexpected 2-2 draw at home to Malta.

Croatia and Russia lead the way with two wins from three. Cyprus and Slovenia are also well in the hunt after picking up a win each.

Group I

England have made a perfect start to their campaign, picking up three wins to sit on top of the group. The third win, a slender 2-1 win over Poland could prove crucial to the final standings.

Hungary are in second, picking up expected wins over Andorra and San Marino while drawing 3-3 with Poland.

This group is very much a four way battle with those sides expecting to take maximum points from their games with San Marino and Andorra. Albania are keeping in the hunt, currently third.

Group J

Armenia are the surprise leaders in Group J, picking up nine points from their three games.

This group contained one of the biggest shocks of the break as Germany lost at home to North Macedonia. It leaves the Germans in third at this stage and while they’ll still expect to win the group, it’s turning out to be much more difficult than many expected.


There were only a handful of games played in the Asian section of the qualifiers. In Group D, Saudi Arabia coasted to a 5-0 win over Palestine to move top of the group.

In Group F, Mongolia’s hopes of reaching the World Cup ended with a 1-0 defeat to Tajikistan. They then followed this up with a 14-0 home defeat to Japan with Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osako helping himself to a hat-trick.

North/Central America/Caribbean

The first round of CONCACAF’s qualifiers got under way with a group stage where each team will play each other once, with the top team going through.

Group A

It’s all to play for in Group A at the halfway stage with everyone still in with even a slight chance. Antigua and Barbuda currently lead the way from El Salvador on goal difference.

Group B

Canada and Suriname made strong starts to Group B, taking maximum points. Canada’s victories included an 11-0 win over the Cayman Islands. The clash between the pair in June looks likely to decide the winner though Bermuda will be hoping to crash the party.

Aruba and the Cayman Islands cannot now qualify.

Group C

It’s a similar story in Group C as Curacao and Guatemala lead the way on six points. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are hanging in there on three points while Cuba and the British Virgin Islands will not make it to Qatar.

Curacao are currently managed by Guus Hiddink and have Juninho and Leandro Bacuna among their ranks.

Group D

2018 participants Panama have begun their quest to make back to back World Cups with narrow wins over Barbados and Dominica. The Dominican Republic currently top the group on goal difference after beating now eliminated Dominica and Anguilla.

Group E

This is a four team group as Saint Lucia withdrew before qualifying began. Nicaragua, Belize and Haiti all lead on three points apiece while the Turks and Caicos Islands are out of contention. Belize are disadvantaged by having played a game more than their rivals.

Group F

2006 group stage participants Trinidad and Tobago face a fight to make the next stage as they sit two points behind leaders Saint Kitts and Nevis. It would be a remarkable achievement for the Sugar Boyz if they can clinch top spot although the games with the Soca Warriors and Guyana will be stiff tests.

The Bahamas are out having suffered 4-0 defeats to Saint Kitts and Nevis and Guyana.

The second round will conclude in the next international break in June, where Asian and African qualifiers will recommence.

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