Road to Russia

Neither a person, nor a nation, can exist without some higher idea…
-Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It’s been less than eight months since Mario Götze fired Germany to the summit of World football in Rio. 

Since then, all the talk has been about 2022, with mysterious goings on, dodgy reports, and arguments about when that tournament should be held. That is something to worry about in the future, for there’s another tournament in between.

The Russian bid, too, is not without its controversy, but has largely been overshadowed by its much smaller counterpart. Such things must be put behind as the long road to Russia starts this Thursday as the qualifiers in Asia get underway.

There are 12 teams involved, with the first game to kick off being East Timor’s game against Mongolia in Dili at 7AM. It’s unlikely Sky Sports has picked this one up.

This stage involves some big countries, population and land area wise. India are involved against Nepal, Pakistan face Yemen (appropriately enough, in Qatar) and Sri Lanka face Bhutan in the latter’s first ever World Cup game. They play each other over two legs and he winners go on to the group stage where they will face the likes of Japan, South Korea, and…er… Guam for a place in the next round.

It’s highly unlikely any of the sides involved will actually qualify- they represent the lowest-ranked sides in the region and are hampered either by low population (eg Brunei) or lack of investment in football either due to poverty or other sports (cricket being the prime example) being more popular. India did qualify in 1950 but didn’t show up due to a variety of reasons (it is widely believed it was because of a ban on barefoot playing, it was more likely a financial decision). Combining this with the fact that 4 or 5 teams from 46 will make it to Russia means you’ll get long odds.

Similarly, the qualification campaign in North and Central America starts ten days later in Barbados with some similarly weak teams taking part. There, 3 or 4 teams will qualify from a field of 35.

In Europe, we will have to wait until after the European Championship next year before qualification starts, while the other zones start at various points this year, and we will find out who plays who in July. Qualifying will end in November 2017. There are 13 spots up for grabs from 52 ( excluding Russia) in Europe, 5 from 54 in Africa, 4 or 5 from 10 in the strong South American section, or 0 or 1 from Oceania’s 11.

The World Cup is about the football, I hope the spirit of the qualifiers will send FIFA that message.

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