World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

Altidore suspension for 1st leg of conference final upheld

United States' Jozy Altidore celebrates in front of fans after scoring a goal against Panama during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 People rest at a park during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 A man reads a newspaper during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 A woman with a Peruvian soccer T-shirt walks her dog during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 A man with a T-shirt that reads "Peru", sits on a bench during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 People with Peruvian soccer T-shirts pose for a picture with a replica of a soccer ball, during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - Lima, Peru - November 16, 2017 A man with a Peruvian soccer T-shirt walks past a replica of a soccer ball, during a holiday for public workers and all schools, after Peru qualified for World Cup. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

FILE - In this March 29, 2016, file photo, Mexico fans shout anti-gay chants during a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Canada in Mexico City. FIFA was judged wrong to fine Mexico's soccer federation for fans chanting gay slurs at opposition goalkeepers at World Cup qualifying games. The Court of Arbitration for Sport judges hearing Mexico's appeal accepted the chants were "insulting words," even if fans did not intend to offend, the court said on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, when it published the verdict. (AP Photo/Christian Palma, File)

FILE - In this March 29, 2016, file photo, Mexico fans shout anti-gay chants during a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Canada in Mexico City. FIFA was judged wrong to fine Mexico's soccer federation for fans chanting gay slurs at opposition goalkeepers at World Cup qualifying games. The Court of Arbitration for Sport judges hearing Mexico's appeal accepted the chants were "insulting words," even if fans did not intend to offend, the court said on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, when it published the verdict. (AP Photo/Christian Palma, File)

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Fun With World Cup Pots: The Many Group Draw Scenarios, Intriguing Combinations in Play

After 32 months and 872 games contested by 210 nations across six continents—not to mention Chile filing a protest that ultimately led to its elimination, some last-gasp hat-trick magic from Lionel Messi, Italy’s historic impotence in Milan, terrible tactics by the USA and, on Wednesday evening, the end of Peru’s long wait—we have our 2018 World Cup field. Thirty-two teams have booked their place in Russia next summer. They now await the draw on December 1 in Moscow.

There will be two debutants, Panama and Iceland, and Italy is the only former champion that failed to qualify. Peru’s 36-year drought is the longest, followed by Egypt’s wait of 28 years. Four of the six reigning continental champs—USA, Chile, Cameroon and New Zealand—will miss out. So will the Netherlands, the 2010 silver and 2014 bronze medalists.

The survivors will be placed into four pots based on their FIFA ranking. They’ll be drawn into eight groups of four teams, comprising one nation from each pot. Only European sides can be drawn with a confederation rival.

Russia is seeded because it’s the host, and that knocks 2010 winner Spain down to pot 2. There’s a 50/50 chance we’ll see Spain play Germany, France, Argentina or Brazil in the first round, and something close to a zero percent chance the other two teams in that potential quartet will be staying in Russia beyond the group stage.

The permutations obviously are almost endless, but it’s fun to pick through a few of the possibilities. Here are several.

The FIFA ranking group of death

At first glance it looks like the toughest potential group based only on the FIFA ranking would include No. 2 Brazil and No. 8 Spain, and then either No. 19 Denmark and No. 41 Nigeria or No. 22 Costa Rica and No. 38 Serbia, which ranks above only Russia among European participants.

Brazil and Spain met in the 2013 Confederations Cup final—a 3-0 win for the Seleção—and have played each other at five World Cups. The most recent meeting was back in 1986. The group-stage opener ended 1-0 in favor of Brazil.

A real group of death

Argentina is a talented and flawed team. We saw both sides during its qualification run. A genuine group of death needs big names, but no certainties. Argentina fits the bill as the top seed.

Joining them are the top teams in each of the next two spots, Spain and Denmark. Spain, as we’ve seen over the past seven years, can win it all or be the first team eliminated. Denmark’s potential was on display in this week’s demolition of Ireland. Rounding it out is Nigeria, which has players at many of the top European leagues and just beat Argentina on Tuesday.

This is a real group of death. Any team could advance, and any team could stumble and go home.

