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Maradona's 'moral' Hand of God

ESPN FC & Howler
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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

World Cup qualifying, one year out: Where things stand across the globe

Fresh off winning the U20 World Cup, many are hoping England's youngsters can kick on in the Premier League.

With one year to go until the World Cup kicks off, we asked writers from around the world to summarise the state of qualifying play in their region. 

• World Cup qualifying -- How it works

EUROPE: 13 World Cup places

• European qualifying home page

Who's on track to qualify?

Most of the major nations are on course, though Euro 2016 finalists Portugal and France may require second-place playoffs to make it. France's 2-1 loss in Sweden on Jun. 9, courtesy of a last-minute howler by Hugo Lloris, saw them lose the initiative in Group A, while European champions Portugal are three points behind Switzerland in Group B. Elsewhere, Spain and Italy are on level-pegging in Group G.

Who has work to do?

Netherlands are three points behind Sweden and France in Group A are in danger of missing out completely, just as they did Euro 2016. Perhaps in greater jeopardy are Wales, semifinalists in France last year, who lag behind Serbia and Ireland in Group D. Poland, who have not qualified for the finals since 2006, are streaking away in Group E, while Northern Ireland, absent since 1986, are within reach of a playoff in Group C. England, Germany and Belgium lead their respective groups.

-- John Brewin 

Jason Dasey and PJ Roberts break down the friendly between Singapore and Argentina, as the visitors won 6-0 at the National Stadium.

SOUTH AMERICA: 4.5 places

• South American qualifying home page

Who's on track to qualify?

With four of the 18 rounds still to play, Brazil have already booked their place in Russia, putting together a memorable sequence of eight consecutive wins after coach Tite took over. But who will join them? Starting to find some form, Colombia have climbed to second. After three straight defeats, Uruguay have fallen to third, while continental champions Chile are fourth, mixing attacking brilliance with defensive vulnerability.

Who has work to do?

All eyes with be on Argentina now that the bold and fascinating Jorge Sampaoli has become their third coach of the campaign. Now fifth, they will hope to climb at least one place but will not want to need anything going into the last round, a trip to altitude to face Ecuador. The early pace-setters have fallen back into sixth. Peru and Paraguay hope that a late surge will put them into the mix, but, as it stands, five teams are fighting for 3½ slots. It will surely go right to the last kick for some.

-- Tim Vickery

Jeff Carlisle joins the FC show to assess Michael Bradley's comments on the USMNT under Bruce Arena vs. Klinsmann.

CONCACAF: 3.5 places

• CONCACAF qualifying home page

Who's on track to qualify?

A sense of normalcy is returning to CONCACAF's final round of qualifying. While it's no surprise to see the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica leading the table and creating a bit of separation from the trailing pack, a slow start for the U.S. meant it was in only the most recent pair of fixtures that the Americans moved into the top three. Each of these three teams is now a heavy favorite to secure one of the three automatic qualification spots. Mexico, already on 14 points, could clinch during the next round of fixtures while simply taking care of business at home could see both Costa Rica and the U.S. wrap up qualification with a game to spare.

Who has work to do?

The U.S. isn't completely home free just yet in terms of securing the third and final automatic qualifying spot. Another slip-up at home -- it faces a tricky encounter against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 -- would see it dragged back into a dogfight with Panama and Honduras, as those three teams are currently separated by three points. Yet the spot appears to be the U.S. team's to lose, leaving the remaining teams to slug it out for fourth place, which would result in a playoff against a team from the Asian Confederation. Panama seemed to be in good shape, but Tuesday's 2-2 draw at home to Honduras has given some new life to the Catrachos, who had struggled for much of the final round. Trinidad & Tobago aren't completely finished yet either, but they but need to start picking up points both at home and on the road.

-- Jeff Carlisle

AFRICA 5 places

• African qualifying home page

Who's on track to qualify?

Nigeria look to be the best-placed African team that can qualify first for Russia 2018. They lead a tough Group B with six points and need to win just two more games, beginning with their home fixture against second-placed Cameroon who are four points behind them.

DR Congo and Tunisia are neck-and-neck in Group A, with six points each, and either of those two could qualify. The same is true of Burkina Faso, South Africa and Senegal in Group D.

Who has work to do?

Giants Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana have their work cut out. The Elephants hold a two-point lead in Group C, but have Morocco breathing down their necks. Meanwhile, Kwesi Appiah needs to find a way to dig the Black Stars out of a one-point rut after two rounds of matches with Egypt sitting comfortably in pole position with six points, two ahead of second-place Uganda.

We should get slightly more clarity from the next round of games.

-- Colin Udoh

ASIA 4.5 places

• Asia qualifying home page

Who's on track to qualify?

Iran have already taken one of Asia's four automatic spots in Russia -- and in fine fashion. Under Carlos Queiroz, the team has not conceded a single goal in eight games so far and has been dominant. At the moment, Iran look to be Asia's best bet of going to the knockout stage next summer. The identity of the three that will join Iran in Russia is much less clear. Japan are on top of the other group, but the advantage is just a point, and they have to take on second and third in the final two games. The Samurai Blue will qualify in August with a home win against Australia, but the two teams habitually draw. Then Japan travel to Saudi Arabia for the final game in the Middle East. By that time, Japan may need to win, draw or be already through.

Who has work to do?

Everyone! In Group A, South Korea are somehow still second despite losing three of their eight games. If they defeat Iran in August -- a big if -- a ninth successive World Cup will be certain if third-place Uzbekistan lose. Whatever happens, if Korea win in Uzbekistan in September, they will go through. Uzbekistan, also unimpressive, probably have to win both their games while Syria have an outside chance of third. In Group B, Saudi Arabia and Australia can both progress if they hold Japan to a draw and win their remaining game. Australia should defeat bottom team Thailand at home, though the Saudis have a tougher task against rivals the United Arab Emirates, who have a theoretical chance of third. In practice, though, it is not going to happen.

-- John Duerden

OCEANIA 0.5 places

• Oceania qualifying home page

New Zealand, who went undefeated in group play at the 2010 World Cup, will playoff over two legs vs. Solomon Islands in late August and early September. The winner of that tie moves on to face the fifth-place team from South America -- currently Argentina -- again over two games.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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