We are now just days away from the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Finals. The word "finals" is important. 211 teams have participated in the 2018 World Cup with qualifying starting in Africa as early as the 12th of March 2015.
Unfortunately I am only too aware of when qualifying ended for the tournament in Europe. It was Tuesday the 14th of November 2017. I sat in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin and watched Denmark take the final UEFA spot in Russia at the expense of the Republic of Ireland.The following day Peru claimed the final spot beating New Zealand in a play-off. We will revisit Peru shortly.
As an Irish supporter it is frustrating to finish 2nd in a qualifying group, ahead of two teams ranked 10th and 15th in the FIFA World Ranking at the time of the draw, only to face the 19th best team globally in a play-off.
I have previously shown how it is becoming harder for UEFA members of qualify for the World Cup. Even expansion in 2026 will do little to help the European cause. Some might argue UEFA have the best deal of all. There will be 14 teams at the Finals this summer from the confederation. This includes hosts Russia and is almost treble that of any other FIFA confederation. The pie chart below presents the breakdown for the 2018 Finals.
Having watched this tournament, with clear memory since 1990 (I do recall the final in 1986), it seems natural inequalities play a role when qualifying.
Geographic location on this planet is very important. Outside of Europe countries such as South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and USA (although not this time round) seem to appear every four years. Brazil in fact are the only country to have played at all 21 World Cup finals. The CONMEBOL qualification system plays a huge role in this regard. The graphic below presents the number of teams eliminated versus those qualifying from each confederations for the 2018 Finals. South America is an obvious outlier.
Peru, a country that lost 6 games in qualifying, will line out against Denmark on the 16th of June. The country qualified with a total of 26 points from 18 games, an average of just points per game 1.44. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had an average return in qualifying of 1.9. Italy's was 2.3.
Switzerland finished second in UEFA qualifying Group B with 27 points. The Swiss then had to win a two-legged playoff against Northern Ireland to qualify. Colombia finished 4th in CONMEBOL with 27 points and qualified directly for the finals. 27 points from 18 games. In fact, the Swiss got more points from 10 games then Peru did from 18!
If only Ireland was in South America...