African rivals set for group-stage challenge
For the 20 remaining teams in the CAF qualifying campaign, the journey to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ begins in earnest this week as they play their first games in the group stage. With only the five group winners earning the right to represent the continent, the stakes are high from the off as every team knows that a loss in the first game sees them having to make up ground.
A quick start would certainly seem necessary in the brutal Group B, where three veterans of the 2010 and 2014 finals have been grouped together. The unfortunate fourth team to join Algeria, Nigeria and Cameroon is 2012 African champions Zambia. The Chipolopolo, who missed out on a place at the 2017 CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals, are at home to Nigeria in their opener.
Asia’s big four – the quartet that represented the continent at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ – face familiar foes as the third qualifying round reaches the third matchday on Thursday. High-flying Australia are hoping to continue their 100 per cent start with an away win against Saudi Arabia, while both Korea Republic and Japan will be aiming to prolong their dominant record against Qatar and Iraq, respectively, in this campaign. Iran, meanwhile, arrive in Tashkent seeking to bring Uzbekistan’s winning streak to a close.
With the ninth round of fixtures of the South American qualifying tournament for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ fast approaching, seven countries are separated by only five points at the top of the standings. The time has therefore arrived for the serious contenders to make their presence felt and pull clear of their rivals.
After competing in an opening round of fixtures in September, European nations are readying themselves for the second and third matches of the qualifying campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. FIFA.com reviews the matches taking place over the coming week, including a much-anticipated duel between Italy and Spain, and a chance for UEFA EURO 2016 finalists France and Portugal to bounce back from disappointing starts.