The bottom of the barrel group

And here’s the worst possible foursome according to the rankings. Russia is the seed everyone else will hope to draw. The hosts are ranked No. 65 in the world. They conceivably could be joined by No. 18 Croatia, No. 32 Senegal and No. 63 Saudi Arabia in a group that won’t excite many neutrals (and that Croatia would win in a walk).

The continental crown group

Germany has won the European Championship a record-tying three times and has appeared in a tournament-high six finals. Pot 2 teams Uruguay (15) and Mexico (10) lead the all-time title race on their respective continents. Egypt has won the most African Cup of Nations crowns (seven) and Japan leads Asia with four championships.

Uruguay edges Mexico on the tiebreaker, so this Confederations Cup tribute group comprises Die Mannschaft, La Celeste, the Pharaohs and the Samurai Blue.

The golden boot group

Robert Lewandowski (16), Mohammad Al-Sahlawi (16), Edinson Cavani (10) and Mohamed Salah (5) each led their respective continents in World Cup qualifying goals (Salah and Al-Sahlawi tied for top spot). And they could lead their teams into the same group next summer.

The golden boot group features Lewandowski’s Poland, Cavani’s Uruguay, Salah’s Egypt and Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia.

It’s worth noting that none of the top 10 CONCACAF scorers will play in the World Cup. That unfortunate list includes Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood. No one on Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama scored more than four goals in qualifying.

The drought's over group

A group comprising teams that have had the longest combined wait to play in a World Cup would be topped by Poland, which hasn’t qualified since 2006 and is the only seeded team ending a long wait. They’d be joined by Peru (first since 1982), Iceland and Panama. The latter two are making their maiden appearances.

The Real Madrid group

Members of the current club world champs (and they’ll be favored to repeat in December and hold the crown next summer) can reunite at a World Cup in Russia. It starts, obviously, with Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric’s Croatia, Keylor Navas’s Costa Rica and defender Achraf Hakimi’s Morocco round out the foursome.

The Seattle Sounders group

We have to cheat a bit, but a group representing the current (and possible repeat) MLS champs is possible as well. Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro, Sweden’s Gustav Svensson and Panama’s Román Torres all should see time in Russia. Toss in Germany—the native land of former coach Sigi Schmid and the ancestral homeland of current manager Brian Schmetzer—and you have an entertaining Cascadian quartet.

The build on Brazil group

Here’s a group featuring the team in each pot that had the best World Cup performance four years ago. They’ll be hoping for similar next summer. There’s the champion, Germany (pot 1), followed by quarterfinalist Colombia (pot 2), Cinderella quarterfinalist Costa Rica (pot 3) and round-of-16 loser Nigeria (pot 4).

The demographic overachievers group

It’s not about population. The top five most crowded countries in the world have a total of one World Cup semifinal appearance combined, and that was the USA’s run back in 1930 (Brazil ranks sixth, and they’ve done quite well. But the point stands).

Here’s a group with four smaller nations punching above their weight. It starts with Portugal, the European champion, two-time World Cup semifinalist and home to the reigning world player of the year that’s accomplished all that despite having just over 10 million people. Uruguay has won two World Cups and is a consistent producer of top talent with only 3.5 million. Iceland, with just 350,000 inhabitants, now is the least populous team to qualify for a World Cup. And Panama which has made great strides in recent years and become a CONCACAF contender, is the smallest pot 4 nation at around 4 million.

Memorable World Cup hosts group

Twelve countries traveling to Russia will have had the privilege of hosting a previous World Cup, and there are a bunch of ways those 12 could form a group next summer. So to narrow it down, we’ll go with tournaments that are remembered for transcendent individual performances and personalities.

Despite its industrial-strength talent production, France has won only one World Cup. And that title was inspired by the great Zinedine Zidane and came on home soil in 1998. Twelve years earlier, Diego Maradona staked his claim as the sport’s top player with his mesmerizing play in Mexico.

Sweden ’58 served as the planet’s introduction to Pelé. The 17-year-old scored six goals, including two in the final outside Stockholm. And although Japan and South Korea co-hosted in 2002, it was in Yokohama that Ronaldo escaped the shadow of his 1998 failure and struck twice to lift Brazil to a record fifth title.

