Road to the 2014 World Cup, part 1
It's a long way to the 2014 World Cup, but that doesn't mean we can't keep a close eye on what's transpiring on the road to Brazil.
Here is a look at what we know so far:
A total of 208 national sides started this World Cup cycle, and 72 have been eliminated - 69 in head-to-head competition and three by withdrawal. Syria was disqualified by FIFA in the Asian region and replaced by Tajikistan. The Bahamas, ranked 154th in the world, bowed out of CONCACAF qualifying (North/Central America and the Caribbean) because of complications with its new national stadium. Mauritius, an island nation in the western portion of the Indian Ocean, was forced to withdraw because it could not afford to travel to a qualifier match at Liberia in the African region.
The 72 teams eliminated thus far represent a staggering 3.7 billion people, approximately more than half the Earth's population. This number is particularly high because five of the planet's 10 most populated areas are already done with qualifying, including:
China: Home to nearly 1.4 billion, the Chinese are mathematically eliminated in Group A of Asia qualifying's third round, sitting at 2-3 on six points with one match to go. The top two advance from each group to the next round, and Jordan and Iraq have those spots secured. China is the highest ranked side in the FIFA rankings already done (No. 72) and was done in by consecutive 1-0 losses to Iraq in early November.
India: To be fair, India has never been considered a world power in soccer - in part because of its affinity for cricket - sitting at No. 160 in the FIFA rankings. In fact India, home to more than 1.2 billion people, didn't even make it to this group stage in Asia, having lost, 5-2, on aggregate to the United Arab Emirates.
The other surprise among early qualifying was the ouster of Trinidad and Tobago. The world's 86th-ranked side, which made the World Cup as recently as 2006, was edged in Group B of CONCACAF's second round. T&T paid dearly for a 2-1 loss to Guyana on Nov. 11 and a 2-1 upset defeat at the hands of Bermuda in October.
In Part 2, we'll look at the five teams with the lowest FIFA rankings to earn their way into 2012 on the pitch and not through automatic placement.
- Chris Lillstrung