The World Cup is over a year away still, but the participants in that tournament must be decided. A lot of times the drama of the World Cup extends to the qualifying matches. November held qualifying matches for each of the six confederations. Here’s what each confederation is doing on the last FIFA window of 2016.
The AFC region got a little interesting with some strange results. Draws between Syria and Iran left Group A with three teams vying for two automatic spots. Iran, despite traveling to Malaysia (Syria's home venue due to security concerns) for this match, were expected to pick up a full 3 points. The draw leaves their once almost guaranteed spot a little more on edge.
Australia had the opportunity to pull clear for first place, but a plucky Thailand side didn't disappoint their home fans. The 2-2 draw left the group with four teams in the running for their two automatic spots. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are looking to knock off a traditional power in either Japan or Australia, and with five matches to go things will only get crazier from here.
A two horse race has emerged in Group A as potential World Cup debutants DR Congo will be facing a Tunisian side who haven't been to the World Cup since 2006. Thus far, DR Congo have had the more impressive performances, with their most recent being a 2-1 comeback victory over Guinea in Conakry.
Three teams in this group qualified for both that 2010 and 2014 editions of the World Cup. This year? Only one of those teams are headed to their third straight appearance. The favorite is the suddenly high flying Super Eagles of Nigeria. They dispatched a confident Algeria team 3-1 in Uyo with a Victor Moses brace.
Scoreless draws between all the competitors of Group C kept The Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire in control. There is potential for a challenge if the other three groups, who show promise, can play up to the African powerhouse's standards.
Group D: Cape Verde 1-2 Burkina Faso, South Africa 2-1 Senegal
The most intriguing group of the CAF qualifying cycle pits four teams that could be on the cusp of African World Cup success. Senegal, the favorites, saw a six match unbeaten run stopped by the Bafana Bafana in Polokwane. South Africa would be in control of the group, but lose the tiebreaker to the Stallions of Burkina Faso. This group is still wide open.
Bob Bradley would be smiling at the result of this one. After last qualifying cycle was crushed by the might of Ghana, Egypt returned the heartache after defeating the Black Stars 2-0 in Alexandria. Egypt have taken full points from two games where Ghana have disappointed. The surprise here, however, are Uganda who sit with four points from two games and look poised to challenge Egypt.
CONCACAF (North and Central America, Caribbean)
Match Day 2: Costa Rica 4-0 United States, Panama 0-0 Mexico, Honduras 3-1 Trinidad & Tobago
The Hex hasn't started so well for the United States. Their two losses open the door wide open for the "Fire Klinsmann" brigade. Mexico and Costa Rice have established themselves as the teams to beat and after 2 tough opening games, can look to coast through the rest of the way. Honduras and Panama will certainly enjoy their spots and continue to monitor the condition of the US.
CONMEBOL (South America)
Match Day 12: Bolivia 1-0 Paraguay, Ecuador 3-0 Venezuela, Argentina 3-0 Colombia, Chile 3-1 Uruguay, Peru 0-2 Brazil
The story of this round of qualifying is that the results were unkind to James Rodriguez and Colombia. Los Cafeteros were bumped out of the top five after drawing Chile and losing badly to Argentina. Brazil continues to front run this group, and with six games left its hard to see the Neymar led team fall below the qualifying line. Despite losing 3-1 to Chile, Uruguay looks equally solid to qualify. Chile and Ecuador still have some work to do to fend off a talented underperforming Colombia.
Matches: New Zealand 2-0 New Caledonia, Tahiti 1-0 Solomon Islands, Solomon Island 1-0 Tahiti, New Caledonia 0-0 New Zealand
In a region dominated by New Zealand, it's no surprise that New Zealand top their group after two matches. In a brief and bizarre qualifying campaign, Oceania offers little to no drama.
Its early yet, with six matches to play, but France set themselves ahead a smidge with a 2-1 win versus Sweden. The Netherlands won away as expected, on the back of Memphis Depay, and will continue to pressure Sweden for the second place playoff.
Sharks played minnows in Group B as the challengers for the 2018 World Cup easily put aside three points against the teams who are in qualifying for the formality. Switzerland continues to set the pace with 12 points, but a complacent Portugal side may let Hungary sneak up on them if they're not careful.
Germany will qualify from this group with little challenge. Its the second place that is interesting. Azerbaijan was brought back down to Earth after their opening three games yielded them seven points. Northern Ireland may just return to the World Cup in 2018.
A plucky Ireland team keeps pulling out results. This time a 1-0 victory came back with them to Dublin over a favored Austria team. Ten points from four games is a great start for Ireland, but with Wales and Serbia lurking there is still much work to do.
Poland's hot qualifying campaign has gotten them ten points in four matches and a 3-0 win over a resurgent Romania points Poland towards their first World Cup since 2006. The rest of the group is a jumbled mess that is open for anyone to march into the playoffs. That is if anyone finds consistent form.
The Three Lions have always performed well in qualifying and are doing no differently here. They aren't clear of the hedges yet and breathing down their necks are two teams eager to return to the World Cup after missing the 2014 edition.
Spain and Italy remain battling each other for the automatic qualifying spot in this group. Israel will make them sweat just a little if they continue to beat teams below them, but the realistic challenge isn't there. This one may very well come down to a September match up between Spain and Italy.
Belgium are absolutely rolling right now. They'll hope their form continues into 2017. They should be able to keep Greece and Bosnia out of arms reach, but Greece are already outperforming their European qualifying performance for the most recent Euros.
Turkey took a huge step in entering the slobber knocker that is Group I. Croatia, Ukraine, Iceland and the aforementioned Turkey all have a decent shot at first place in this group. I wouldn't be surprised if this group was decided on goal difference.