Blog by: Srihari
Ten teams have already qualified for the World Cup, while giants like Germany and Spain are on the cusp of qualification. But then there are plenty of other teams, which are looking at qualifying for the very first time in their history.
Let us take a look at five of the best placed teams, who look like they will be able to make it to Brazil and feature in their first-ever World Cup.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Since becoming an independent nation in 1992, after being a part of Yugoslavia, the Bosnians have come close on quite a few times. During qualification for the previous World Cup, they lost to Portugal in the playoffs and before that they failed to win their last game, which would have given them a chance in 2006.
This time around, they have already booked a playoff berth and if they manage to win their remaining two games, they will qualify outright for the World Cup as group winners. They are currently ranked 13 in the world – the highest they have ever been ranked.
With an attacking trio of Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Zvjezdan Misimovic, they have racked up 25 goals in just eight games and only Germany have scored more than them so far. They certainly look set to take Brazil by storm in 2014.
Whilst the Ethiopians are probably more famous on the athletics track than on the football pitch, they still have a very good chance of making it to Brazil, if they get a favourable draw in the final playoff round.
The Walia Antelopes, as they are fondly called, have rich history dating back to 1957, when they were one of three teams – Egypt and Sudan being the others – to be a part of the inaugural African Cup of Nations. After having won the tournament five years later, success has eluded the Ethiopians, ever since.
Although they were sanctioned for fielding a suspended player against Botswana, which almost dashed their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup, they have since managed to go on a run of wins, which has seen them leapfrog South Africa into first place and go into the final playoff round as group winners. Only time will tell if they will be able to make it to Brazil.
A total of 72 countries remain in contention for qualification, the most unlikely of them all: Cape Verde, which is a group of small volcanic islands lying isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Senegal.
And while they are ranked 172nd in the world in terms of population, according to the latest FIFA rankings they are the 36th best team in the world. That is not too bad, when you consider the fact that just four years ago, they were ranked 112th.
The Blue Sharks proved that their run to the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals this year was no fluke, by beating Tunisia 2-0. By doing so, they topped their group and through to the final playoff round, where they will be seeded for the very first time.
Although they have scored just five goals, not counting the two games against Equatorial Guinea which was forfeited 3-0, their striker Nhuk and attacking midfielder Platini certainly look like they might be able to take them to Brazil and guarantee the presence of an African debutant in Brazil.
The 2-1 win over Albania means that the Icelanders are in control of their own destiny, as victory in their final two games, will guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. Currently in second place, one would assume that it shouldn’t be all that hard for them to get through.
That is certainly a huge achievement for a country with a population of merely 320,000, which makes it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland are certainly making a fair case for being the least populous nation to make it to the World Cup.
Their recent exploits sees them ranked 70th in the world, which is a stark contrast to just 18 months ago, when they were ranked 131st in the world. If they continue their good form, they might just sneak into Brazil.
With the disastrous form of Mexico, Panama might well make it to Brazil, if they manage to beat the Mexicans, when they play each other next month in the final round of qualifiers. They are currently in fourth place with eight points, level with Mexico, and are in pole position to make it to the playoffs against New Zealand as they look to make it to their first-ever World Cup.
Having finished runners-up in the 2013 Gold Cup, Panama might well make it. But their path is anything but straight forward, as their final two games are away to Mexico and at home to USA. If they get through both these games unscathed, they certainly deserve their place in Brazil.