American rivals group

The USA won’t be at the World Cup, but there still be rivals to root against if you’re so inclined. The hosts are an obvious choice as the seeded team. Joining the Russians are Mexico—the USA’s great soccer rival—as well long-time geopolitical nemesis and 1998 World Cup foe Iran, and 2026 World Cup bid counterpart Morocco.

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Peru's players celebrate their victory over New Zealand in their World Cup qualifying match. REUTERS/Douglas Juarez

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs- National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's coach Ricardo Gareca looks on. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's players celebrate their victory. REUTERS/Douglas Juarez

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's players celebrate their victory among members of the media. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's players celebrate their victory. REUTERS/Douglas Juarez

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs - National Stadium, Lima, Peru - November 15, 2017. Peru's players celebrate their victory among members of the media. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

World Cup Power Rankings: How the 2018 Field of 32 Nations Stacks Up

With the field of the 32 nations who will compete at the World Cup in Russia next summer completed by Peru's success in Lima Wednesday night, there's little time to waste in ranking the sides headed to the showcase event by making an initial assessment of their form.

Sure, there is plenty left to be decided. Which nations have managerial issues to resolve? Who knows what their starting lineup is likely to be? Who is praying for their key center forward to stay fit? Everything, of course, could change with the answers to those questions and the fallout from the group draw on Dec. 1, but, with all else being equal, who are the likely winners and who's just glad to going to Russia? Here's how we see the World Cup field stacking up:

1. BRAZIL

Six games into qualifying, Brazil had won only twice and looked in serious danger of failing to qualify. Going out of the Copa America Centenario in the group stage confirmed the moribund state of the Brazilian game. But then Tite replaced Dunga as manager, and the whole set-up changed. This Brazil plays modern, aggressive football, is far less reliant on Neymar and won 10 and drew two of its final 12 games to qualify, a full 10 points clear at the top of the CONMEBOL table.

Best Finish: Champions (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

2. SPAIN

Eliminated in the group stage in the last World Cup and then beaten by Italy in the last 16 of Euro 2016, the curtain seemed to have come down on the golden age of Spanish football. But after replacing Vicente Del Bosque, Julen Lopetegui has rejuvenated the side. Its 3-0 win over Italy in qualifying offered a clear warning that Spain is back.

Best Finish: Champions (2010)

3. GERMANY

Germany disappointed at Euro 2016, never really hitting top form and being well-beaten by France in the semifinal. Since then, though, it has qualified for the World Cup with a perfect 10-0-0 record and won the Confederations Cup with what was, in effect, a reserve side. Manager Jogi Low has used 36 players over the past two years, which for another manager might be a sign of chaos; for him it’s an indicator of strength.

Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)

4. FRANCE

This is a ridiculously gifted generation of French players who really should have won the Euros on home soil last summer. The sense, though, is that Didier Deschamps is not necessarily the man to get the best out if them, and the 4-4-2 he has adopted of late seems a weirdly blockish solution that leads to predictability.

Best Finish: Champions (1998)

5. BELGIUM

Now that it has been relieved of the handicap of Marc Wilmots, can Belgium’s golden generation make good on its promise? Under Roberto Martinez, Belgium qualified with ease, dropping only two points. Kevin De Bruyne has thrived in a slightly deeper role, but the question, as ever with Martinez, is whether the side will be able to cope defensively against better opposition. De Bruyne has already questioned Martinez's tactics.

Best Finish: Fourth Place (1986)

6. ARGENTINA

Qualification was traumatic, but with the dust settled, Argentina remains in a strong position. For all the doubts about players coming through, this remains a strong squad, overloaded with gifted forwards and, by appointing Jorge Sampaoli, it did, at the third attempt, get the right manager. Lionel Messi’s (probable) final chance at a World Cup may be the one he takes.

Best Finish: Champions (1978, 1986)

7. PORTUGAL

Portugal is the European champion and breezed through qualification by winning nine games in a row after losing the opener in Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo gives the goal-scoring edge, but its real strength is in the solidity of the midfield.

