2018 FIFA World Cup qualification
|Dates||12 March 2015 – 15 November 2017|
|Teams||210 (from 6 confederations)|
|Goals scored||2,454 (2.81 per match)|
|Attendance||18,720,691 (21,469 per match)|
|Top scorer(s)|| Robert Lewandowski|
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi[n 1]
(16 goals each)
The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification process was a series of tournaments organised by the six FIFA confederations to decide 31 of the 32 teams which would play in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with Russia qualifying automatically as hosts. All 210 remaining FIFA member associations were eligible to enter the qualifying process, and for the first time in World Cup history, all eligible national teams registered for the preliminary competition, but Zimbabwe and Indonesia were disqualified before playing their first matches. Bhutan, South Sudan, Gibraltar and Kosovo made their FIFA World Cup qualification debuts.
While the main qualifying draw took place at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna, Saint Petersburg, on 25 July 2015, qualification matches were played before that. The first, between Timor-Leste and Mongolia, began in Dili on 12 March 2015 as part of the AFC's qualification, with East Timorese player Chiquito do Carmo scoring the first goal in qualification.[n 2] Matches were also played in CONCACAF prior to the main draw.
|Russia||Hosts||2 December 2010||11th1||2014||2||Fourth place (1966)2|
|Brazil||CONMEBOL Round Robin winners||28 March 2017||21st||2014||21||Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)|
|Iran||AFC Third Round Group A winners||12 June 2017||5th||2014||2||Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014)|
|Japan||AFC Third Round Group B winners||31 August 2017||6th||2014||6||Round of 16 (2002, 2010)|
|Mexico||CONCACAF Fifth Round winners||1 September 2017||16th||2014||7||Quarter-finals (1970, 1986)|
|Belgium||UEFA Group H winners||3 September 2017||13th||2014||2||Fourth place (1986)|
|South Korea||AFC Third Round Group A runners-up||5 September 2017||10th||2014||9||Fourth place (2002)|
|Saudi Arabia||AFC Third Round Group B runners-up||5 September 2017||5th||2006||1||Round of 16 (1994)|
|Germany||UEFA Group C winners||5 October 2017||19th3||2014||17||Winners (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)|
|England||UEFA Group F winners||5 October 2017||15th||2014||6||Winners (1966)|
|Spain||UEFA Group G winners||6 October 2017||15th||2014||11||Winners (2010)|
|Nigeria||CAF Third Round Group B winners||7 October 2017||6th||2014||3||Round of 16 (1994, 1998, 2014)|
|Costa Rica||CONCACAF Fifth Round runners-up||7 October 2017||5th||2014||2||Quarter-finals (2014)|
|Poland||UEFA Group E winners||8 October 2017||8th||2006||1||Third place (1974, 1982)|
|Egypt||CAF Third Round Group E winners||8 October 2017||3rd||1990||1||First round (1934), Group stage (1990)|
|Iceland||UEFA Group I winners||9 October 2017||1st||–||1||–|
|Serbia||UEFA Group D winners||9 October 2017||12th4||2010||1||Fourth place (1930, 1962)5|
|Portugal||UEFA Group B winners||10 October 2017||7th||2014||5||Third place (1966)|
|France||UEFA Group A winners||10 October 2017||15th||2014||6||Winners (1998)|
|Uruguay||CONMEBOL Round Robin runners-up||10 October 2017||13th||2014||3||Winners (1930, 1950)|
|Argentina||CONMEBOL Round Robin third place||10 October 2017||17th||2014||12||Winners (1978, 1986)|
|Colombia||CONMEBOL Round Robin fourth place||10 October 2017||6th||2014||2||Quarter-finals (2014)|
|Panama||CONCACAF Fifth Round third place||10 October 2017||1st||–||1||–|
|Senegal||CAF Third Round Group D winners||10 November 2017||2nd||2002||1||Quarter-finals (2002)|
|Morocco||CAF Third Round Group C winners||11 November 2017||5th||1998||1||Round of 16 (1986)|
|Tunisia||CAF Third Round Group A winners||11 November 2017||5th||2006||1||Group stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)|
|Switzerland||UEFA Second Round winners||12 November 2017||11th||2014||4||Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)|
|Croatia||UEFA Second Round winners||12 November 2017||5th||2014||2||Third place (1998)|
|Sweden||UEFA Second Round winners||13 November 2017||12th||2006||1||Runners-up (1958)|
|Denmark||UEFA Second Round winners||14 November 2017||5th||2010||1||Quarter-finals (1998)|
|Australia||CONCACAF v AFC play-off winners||15 November 2017||5th||2014||4||Round of 16 (2006)|
|Peru||OFC v CONMEBOL play-off winners||15 November 2017||5th||1982||1||Quarter-finals (1970), Second round (1978)6|
- 1: This is the 4th appearance of Russia at the FIFA World Cup; however, FIFA considers Russia as the successor team of the Soviet Union who themselves qualified on 7 occasions.
