The World Cup is the showcase for the best international teams across soccer. It's not a cinch to get there, though. One year away from the 2018 World Cup, what do the world's top 25 teams need to do to ensure they're among the 32 teams qualified for Russia? Here's a breakdown, from 25 to 1, of their standing one year out from the tournament's opening match.
Group I in UEFA is top heavy, with Croatia and Iceland on 13 points and Turkey and Ukraine on 11. The top teams have all been getting fat on Kosovo and Finland, both of which have been eliminated. Turkey are well within the realm of qualifying, especially with UEFA's funky second-place qualifying playoff rules, but they'll need a few more wins to be certain. Arguably their most difficult remaining match, away to Ukraine on Sept. 2, could go a long way to qualifying.
With five CONMEBOL qualifying matchdays left, Ecuador have some time to gain ground. They're two points behind Argentina for the inter-confederation playoff spot and four away from jumping all the way to second. Still, with matches against Argentina, Peru, Chile and Brazil all looming, it won't be easy.
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After looking to be in dire straights following a pair of losses to open the Hex, the Americans have taken eight points from their last four qualifiers to move into third place. Now they have an automatic qualifying spot and, with trips to Mexico and Costa Rica already in their rearview mirror, a favorable schedule to wrap things up.
Iceland are in the same boat as Turkey, albeit with a two-point cushion in second place of Group I in UEFA qualifying. The good news for the darlings of 2016's Euros is that they have a relatively soft remaining schedule. Ukraine visit on Sept. 5 and they visit Turkey on Oct. 6, but otherwise, it's a trip to Finland and a visit from Kosovo.
(Ed. note: A previous version of this piece listed Croatia as visiting Sept. 5.)
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In second place of UEFA's Group F with 12 points, Slovakia are in good position. They've been feast or famine, winning four and losing two with no draws in their six matches. Their upcoming matches against Slovenia (Sept. 1 at home) at and England (Sept. 4 away) could ultimately decide their fate.
It's still early days in CAF qualifying, but Egypt are off to a good start with two wins in two matches. Behind them in Group E are Uganda with four points. The Pharaohs have back-to-back matches against Uganda coming up on Aug. 28 and Sept. 2, which could paint a much clearer picture of what needs to be done going forward.
The Ticos are second in the Hex with a four-point buffer between them and falling out of an automatic qualification spot. A place in the World Cup is not yet assured, and with matches against Mexico and the U.S. left things could get hairy, but Costa Rica have taken care of business to this point and have to feel good about their chances.
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As mentioned, Group I in UEFA qualifying is top heavy. Croatia are jockeying to qualifying with three other worthy teams when only one side is guaranteed a berth in the World Cup. They have a leg up on the competition, sitting in first and holding the tiebreaker over Iceland. Away trips to Ukraine and Turkey could be tricky, but the home matches against Finland and Kosovo should be a walk in the park.
Cruising through the Hex in CONCACAF, it'd be stunning if Mexico didn't qualify for the World Cup. They haven't lost a match in six played and have a very manageable remaining schedule.
As it stands, Uruguay are in ... but there's a lot that can change in the uber-competitive CONMEBOL. They have a cushy schedule, though, with a match against Argentina at home on Aug. 31 the only real concern. Other than that, they take on Bolivia, Venezuela and Paraguay -- all three of which currently are at the bottom of the table.
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On the outside looking in in CONMEBOL, Peru have their work cut out for them. They'll need wins to crack into the qualification spots, and those might be tough to come by against Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador. Beating Bolivia in their next match is paramount, or else it could be curtains for Peru.
Leading Group F in UEFA qualifying, the Three Lions control their fate. Their schedule shakes out nicely, too, with one easy match and one tricky match in each of the remaining two qualifying windows. They should be fine barring some major slip ups -- and we've never seen England conspire to do that.
Wales will need to catch Serbia and Ireland while also fending off Austria in UEFA's Group D. Making up four points in four matches to qualify automatically is possible, but it's no simple task. They can do themselves some big favors with results against Ireland and Serbia in the coming months, while making sure they take a full six points from Group D doormats Georgia and Moldova.
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It just wouldn't be a World Cup without Italy there, would it? With 16 points already in UEFA's Group G the Azzurri are in a good position to qualify for the playoff round at the very least. Circle their trip to Spain on Sept. 2. There's bound to be fireworks there.
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Robert Lewandowski & Co. are running away with Group E in UEFA qualifying. They're six points clear with four matches left, so it'd be stunning if they didn't win the group. A date at Denmark is the only reasonable match where Poland could drop points.
Like Italy, Spain are World Cup mainstays so it's no surprise to see them atop their group. They've scored 21 goals and allowed three in six matches. They'll host Italy on Sept. 2 to all but decide which team is winning Group G.
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Quietly, the Swiss have been putting together a fantastic qualifying campaign. They're won all six of their matches in UEFA's Group B, including a 2-0 win at home against second-place Portugal. The Euro 2016 champions will have a chance to return the favor on Oct. 10 ... the final day of UEFA qualifying.
Beating Switzerland would be huge for Portugal, assuming both teams maintain their current pace. Down three points to the Swiss, Portugal boast a much larger goal differential. If both nations finish tied on points, it will probably be Switzerland heading to the playoff round.
Atop Group H in UEFA, Belgium are in good shape. They've scored a rampant 24 goals in six matches and have allowed just two. Dropping points at home in a draw against Greece is their only blip, but it's very difficult to see Belgium doing anything other than playing in Russia next summer.
A late loss to Sweden in their most recent match put France outside the automatic qualification spot in UEFA's Group A. Even so, if they finish second they should be shoo-ins for the playoff. Getting a home win against the Netherlands would really help Les Bleus on Aug. 31.
Sitting in second place in CONMEBOL qualifying, Colombia should be packing for Russia next summer. Aside from a match with Brazil, the Colombians have a navigable schedule through the rest of qualifying.
Chile, too, should see themselves in Russia next year. The middle of the pack in CONMEBOL is tight, but Chile already have a win against table-leading Brazil under their belts. Matches against Ecuador and a return match vs. Brazil are looming, though.
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It's Germany ... they'll be there. Their UEFA group, Group C, is really just a competition for which nation can get the playoff spot.
Of all the teams to be in precarious position, you wouldn't think Argentina would be. The reality is, they are. They're currently in the inter-confederation playoff spot and are coming off of a loss to eliminated Bolivia. Argentina are hoping that Jorge Sampaoli, in for the ousted Edgardo Bauza, can guide them to the promised land. Making sure to get back in the win column is priority No. 1 if they're to make it.
They're already in! Along with the hosts, Russia, and Iran out of the AFC, Brazil secured their spot in the 2018 World Cup. Now, all that's left is to keep momentum and perhaps play spoiler for some of their CONMEBOL rivals.