It’s taken more than two years and we’re still quite not there. But at least we’re finally edging closer to finding out the final 32 nations who will be ready for action in Russia next summer.
Some 209 sides attempted to qualify and there and only a handful of places left up for grabs.
So who is going to the World Cup for sure and what teams can still make the plane in the next few weeks?
Well, it was plain sailing for the world champions. Germany knew they had a straightforward task and sailed through Group C without a second thought. Played 10, won 10. They scored 43 goals and only let in four.
France’s mission wasn’t so easy, and they ultimately made hard work of a tricky Group A. With the Dutch falling short and Sweden a threat, Le Bleus would have taken qualification however it was served up.
England fans wouldn’t agree. It was a simple yet unsatisfying qualification which begun under Sam Allardyce and ended under the control of Gareth Southgate. Tepid and at time tedious, Three Lions fans may have preferred the drama and suspense of Group B where Portugal’s last game winner-takes-all success over Switzerland saw them through.
Serbia came out on top in Group D, where Wales and the Republic of Ireland fought to the death in Cardiff. The Irish couldn’t unseat the Serbs and there was no stopping Spain, who made sure Italy were heading for the play-offs.
In Group H, Belgium were brilliant. Dropping only two points in their qualification campaign, they scored 43 and must be considered a serious semi-final bet at least for Russia with the attacking quality they possess. Poland will go there in a similar frame of mind after brushing aside the threat of Denmark to qualify.
Iceland’s wonderful story has a sequel. The first chapter for a country with a population of 330,000 included England as a subplot, but now they’re in their first ever World Cup. Never count them out.
The complex South American qualifying saw Brazil first over the line, with Argentina the last. Brazil didn’t break sweat thanks to their nine-game winning run but Messi and co. certainly had moist foreheads.
Uruguay had seemed certain to make it through and it was a matter of when, not if, but they crawled over the line and needed a final round win over Bolivia to confirm their passage through.
Colombia needed a draw from their last game against Peru and got it and will fancy their chances after doing just enough to get through.
For the first time ever, the World Cup will see Panama’s name in the finals. Their fantastic achievement in a demanding group saw them through with Mexico and Costa Rica.
Iran could be outsiders to surprise next summer. They’ve been qualified since June thanks to their dominance in Asia. They went unbeaten and we will be seeing a familiar Premier League face, with Carlos Queiroz’s team joining South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia in the finals.
Nigeria dominated the African scene once more, they negotiated a tough group to reach their sixth finals but one nation we haven’t had at the World Cup for over 25 years are returning.
Egypt hope they can take their African Cup of Nations form to Russia, having won the competition four times since their last appearance in Italy back in 1990.
There are 22 there confirmed, so nine places still remain with the hosts of course qualifying automatically.
Peru will play New Zealand, while the Socceroos of Australia – having slipped past the surprise package of Syria – will need Tim Cahill to keep his form going when they face Honduras next month.
Tunisia will go through with a point at home to Libya, with DR Congo ready and waiting if there’s any slip ups in Africa. Ivory Coast and Morocco hopes are alive and Senegal should get the job done with two points from two games against South Africa.
Europe await their play-off draw of course, but Italy will be the one they all want to avoid with Sweden and Switzerland also not on the wish lists of Croatia, Denmark, the Republic of Ireland, Greece and Northern Ireland.