Best Finish: Third Place (1966)

8. URUGUAY

The stereotype of Uruguay is of defensive resolve, stifling tactics and a pragmatism that can tip into cynicism. This side, though, had the second-best scoring record in South American World Cup qualifying and looks to take full advantage of the abilities of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

Best Finish: Champions (1930, 1950)

9. ENGLAND

A mood of persistent frustration hangs over England, so much so that the general reaction to its unbeaten qualification was a collective yawn about the way the Three Lions had trudged through a less-than-testing group. Harry Kane and a highly gifted emerging generation, though, offer some hope.

Best Finish: Champions (1966)

10. CROATIA

If football were just about players, Croatia would never have needed a playoff to qualify. It may lack a defensive midfielder but has a great wealth of creators. But with hardcore fans at war with the federation, which belatedly replaced their manager Ante Cacic, Croatia was underachieving desperately until Zlatko Dalic took over. He secured the win Croatia needed against Ukraine in the final qualifier, and the side then cruised through its playoff against Greece, winning 4-1.

Best Finish: Third Place (1998)

11. COLOMBIA

James Rodriguez was the breakout star of the last World Cup, and there is a sense that he has perhaps stagnated thanks to the glut of talent at Real Madrid. If he can rediscover his form at Bayern Munich, though, and with Radamel Falcao enjoying a late-career renaissance, Jose Pekerman’s side could be a threat.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)

12. SWITZERLAND

The Swiss qualified thanks to a very dodgy penalty in the playoff against Northern Ireland, and struggled to impose themselves in that series, but Vladimir Petkovic’s well-balanced side won all of its first nine qualifiers and has, in Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichtsteiner, a pair of excellent attacking fullbacks.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)

13. POLAND

Poland is ranked sixth in the world, which is evidence of just how much impact the trick of not playing friendlies can be. This, after all, is a side that in September lost 4-0 to Denmark. But it is generally solid and has, in Robert Lewandowski, one of the best strikers in the world.

Best Finish: Third Place (1974, 1982)

14. RUSSIA

Only one host nation has ever failed to make it through the group stage of a World Cup, but Russia could be the second. The gifted generation that reached the semifinal of Euro 2008 grew old together and Stanislav Cherchesov? has struggled to rejuvenate a squad that is heavily reliant on Alan Dzagoev for creativity.

Best Finish: Fourth Place (1966)

15. MEXICO

Juan Carlos Osorio is a controversial figure, with many feeling he rotates too often and question his hard-pressing. His players, though, seem generally enthused, and Mexico finished top of CONCACAF qualifying as well as getting out of their group at the Confederations Cup. After eliminations at the round of 16 in the last six World Cups, Osorio's first target must be set on reaching the quarterfinals.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970, 1986)

16. ICELAND

After eliminating England to reach the quarterfinal of the Euros last summer, Iceland kicked on to become, by some distance, the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup, finishing top of an awkward group that also included Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. Gylfi Sigurdsson is the highest-profile player, but no side will have such a ferocious team spirit.

Best Finish: N/A

17. DENMARK

Denmark may have required a playoff to qualify, but that was because of results early in qualifying. More recently, the Danes put four past Poland and Montenegro and five past Ireland. Their Norwegian coach, Age Hareide, favors a direct approach and has made them defensively solid, but they also have the technical quality to unpick sides.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1998)

18. IRAN

Carlos Queiroz has been in charge of Iran for six years now. His side qualified unbeaten, letting in just two goals in 10 games in the final group, and can be relied upon to play in the characteristic Quieroz way, full of neat, technical, risk-averse football.

Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014)

19. NIGERIA

Inconsistency and underachievement have characterized Nigerian football over the past decade. The Super Eagles have failed to qualify for three of the last four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments but won the one they did get to. Under Gernot Rohr, though, there is a sense of renewal, and they ended up topping a brutally tough qualifying group with relative comfort. A 4-2 friendly victory over a (Messi-less) Argentina this week was hugely impressive.

Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)

20. SWEDEN

The Swedes dug deep and held firm to beat Italy over two legs and seem to have improved as a team since the retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Memories of their dismal Euro 2016 lurk in the background, and there is a lack of obvious creativity, but this is a side that also beat France in qualifying.