- 2: Russia's best result is group stage in 1994, 2002 and 2014; however, FIFA considers Russia as the successor team of the Soviet Union who achieved this result.
- 3: Germany between 1951 and 1990 is often referred to as "West Germany", as a separate East German state and team existed then.
- 5: No official third place match took place in 1930 and no official third place was awarded at the time; both United States and Yugoslavia lost in the semi-finals. However, FIFA lists the teams as third and fourth respectively using the overall records of the teams in the tournament.
- 6: In 1978, the second round was another group stage which involved 8 teams qualified from the first round.
The number of teams participating in the final tournament was 32. Even though the qualification process began in March 2015, the allocation of slots for each confederation was discussed by the FIFA Executive Committee on 30 May 2015 in Zürich after the FIFA Congress. It was decided that the same allocation as 2014 would be kept for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.
Proposal for expansion
In October 2013, UEFA President Michel Platini proposed that the World Cup finals should be expanded from 32 to 40 teams starting from 2018. The format would have been the same, but in groups of five instead of four. This was in response to FIFA President Sepp Blatter's comments that Africa and Asia deserved more spots in the World Cup finals at the expense of European and South American teams. However, FIFA general secretary Jérôme Valcke said that expansion in 2018 would be "unlikely", while Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said that the country was "preparing on the basis that 32 teams will be taking part." Expansion was ultimately delayed until 10 January 2017, when the FIFA Council voted unanimously to expand to 48 teams starting in the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Summary of qualification
While all FIFA members entered the tournament, not all competed. Zimbabwe were expelled from the competition on 12 March 2015 for their failure to pay former coach José Claudinei a severance fee and Indonesia were excluded from the qualifying competition following the suspension of their football association by FIFA on 30 May 2015. Kuwait had a number of their qualifiers cancelled for a similar suspension that began while their campaign was underway, which eventually resulted in their elimination. Brazil were the first team to achieve qualification for the tournament following their 3–0 victory over Paraguay and Uruguay's loss to Peru on 28 March 2017. Peru became the 32nd and final team to qualify when, 233 days after Brazil secured their place, they beat New Zealand 2–0 on aggregate in the OFC-CONMEBOL play-off.
|Confederation||Available slots in finals||Teams started||Teams eliminated||Teams qualified||Qualifying start date||Qualifying end date|
|AFC||4.5||46||41||5||12 March 2015||15 November 2017|
|CAF||5||54||49||5||7 October 2015||14 November 2017|
|CONCACAF||3.5||35||32||3||22 March 2015||15 November 2017|
|CONMEBOL||4.5||10||5||5||8 October 2015||15 November 2017|
|OFC||0.5||11||11||0||31 August 2015||15 November 2017|
|UEFA||13+1||54+1||41||13+1||4 September 2016||14 November 2017|
|Total||31+1||210+1||179||31+1||12 March 2015||15 November 2017|
Note: One team each from AFC, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, and OFC played in the inter-confederation play-offs, between 10–15 November 2017 (CONCACAF v AFC and OFC v CONMEBOL).
Note: UEFA total includes +1 for Russia as hosts.
The formats of the qualifying competitions depended on each confederation (see below). Each round might be played in either of the following formats:
- League format, where more than two teams formed groups to play home-and-away round-robin matches, or in exceptions permitted by the FIFA Organizing Committee, single round-robin matches hosted by one of the participating teams or on neutral territory.
- Knockout format, where two teams played home-and-away two-legged matches.
