The 2018 FIFA World Cup will kick off today with Russia taking on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. 32 teams will battle it out over a month for football’s biggest prize. Mint takes a look at how they qualify for the tournament.
1. How does the process begin?
Football governing body Fifa has six affiliated continental confederations: Asia (AFC); Africa (CAF); North, Central America and the Caribbean (Concacaf); Oceania (OFC); South America (Conmebol); and Europe (UEFA). 211 countries belong to these confederations. Apart from the host country, all other teams must qualify for a spot in the World Cup. For most confederations, the process has a tiered structure. Lowest-ranked teams hit the pitch first for the qualifiers, almost three years before the World Cup is scheduled.
2. So when do big teams start their campaign?
It depends on the qualification structure of each confederation. South America, for example, does not have a tiered structure. So, the 10 Conmebol members, including Argentina and Brazil, play one home and one away match against every other team. The top four teams in the points table at the end of the qualifying rounds make it to the World Cup. Asia, which has 47 teams, has a three-tier system to ensure that the minnows are not thrown directly up against the big boys.
3. How many teams qualify?
32 countries are competing for the ultimate footballing glory in Russia. Europe has 14 teams; Asia, Africa and South America have five teams each; three teams will represent Concacaf.
How are the teams put into groups?
Teams are divided into four pots of eight teams each. The top-ranked sides go in pot 1, and so on. The eight groups, of four teams each, are then populated by randomly drawn teams. Each group should ideally get one team from each pot. Geographical clashes are avoided (for example, two Asian teams cannot be in the same group). But since this is not possible for Europe, each group can have a maximum of two European teams.
What happened to the Indian team?
India—one of the lowest-ranked teams in the world in January 2015 when the qualification process began—started their campaign in the first round of the Asian confederation. They beat Nepal 2-0 over two legs in the first stage. However, in their five-team second round group comprising Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Guam, India lost seven of their eight matches to finish at the bottom and crashed out.