In Group A, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tunisia have started their campaigns with two wins. The two sides play each other Kinshasa on the 5th. Winner is the favorite to advance.
Group B: This group is loaded with three of Africa’s perennial qualifiers – Nigeria, Algeria, and Cameroon – vying for a single spot in Russia. The fourth team, Zambia, won the Africa Cup of Nations as few as five years ago.
Nigeria has had its way so far, leading the group with six points. They have a home-and-home with Cameroon upcoming, while Algeria, currently last in the group with just one point, will face Zambia twice.
Group C: This group should be Cote d’Ivoire’s for the taking. Most of that country’s golden generation are retired or in their twilight years, but they’ve got more than enough talent to qualify ahead of Morocco, Gabon and Mali.
Gabon gets the Ivory Coast twice in this window, while Mali and Morocco square off.
Group D: Group D features an interesting mix of teams, with Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Senegal sitting on four, four, and three points atop the standings.
All three are proud footballing countries mostly starved for success – South Africa missed out on the last World Cup after hosting in 2010, while Senegal hasn’t been to a finals since ’02 and Burkina Faso has never qualified.
South Africa has a chance to make a move in this window, as they face the Cape Verde Islands while Senegal and Burkina Faso square off.
Group E: Though Uganda has made a nice start to its campaign with a win and a draw, this group is all about Egypt – trying to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1990 – and Egypt’s longtime foil Ghana.
The Egyptians beat the Ghanaians 2-0 last November and lead the group with six points, while Ghana needs points fast have only managed a draw with the Ugandans in their other game. The Black Stars have just reappointed 2014 World Cup manager James Kewsi Appiah, replacing Avram Grant.
Egypt controls its own destiny, but it’s hard not to feel that their final game – against Ghana in November – will go a long way in determining this group’s fate.
Group A: Iran, under the leadership of former Real Madrid and Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz, has torn through this group and qualified in June.
South Korea and Uzbekistan are battling for the final automatic bid, with South Korea leading the race by a point with Syria – whose potential qualification would be the story of the tournament – three back.
Syria is playing its home qualifiers in Malaysia, and that’s where they’ll face Qatar – one of the group’s also-rans alongside Marcello Lippi’s China – on August 31. The Syrians need to win that game, and then win in Tehran four days later. It’s a big order.
South Korea controls its fate – a win over Iran at home would mean they’d just need to get a draw in Uzbekistan to qualify.
Group B: Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Australia will finish one-two-three, but the two automatic bids are very much up for grabs.
Japan lead the Saudis and Aussies by one point, and face them both in the coming window. Saudi Arabia first plays the United Arab Emirates, while Australia finished with Thailand.
The good news for this trio is that whichever team finishes third will likely go into the playoff as a substantial favorite over either South Korea or Uzbekistan. It should be a hell of a race.
Group A: The Oceanic region is split into two groups of three this cycle, with the winners of the groups meeting in a playoff to determine which country will represent the confederation in its playoff against the fifth-placed South American team.
Those group winners are New Zealand and the Solomon Islands, and they’ll meet in a two-legged playoff – on the 1st in Auckland and on the 5th in Honiara.
The Kiwis are big favorites, but whoever wins this tie will be heavy underdogs against the South American team lying between them and Russia. Last time around, New Zealand was trounced in that final playoff by Miguel Herrera’s Mexico.
World Cup qualifiers on US TV/streaming (all times Eastern):
Thursday, August 31
Japan vs. Australia, 6:30am, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
South Korea vs. Iran, 7:30am, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Uganda vs. Egypt, 9am, beIN SPORTS Connect and fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
Guinea vs. Libya, 1pm, beIN SPORTS Connect and fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
France vs. Netherlands, 2:45pm, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes and Sling Latino (7-day free trial)
Luxembourg vs. Belarus, 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Match Pass
Hungary vs. Latvia, 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Match Pass
Switzerland vs. Andorra, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Greece vs. Estonia, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Cyprus vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Friday, September 1
Ghana vs. Congo, 11:30am, beIN SPORTS Connect and fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
Nigeria vs. Cameroon, Noon, beIN SPORTS Connect and fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
Cape Verde vs. South Africa, 2:30pm, beIN SPORTS Connect and fubo Premier (7-day free trial)
Norway vs. Azerbaijan, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Romania vs. Armenia, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Slovakia vs. Slovenia, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Lithuania vs. Scotland, 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Match Pass
Malta vs. England, 2:45pm, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Saturday, September 2
Finland vs. Iceland, Noon, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Albania vs. Liechtenstein, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Ukraine vs. Turkey, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Israel vs. Macedonia, 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Match Pass
Wales vs. Austria, 2:45pm, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Sunday, September 3
Belarus vs. Sweden, Noon, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Faroe Islands vs. Andorra, 2:45pm, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Greece vs. Belgium, 2:45pm, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3 and Sling Orange (7-day free trial)
Gibraltar vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2:45pm, FOX Soccer Match Pass
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