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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 qualify as hosts. Group winners qualify automatically, with the eight best runners-up facing a two-legged playoff.  Gibraltar and Kosovo were late additions after being accepted as full FIFA members.

The qualifiers began in September 2016 and run through to November 2017. Click on the group to see the fixtures, results and standings.

GROUP A: Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, Luxembourg

GROUP B: Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra

GROUP C: Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino

GROUP D: Wales, Austria, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Moldova, Georgia

GROUP E: Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan

GROUP F: England, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta

GROUP G: Spain, Italy, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, Liechtenstein

GROUP H: Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus, Gibraltar

GROUP I: Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland, Kosovo

ALL TABLES

NEXT FIXTURES

SOUTH AMERICA:

4.5 places

• South American qualifying home page

As in recent qualifying competitions, all teams play each other home and away. The top four nations will qualify directly to the finals. The fifth-placed team will take the 0.5 place and play an intercontinental playoff against the winner of the Oceania region. 

The qualifiers began in October 2015 and run through to October 2017 -- next fixtures here and latest table.

CONCACAF:

3.5 places

• Concacaf qualifying home page

Round One: The 14 lowest ranked nations played two-legged ties. Winners: Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Curacao, Dominica, Nicaragua, St Kitts & Nevis
Round Two: The seven winners from the first round and the next 13 lowest ranked nations played two-legged ties. Winners: Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba (Barbados fielded ineligible player), Belize, Canada, Curacao, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St Vincent & the Grenadines
Round Three: The 10 winners from the second round join Jamaica and Haiti -- to make 12 teams playing two-legged ties. Winners: Canada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, St Vincent & the Grenadines
Round Four: The six winners from the third round join Costa Rica, Mexico, United States, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. Drawn into three groups of four nations playing home and away. Top two nations advance.

Group A: Canada, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico
Group BCosta Rica, Haiti, Jamiaca, Panama
Group CGuatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, St Vincent & the Grenadines, United States

Qualifiers: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras and United States

Round Five: The six winners from the fourth round form one group of six teams. Top three teams qualify with the fourth placed team in an intercontinental playoff (0.5 place) against a team from Asia.

The final round began in November 2016 and runs through to October 2017 -- next fixtures here and latest table.

AFRICA

5 places

• African qualifying home page

Round One: The 26 lowest ranked nations played two-legged ties, played in October 2015. Winners: Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Swaziland, Tanzania 

Round Two: The 13 winners from the first round and the remaining top 27 African nations to make 40 teams playing two-legged ties. Winners:  Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, DR Congo, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia.

Round Three: The 20 winners from the second round were drawn into five groups of four nations playing home and away. Group winners qualify for the finals. 

Group A: Congo DR, Guinea, Libya, Tunisia
Group BAlgeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia 
Group CIvory Coast, Gabon, Mali, Morocco
Group DBurkina Faso, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, South Africa
Group ECongo, Egypt, Ghana, Uganda

ALL TABLES

NEXT FIXTURES

Games played between October 2016 and November 2017.

ASIA

4.5 places

• Asia qualifying home page

This follows the same format as for 2014. 

Round One: The 12 lowest ranked nations played two-legged ties. Winners: Bhutan, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei, India, Timor-Leste, Yemen,.
Round Two: The six winners from the first round join the other 34 Asian nations, drawn into eight groups of five teams -- also played as qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup finals. Played June 2015 to March 2016. Eight group winners and four best runners-up advance. VIEW TABLES
Round Three: The remaining 12 nations are drawn into two groups of six teams. Played September 2016 to September 2017. Group winners and runners-up qualify for the World Cup.

Group A: China, Iran, Qatar, South Korea, Syria, Uzbekistan 
Group B: Australia, Iraq, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates

TABLES

NEXT FIXTURES

Round Four: The teams finishing third in round three will play a two-legged playoff. The winner (0.5 place) will then advance to the intercontinental playoff against a team from Concacaf for a place at the World Cup.

OCEANIA

0.5 places

• Oceania qualifying home page

The 2015 OFC Nations Cup doubles as World Cup qualifying.

Round One: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga played a league tournament in August-September 2015. The winner of the tournament, Samoa, advanced to Round Two.
Round Two: Samoa joined the other seven OFC nations in the group stage -- this is also part of the OFC Nations Cup. There were two groups of four teams, with the top three going through. Played between May and June 2016.

Group A: New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti
Group B: Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu

New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand and Solomon Islands advanced to round three.

Round Three: Two groups of three teams playing on a home and away basis. Round to begin in November 2016 and finish in June 2017. Group winners then playoff to advance to an intercontinental tie (0.5 place) against the fifth-placed team from Conmebol.

Group A: Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand
Group B: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti 

TABLES

NEXT FIXTURES

New Zealand have already qualified for the playoff as the winners of Group A. The winner of Group B will be determined in June, with all three nations still able to advance. 

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

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