In league format, the ranking of teams in each group is based on the following criteria (regulations Articles 20.6 and 20.7):
- Points (3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 points for a loss)
- Overall goal difference
- Overall goals scored
- Points in matches between tied teams
- Goal difference in matches between tied teams
- Goals scored in matches between tied teams
- Away goals scored in matches between tied teams (if the tie is only between two teams in home-and-away league format)
- Fair play points
- first yellow card: minus 1 point
- indirect red card (second yellow card): minus 3 points
- direct red card: minus 4 points
- yellow card and direct red card: minus 5 points
- Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organising Committee
In cases where teams finishing in the same position across different groups are compared for determining which teams advance to the next stage, the criteria is decided by the confederation and require the approval of FIFA (regulations Article 20.8).
In knockout format, the team that has the higher aggregate score over the two legs progresses to the next round. In the event that aggregate scores finish level, the away goals rule is applied, i.e. the team that scored more goals away from home over the two legs progresses. If away goals are also equal, then thirty minutes of extra time are played, divided into two fifteen-minutes halves. The away goals rule is again applied after extra time, i.e. if there are goals scored during extra time and the aggregate score is still level, the visiting team qualifies by virtue of more away goals scored. If no goals are scored during extra time, the tie is decided by penalty shoot-out (regulations Article 20.9).
The AFC Executive Committee meeting on 16 April 2014 approved the proposal to merge the preliminary qualification rounds of the FIFA World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup, which will be expanded to 24 teams starting in 2019:
- First round: 12 teams (ranked 35–46) played home-and-away over two legs. The six winners advanced to the second round.
- Second round: 40 teams (teams ranked 1–34 and six first round winners) were divided into eight groups of five teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The eight group winners and the four best group runners-up advanced to the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification as well as qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals.
- Third round: The 12 teams (an increase from 10 for 2014) which advanced from the second round were divided into two groups of six teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The top two teams of each group qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the two third-placed teams advanced to the fourth round.
- Fourth round: The two third-placed teams of each group from the third round played home-and-away over two legs. The winners advanced to the inter-confederation play-offs, playing the fourth-placed CONCACAF team.
Final positions (third round)
Play-off for 5th place (fourth round)
The third-placed teams from each group in the third round played against each other home-and-away over two legs to determine which team advanced to the inter-confederation play-offs.
|Team 1||Agg.||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
The CAF Executive Committee approved the format for the qualifiers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on 14 January 2015. However, on 9 July 2015 FIFA officially announced that only three rounds would be played instead of four.
- First round: 26 teams (ranked 28–53) played home-and-away over two legs. The 13 winners advanced to the second round.
- Second round: 40 teams (teams ranked 1–27 and 13 first round winners) played home-and-away over two legs. The 20 winners advanced to the third round.
- Third round: The 20 teams which had advanced from the second round were divided into five groups of four teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winners of each group qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Zimbabwe, even though they entered the competition, were expelled on 12 March 2015 for their failure to pay former coach José Claudinei a severance fee. Therefore, only 53 African teams were involved in the draw.
Final positions (third round)
An amendment to the qualification process for this tournament had been suggested, which would see the first three rounds played as knockout rounds, with both the fourth round and the final round (referred to as 'The Hex') played as group stages. The first round would be played during the FIFA international dates of 23–31 March 2015. CONCACAF announced the full details on 12 January 2015:
- First round: 14 teams (teams ranked 22–35) played home-and-away over two legs. The seven winners advanced to the second round.
- Second round: 20 teams (teams ranked 9–21 and seven first round winners) played home-and-away over two legs. The ten winners advanced to the third round.
- Third round: 12 teams (teams ranked 7–8 and ten second round winners) played home-and-away over two legs. The six winners advanced to the fourth round.
- Fourth round: 12 teams (teams ranked 1–6 and six third round winners) were divided into three groups of four teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The top two teams of each group advanced to the fifth round.
- Fifth round: The six teams which advanced from the fourth round played home-and-away round-robin matches in one single group. The top three teams qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the fourth-placed team advanced to the inter-confederation play-offs, playing the winners of the Asian Football Confederation play-off.
Final positions (fifth round)
|6||Trinidad and Tobago||10||6|
The qualification structure was the same as the previous five editions. The ten teams played in a league of home-and-away round-robin matches. The top four teams qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the fifth-placed team advanced to the inter-confederation play-offs, playing the winners of the Oceania Football Confederation qualifying competition.
