Each nation dreams of lifting the World Cup. Not one squad has come to Qatar just for the fun of it — they are all in it to win.
But the first stage of eliminations is nearly upon us as the tournament’s group stage draws to a close. Half of the 32 teams that started in Qatar will be packing their bags and heading home.
So, who needs what to survive into the Round of 16?
Host nation Qatar, finding themselves fourth of four in their group, had the ignominious honour of being the first team knocked out of this year’s tournament. But at least they do not have far to get home.
The Netherlands have now qualified, following their 2-0 win over Qatar in the group’s final game. Senegal narrowly beat Ecuador 2-1 on Tuesday afternoon to take the second qualifying spot for the Round of 16, while Ecuador join Qatar in elimination.
- Netherlands: Qualified
- Senegal: Qualified
- Ecuador: Eliminated
- Qatar: Eliminated
This was always likely to be the most competitive group as well as the most politically charged. The remaining matches see old rivals and geopolitical enemies facing off, and any of the four teams can still qualify, even if Wales — in their first World Cup since 1958 — only stand a mathematical chance.
England top the table with four points from two games. Iran are second with three, after two injury-time goals against Wales on Friday. The United States are 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 go through to the Round of 16 unless Wales beat them by four goals or more.
- The USA need to beat Iran to progress to the knock-out stages.
- Iran need to beat the USA to guarantee qualification, but a draw with the USA would be enough for Iran to progress — if Wales cannot beat England.
- Wales need a minor miracle; they will have to beat England and have Iran vs USA end with a draw. They could also progress without a draw in that match as long as they can get a four-goal margin of victory over England. Do not hold your breath.
This is another open group in which all four teams could still qualify. Mexico have just one point at the bottom of the group table, while Saudi Arabia and their shock victims Argentina have three points each. Poland, with four points, lead the group but they are not safe yet.
- Poland only need a draw against Argentina to guarantee qualifying, though they would undoubtedly prefer a win.
- Argentina need to beat Poland to guarantee their place in the Round of 16. A draw here and Argentina are vulnerable to being picked off on goal difference.
- If Saudi Arabia beat Mexico, they are through to the next round. A draw with Mexico combined with a loss for Poland against Argentina would also see them qualify. If Poland beat Argentina with a huge goal difference, the Saudis may still claim the second qualifying spot.
- Mexico need to win against the Saudis, and have Poland beat Argentina.
World champions France, with six points from two games, were the first team in Qatar to book their place in the Round of 16. That makes the rest of the group permutations a little less confusing.
Australia have three points, while Denmark and Tunisia have one each.
- Australia play Denmark — the winner will go through with France
- Tunisia need to beat France by at least two goals and hope Australia and Denmark draw
Everyone expected Spain and Germany to sail through Group E. And everyone was half-right, at least, with Spain cruising comfortably at the top with four points from two games. Germany, however, languish at the bottom of the group, as coach Hansi Flick’s mission to recover Germany’s pre-2018 football glory appears a longer-term project than first hoped for.
Japan and Costa Rica have three points each after their meeting on Sunday, meaning any of the four teams could still qualify.
- Spain just need a draw against Japan to qualify for the knock-out rounds.
- If Japan win against Spain, they are through with six points. If they draw, they need Costa Rica and Germany to also draw. If Japan draw and Germany win, there is still a chance Japan could go through on goal difference.
- Costa Rica must beat Germany in their final group match to progress to the Round of 16.
- Germany need to beat Costa Rica and have Spain beat Japan in order to guarantee the second qualifying spot. But if Spain and Japan draw, Germany will need to beat Costa Rica by at least two goals. They could possibly still go through with a one-goal margin of victory over Costa Rica if they score more than Japan in their hypothetical draw with Spain – eg, a 1-1 draw between Spain and Japan, and a 2-1 win for Germany over Costa Rica will see the Germans progress.
Canada were the second team to be booking 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 mauling by Morocco on Sunday changed everything.
- Croatia and Morocco are sitting pretty with four points each; Belgium have three.
- Croatia only need a draw against Belgium on Thursday to guarantee progress to the final 16
- Belgium need to win that match to progress.
- Morocco just need a draw against Canada to qualify from the group.
Brazil’s win over Switzerland put the five-times world champions through with a game to spare. The Swiss, having also picked up a win in their first game, are most likely to follow suit. But Cameroon and Serbia both still stand a chance after their entertaining draw did neither any real favours.
- Switzerland will qualify if they beat Serbia, or by drawing with Serbia if Cameroon fail to win against Brazil.
- Cameroon will qualify if they beat Brazil, and Serbia win or draw against Switzerland, depending on goal difference.
- Serbia will guarantee a spot in the next round if they beat Switzerland, and Brazil beat Cameroon. If Cameroon do manage to beat Brazil, it’ll come down to goal difference.
Portugal joined the Round of 16 with their 2-0 win over Uruguay on Monday, though the rest of the group is still wide open.
- Ghana will qualify if they beat Uruguay on Friday. If they draw, they must hope Portugal beat South Korea. If South Korea do beat Portugal by more than one goal, they will take second spot on goal difference.
- South Korea must beat Portugal and hope that Ghana either draw or lose against Uruguay. And even then, it’ll come down to goal difference.
- Uruguay have to win against Ghana and hope Portugal beat South Korea. If Portugal lose, Uruguay have to beat Ghana by more than South Korea beat Portugal.