Best Finish: Runner-up (1958)

21. MOROCCO

Herve Renard’s record as an international coach is remarkable. He’s the only man to win the Cup of Nations with two different sides (Zambia, Ivory Coast) and he’s now taken Morocco to its first World Cup since 1998, coming out on top of a group that included Ivory Coast–without conceding a goal.

Best Finish: Round of 16 (1986)

22. JAPAN

There is an awkward sense about Japanese football that it has plateaued. The Samurai Blue finished top of their qualifying group and have an experienced coach in Vahid Halilhodzic, but, having been knocked out of the 2015 Asian Cup in the quarterfinals, there’s no reason to believe they’ll improve on their habit of alternating between group stage and last 16 exits.

Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010)

23. SERBIA

No side that finished top of its group in European qualifying collected fewer points than Serbia. This is a talented group, particularly in midfield, but the specter of past disintegrations at tournaments haunts them, and the chances of another potential collapse were only increased when Slavoljub Muslin was removed as coach after qualifying essentially because his football had been insufficiently exciting.

Best Finish: Group Stage (2010)

24. EGYPT

This is Egypt’s first World Cup since 1990, but it won a hat trick of Cups of Nations between 2006 and 2010. Having failed to make the following three Cups of Nations, the Pharaohs returned to the tournament this year and showed all the familiar defensive qualities, augmented by the pace of Mohamed Salah on the break, to reach the final.

Best Finish: Group Stage (1934, 1990)

25. SENEGAL

Senegal qualified unbeaten at the top of an awkward group that included Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and South Africa. The Lions of Teranga have pace and attacking flair on the flanks with Sadio Mane and Keita Balde and solidity in midfield with Idrissa Gueye. They disappointed at the Cup of Nations, though, eliminated in the quarterfinal by Cameroon.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2002)

26. SOUTH KOREA

South Korea struggled to second in its qualifying group, behind Iran, losing three of its 10 games. The squad should be better than that, though, as it features the likes of Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Lee Chung-yong (Crystal Palace) and Ji Dong-won (Augsburg).

Best Finish: Fourth Place (2002)

27. PERU

Peru is ranked 10th in the world, which is another lesson about the benefit of not playing friendlies. Ricardo Gareca’s side is well-organized and has impressed in recent tournaments, reaching the semifinal of the Copa America in 2015 and losing on penalties in the quarterfinal of the Copa America Centenario a year later. If Paolo Guerrero’s doping ban is confirmed and extended through the summer, though, it will be desperately short of firepower.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970)

28. COSTA RICA

Reaching the last eight four years ago looks like being the summit for a generation. Costa Rica has regressed since then, as a number of key players have aged. The Ticos finished second behind Mexico but managed just two wins away from home in the hexagonal.

Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)

29. TUNISIA

A 2-1 win over DR Congo in September effectively sealed Tunisia’s place in Russia, but it will go there with limited ambition after a hugely disappointing Cup of Nations in which it was eliminated by Burkina Faso in the quarterfinal. That led–eventually–to the departure of manager Henryk Kasperczak and his replacement, Nabil Maaloul.

Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)

30. AUSTRALIA

Ange Postecoglu’s side eventually qualified via a playoff, beating Honduras 3-1 over two legs, but the big concern must be that the Socceroos haven’t won any of their last nine games outside of Australia.

Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)

31. SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia scraped to an automatic World Cup berth on goal difference ahead of Australia, but lost three of their five away games, beating only Thailand and Iraq on the road. The manager who guided the side through qualifying, Bert van Marwijk, failed to agree to a new contract and was replaced by former Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza.

Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994)

32. PANAMA

Hernan Dario Gomez’s side qualified in third place in CONCACAF, but averaged less than a goal a game and won only one game away from home in the hexagonal. It's a just reward for a veteran core, but there'll be a hill to climb in Russia.

