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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

2018 World Cup qualifying - how it works

The qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup began on March 12, 2015 with preliminary ties between the 12 lowest-ranked nations in Asia.

Chiquito Do Carmo of Timor-Leste had the honour of scoring the very first goal on the road to Russia in a 4-1 victory at home to Mongolia.

There are 31 places up for grabs, joining hosts Russia.

  

EUROPE:

13 places

• European qualifying home page

Qualifying for 2018 sees seven groups of six nations and two groups of five. 

Russia...

 By Ian Holyman

France international exile 'hurts' Karim Benzema - Zinedine Zidane

Karim Benzema has not played for France since October 2015.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has backed Karim Benzema's claims for a recall to the France squad and said the striker is hurt by his international exile.

Benzema, 29, has not played for his country since October 2015 after being named in the ongoing investigation into alleged extortion of his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

Last month, Benzema demanded Zidane's former France teammate and current Les Blues coach Didier Deschamps give him an explanation for his continued absence, before...

 By PA Sport

Everton, Ireland coaches trade barbs over James McCarthy injury

The FC crew try to make sense of the exchange between Ronald Koeman and Martin O'Neill after James McCarthy's injury.

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O'Neill has delivered a scathing response to Everton counterpart Ronald Koeman over his treatment of James McCarthy.

On Friday, the Dutchman accused O'Neill of "not protecting" the midfielder, who was withdrawn from the starting lineup for last Friday's World Cup qualifier against Wales at the last minute after aggravating a hamstring injury in the warm-up.

In a statement, O'Neill said: "Once again the Everton manager, master tactician of the blame game, has struck...