Unlike previous qualifying tournaments where the fixtures were pre-determined, the fixtures were decided by a draw held on 25 July 2015, at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
- First round: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga played a round-robin tournament at a single country. The winners advanced to the second round.
- Second round (OFC Nations Cup): A total of eight teams (Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Vanuatu, and the first round winner) played the tournament at a single country. For the group stage, they were divided into two groups of four teams. The top three teams of each group advanced to the third round of World Cup qualifying. The top two teams of each group also advanced to the knockout stage (semi-finals and final) to decide the 2016 OFC Nations Cup winners which would play in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
- Third round: The six teams which advanced from the second round were divided into two groups of three teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The two group winners met in a two-legged match with the winners advancing to the inter-confederation play-offs, playing the fifth-placed CONMEBOL team.
The OFC had considered different proposals of the qualifying tournament. A previous proposal adopted by the OFC in October 2014 would have the eight teams divided into two groups of four teams to play home-and-away round-robin matches in the second round, followed by the top two teams of each group advancing to the third round to play in a single group of home-and-away round-robin matches to decide the winners of the 2016 OFC Nations Cup which would qualify to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and advance to the inter-confederation play-offs. However, it was later reported in April 2015 that the OFC had reversed its decision, and the 2016 OFC Nations Cup was played as a one-off tournament similar to the 2012 OFC Nations Cup.
Final positions (third round)
The draw for the final (which decided the order of legs) was held on 15 June 2017 at the OFC headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand. The winners of the final advanced to inter-confederation play-offs.
|Team 1||Agg.||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
|New Zealand||8–3||Solomon Islands||6–1||2–2|
Russia qualified automatically as hosts. The qualifying format for the remaining FIFA-affiliated UEFA teams was confirmed by the UEFA Executive Committee meeting on 22–23 March 2015 in Vienna.
- First round (group stage): The 52 UEFA teams affiliated with FIFA at the time of the draw were divided into nine groups (seven groups of six teams and two groups of five teams) to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winners of each group qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the eight best runners-up advanced to the second round (play-offs). With the admission of Gibraltar and Kosovo as FIFA members in May 2016, both national teams were eligible to make their debuts in World Cup qualifying. With initially two groups in the first round having only five teams, Kosovo was assigned to Group I as it was decided that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia should not play against Kosovo for security reasons, and Gibraltar was then added to Group H, so that each of the nine groups then had six teams.
- Second round (play-offs): The eight best runners-up from the first round played one other team over two legs, home and away. The four winners qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Final positions (first round)
|Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Advance to Second round (play-offs)|
|Group A||Group B||Group C|
|Group D||Group E||Group F|
|Group G||Group H||Group I|
- Ranking of runners-up
In deciding the eight best runners-up, the matches against the sixth-placed team in each group were discarded.
|1||B||Switzerland||8||7||0||1||18||6||+12||21||Advance to second round (play-offs)|
|8||D||Republic of Ireland||8||3||4||1||7||5||+2||13|
Rules for classification: Counting only matches against teams ranked first to fifth in the group, 1) Points; 2) Goal difference; 3) Goals scored; 4) Fair play points; 5) Drawing of lots.
Play-offs (second round)
|Team 1||Agg.||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
|Denmark||5–1||Republic of Ireland||0–0||5–1|
There were two inter-confederation playoffs to determine the final two qualification spots for the finals. The first legs were played on 10 and 11 November 2017, and the second legs were played on 15 November 2017.
CONCACAF v AFC
|Team 1||Agg.||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
OFC v CONMEBOL
|Team 1||Agg.||Team 2||1st leg||2nd leg|
- 16 goals
- 15 goals
- 11 goals
- 10 goals
- 9 goals
- 8 goals
For each confederation and inter-confederation play-offs, see sections in each article:
- This player's goal tally includes one or more goals that were scored in subsequently forfeited matches but are counted in FIFA's statistics nevertheless.
- The match originally ended 4–1 to Timor-Leste, but FIFA later awarded it as 3–0 to Mongolia due to Timor-Leste having fielded ineligible players. Nevertheless, FIFA continues to count the original goalscorers in its statistics. If they were excluded, the first scorer in qualification would be Chan Vathanaka of Cambodia, who scored against Macau later the same day.
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