Best Finish: N/A

Celtic & Sweden Star Mikael Lustig's Rant at Italy Fans Earns Him Rollicking from His Wife

Wife ​Swedish defender Mikael Lustig’s four-letter tirade at Italy fans who booed the Swedish national anthem has earned himself quite a telling-off from his wife, Josefin. The Celtic full-back, 30, was visibly angry after home fans relentlessly booed during the build-up to their World Cup qualifying play-off on Monday. A clip surfaced of Lustig shouting and gesturing in the direction of his teammates, but his better half has since insisted that the language he used isn’t allowed at home....

Celtic & Sweden Star Mikael Lustig's Rant at Italy Fans Earns Him Rollicking from His Wife

Wife ​Swedish defender Mikael Lustig’s four-letter tirade at Italy fans who booed the Swedish national anthem has earned himself quite a telling-off from his wife, Josefin. The Celtic full-back, 30, was visibly angry after home fans relentlessly booed during the build-up to their World Cup qualifying play-off on Monday. A clip surfaced of Lustig shouting and gesturing in the direction of his teammates, but his better half has since insisted that the language he used isn’t allowed at home....

Celtic & Sweden Star Mikael Lustig's Rant at Italy Fans Earns Him Rollicking from His Wife

Wife ​Swedish defender Mikael Lustig’s four-letter tirade at Italy fans who booed the Swedish national anthem has earned himself quite a telling-off from his wife, Josefin. The Celtic full-back, 30, was visibly angry after home fans relentlessly booed during the build-up to their World Cup qualifying play-off on Monday. A clip surfaced of Lustig shouting and gesturing in the direction of his teammates, but his better half has since insisted that the language he used isn’t allowed at home....

Celtic & Sweden Star Mikael Lustig's Rant at Italy Fans Earns Him Rollicking from His Wife

Wife ​Swedish defender Mikael Lustig’s four-letter tirade at Italy fans who booed the Swedish national anthem has earned himself quite a telling-off from his wife, Josefin. The Celtic full-back, 30, was visibly angry after home fans relentlessly booed during the build-up to their World Cup qualifying play-off on Monday. A clip surfaced of Lustig shouting and gesturing in the direction of his teammates, but his better half has since insisted that the language he used isn’t allowed at home....

Daniele De Rossi Revealed to Have Shown Incredible Moment of Class to Sweden After Defeat

Italy's national side have had a tumultuous World Cup qualifying campaign, which has been devoid of moments to celebrate, but it has been revealed that Daniele De Rossi offered one last moment of class on the international stage when he boarded Sweden's team bus to congratulate them and apologise for the heckling during their national anthem on Monday.   Italy's defeat at the hands of Sweden ensured they would not qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, and the ill feeling at...

Daniele De Rossi Revealed to Have Shown Incredible Moment of Class to Sweden After Defeat

Italy's national side have had a tumultuous World Cup qualifying campaign, which has been devoid of moments to celebrate, but it has been revealed that Daniele De Rossi offered one last moment of class on the international stage when he boarded Sweden's team bus to congratulate them and apologise for the heckling during their national anthem on Monday.   Italy's defeat at the hands of Sweden ensured they would not qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, and the ill feeling at...

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 file photo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is comforted by Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, right, at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has been fired Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 following the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Ventura leaves in disgrace, widely criticized for his tactical decisions that left Italy out of football's biggest competition for the first time in six decades. A football federation statement says Ventura is "no longer coach of the national team." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 file photo, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is comforted by Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, right, at the end of the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has been fired Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 following the Azzurri's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Ventura leaves in disgrace, widely criticized for his tactical decisions that left Italy out of football's biggest competition for the first time in six decades. A football federation statement says Ventura is "no longer coach of the national team." (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

Soccer Football - Peru v New Zealand - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Playoffs

Peru's Jefferson Farfan celebrates after scoring. REUTERS/Douglas Juarez

Stuart Baxter blames Bafana Bafana's Fifa World Cup failure on his late appointment as coach

Baxter lost four of his five Fifa World Cup qualifying games as South Africa finished bottom of Group D log

Peru's Christian Cueva (L) fights for the ball with New Zealand's Kip Colvey during their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off second leg match, in Lima, on November 15, 2017

Peru's Christian Ramos (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against New Zealand during their FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off second leg match, in Lima, on November 15, 2017

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes