Sunday, April 15, 2012

Halfway to another World Cup

Hard as it is to believe, we are almost halfway to another edition of the World Cup in 2014 in Brazil.

It seems like only yesterday I was cramming like I was still in college taking a final compiling notes and doing video analysis on all 32 World Cup teams in 2010.

Fast forward almost two years, and another World Cup cycle is in full swing.

With that in mind, I thought it would worthwhile to see where each qualifying tournament stands:

AFRICA (40 teams left): They are into Round 2 after a play-in round with 10 groups of four each. Play commences June 1 across the continent and continues through Sept. 6, 2013 (remember FIFA mandates certain dates during which international matches take place). Group I could be particularly interesting at first glance with Cameroon, Libya, Togo and Congo DR, starting with an intriguing fixture June 1 between Libya and Togo.

ASIA (10 teams left): We are into Round 4 in Asia, with two groups of five each. Matches will be June 3, 2012 through June 18, 2013. On paper, I like the look of what could be a highly competitive Group B with Australia, Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Japan. All teams will get two matches in by June 12, a date that features a clash between Australia and Japan.

EUROPE (53 teams left): The reason Europe has all of its teams remaining in the World Cup cycle is because of its continental competition, Euro 2012, this summer. Once that tournament has been completed, Europe will commence Round 1 play on Sept. 7. It would probably be best to watch Euro 2012 play out before jumping to any conclusions about any of the World Cup groups - featuring eight groups of six and one group of five.

NORTH/CENTRAL AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN (12 teams left): CONCACAF is through to Round 3, which has three groups of four teams each. That starts June 8 and continues through Oct. 16. The U.S. should be virtually a lock to advance, but I do think it's a little bit of a tricky Group A of which they're a part with Jamaica, Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda.

OCEANIA (8 teams left): Round 2 is upon us in the South Pacific with two groups of four each. The fixtures have not yet been set, but the groups have: Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Samoa and Tahiti in Group A and Fiji, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in Group B. It's worth noting the winner of this competition does not get an automatic World Cup berth - they earn a play-in spot against a CONCACAF team.

SOUTH AMERICA (9 teams left): Group play is already under way in South America, with Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela all tied for first with seven points, but there's still a long way to go. They will be playing matches through Oct. 16 in this round. The first cycle of group matches took place in October and November of last year.

So we have 132 teams left in World Cup qualifying, and as crazy as it sounds, we're not too far away from having our field for Brazil - especially if how quickly the last nearly two years have gone is any indication.

- Chris Lillstrung


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