The qualifying stages for Russia 2018 are now over with and we know the names of the 32 countries that will be heading out to play in the World Cup next summer. We have many of the usual big names involved, as well as some surprises and, as ever, Europe is very well represented in the tournament. There are 14 teams competing from Europe, and here is a look at who they are, how they qualified, and their chances of success next summer.
Russia, France, and England
Russia have qualified as the hosts and they will be hoping the home crowd can play their part when the tournament begins. They have a talented team, capable of doing well in this tournament and the last 16 will be the minimum they are hoping for. Being at home is a big advantage for them, and those who face Russia can expect to be met by a very hostile atmosphere. Joining Russia are Belgium, who qualified for the finals thanks to winning Group H in very comfortable fashion. They went through the group stages without losing a game, and they only conceded six goals so expect to see them full of confidence. This is a great time for Belgian football so expect to see them in the quarterfinals; there is even a chance they could go further.
England won their group with similar ease to Belgium; they eventually won Group F by eight points. However, that was a relatively straightforward qualifying group for them, and they have often disappointed on the world stage. They were sent home by Iceland at Euro 2016 and it is hard to see them going past the quarter-final stage, with the last 16 probably being a realistic target for them. France had a much tougher group than England but still managed to get through, beating Sweden and the Netherlands to the top spot to secure automatic qualification. Anything less than the quarterfinals would be a disappointment for France; they have a fantastic youth squad and are one of many teams in with a realistic chance of winning the tournament.
Germany and Spain
One team who did have it relatively easy during qualifying was Germany and they took full advantage, winning all ten of their games. They are currently trying to bring some new faces into the team to replace the older legs and their chances at the tournament will depend on how those young players take to the world stage. If they do, then Germany have a great chance of winning another World Cup and anything less than reaching the semi-finals will be seen as a disappointment.
Spain nearly had the same ten out of ten record as Germany but a tie with Italy left their record at nine wins and one draw. However, that was enough for the top spot and to qualify automatically, and they will head to Russia looking to add to their recent World Cup victory in 2010. Their current squad is very good and they have a chance but, unless they cause an upset, then the quarter-final stage is where they look likely to exit the tournament.
Iceland, Portugal, Serbia, and Poland
After a great performance at Euro 2016, it is perhaps no surprise that Iceland have successfully managed to qualify for Russia 2018. The great team spirit we saw in France stayed with the team and they finished top of a group containing Croatia, Ukraine, and Turkey, which is very impressive. They will head to Russia as outsiders again but that is a tag they love. No one will want to face them but, ultimately, the fairy tale looks set to end with them failing to get out of the group stages. Poland join them at Russia 2018 after taking advantage of a subpar qualifying group. They only lost one of their ten games and averaged nearly three goals per game so expect to see them arrive with confidence. However, the World Cup will be much tougher and they are going to struggle to get out of the group stages just like Iceland.
Portugal just got the better of Switzerland in the group stages by having a better goal difference and that won them the top spot in the group. They won nine of their ten games, scored an average of over three goals per game and conceded just four goals in total. While ever Cristiano Ronaldo is in the line-up they have a chance of doing well but the last 16 looks to be the best they can hope for this time around. Serbia found a way through a very tight group containing the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria. They got the better of some good teams in qualifying, including picking up good points away from home but the finals next summer look set to be a lot tougher than that. They will be hoping to challenge for qualification from the group stages but that looks to be a step too far and they look likely to be going home at the first stage.
Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland
Sweden caused a huge shock by beating Italy in the playoffs to qualify for the World Cup. Their games against Italy had just one goal in them, and Oddschecker successfully predicted the lack of goals in their preview. Now they are in the finals, Sweden can relax, although things are going to be tough for them and, if they do get out of the group stages, that would be a surprise. Croatia comfortably booked their place in Russia thanks to a 4-1 victory over Greece in the playoffs. Despite qualifying through the playoffs, they look to have a good chance of progressing from the group stages next summer and a last 16 spot looks likely for them.
Switzerland needed a controversial penalty decision to get past Northern Ireland in the playoffs but their qualifying form previous to that was very good. They won nine out of their ten games and, if they head to Russia in that kind of form, then they could qualify from the group stages. They will head there with hope but a lot depends on the draw they get; there are many reasons to see them being in the last 16. Denmark are the final team from Europe to qualify after beating the Republic of Ireland 5-1 in the playoffs. They looked fantastic in the playoffs and, with that form behind them, it is possible they get out of the group stages, although it is a tough task and, like Switzerland, they will need a good draw.
The World Cup in Russia is not too far away and now we know the names of the 32 teams who will be heading out to complete. Europe are very well represented once again, with 14 teams competing and many of them will be hoping to go far in the tournament. Germany look to be the best chance we have of bringing success to the continent, but France, Spain, and Belgium will all head into the tournament quietly fancying their chances. All four of those teams do have a great chance of going far in the tournament and it will be interesting to see just how far they can go, and if playing in Europe is an advantage for them.
Elsewhere England, Portugal, and Russia are outsiders who have a small chance of performing well but they will need luck on their side if they are to go far. Russia will be hoping that the home advantage will give them a chance to go all the way, and those playing the hosts will certainly feel the patriotic atmosphere brought by the home fans.
The remaining seven teams will all be hoping to qualify from the group stages and anything better than that will be seen as a successful tournament for them. The countdown is on to Russia 2018, and the European qualifiers have a good chance of performing well.