The two year road to the World Cup Finals in Russia starts this month for the UEFA members. Qualification gets under way and there are a total of 54 teams in the hunt for a spot at the tournament in 2018. The qualification draw was separated out over six seeding pots and the teams were then dealt out into nine groups of six teams each. 52 nations were actually in the seedings but then with FIFA accepting both Gibraltar and Kosovo as members in mid 2016, they were both allowed to join qualification as well.
So the set up for all of this is that the winners of each of the nine groups will automatically get their spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and then the best eight runners up from the group stage will go into the play off round. So there is a long quest to get the Finals and the top nine seeded nations in the draw, therefore being separated out into one for each group are Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, England, Wales, Spain and Croatia. One the group stage has been settled the draw for the play off round will be held in October of 2017.
World Cup Qualification Groups 2018 Europe
Euro 2016 qualification was a huge success for the home nations, with England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland all making it to the Finals. How many of the home nations will make it through to the World Cup Finals? Will there be a full house? Four of the five would be another fantastic return for the UK and Ireland. Here we preview the qualification groups from the UEFA Zone for World Cup 2018 qualification.
Group A Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, Luxembourg
Well this is an interesting group and it would be a sparse if the French didn’t roll to top spot in it. Les Bleus almost landed the Euro 2016 title on home soil and on the evidence of that short burst of competitive football for them, they looked as if they still had some room to grow. So this could be a big two years for them in their development not having had to play qualifying games to get to the European Championships. The Netherlands are in there as well and it will be really interesting to see if they can pick themselves up after their miserable qualification campaign for Euro 2016. They may not still be at the races and that could leave a scrap between themselves and Sweden to battle for second spot. The Swedes are entering the post-Ibrahimovic era and may struggle. France to win the group at 8/13, Netherlands for second.
Group B Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Faro Island, Latvia, Andorra
The reigning European Champions Portugal will have to be pretty happy with the draw that they have received. They really have little threat going against them in here and that is reflected in the price of 8/13 for them to win the group. Switzerland are their closest challengers in there but rarely raise themselves above mediocrity, although they are usually pretty solid in qualification. Hungary, who impressed at Euro 2016 have to start again and while they are capable of points at home against the Portuguese and Swiss, are likely to miss the boat in this one. Everyone else in the group is just there making up the numbers. Not likely to be the most entertaining of groups.
Group C Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, San Marino
The huge benefit of being a top seeded team is obviously getting easier qualification draws. That is what Germany have here. They may have stubborn defences in the likes of Northern Ireland and Norway to break down, but they are Germany and should get it done, particularly at home. The Germans are a massive 1/8 odds on favourite to win this group and any other outcome looks like it would take something out of the ordinary to happen. The Czech Republic aren’t good enough to really lay claim to the top spot in the group but could see themselves in a fight with Northern Ireland and Norway for second place. Northern Ireland are a big 10/1 shot to make it out of the group.
Group D Wales, Austria, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Moldova, Georgia
This is one of the more competitive groups that are floating around in the qualification for the World Cup from the UEFA Zone. Wales, who covered themselves in glory at Euro 2016 by reaching the semi finals are an even money quote to qualify from Group D. They are running as 7/4 favourites to win this group, but punters will still be bit wary because of the lack of goals from them and wondering if their bubble will have burst after the Euros. There is stiff competition from the technically solid Serbia, the young and enterprising Austria as well as having to do battle with the Republic of Ireland who are only 11/4 to qualify. On paper out of the bunch of them Serbia at 5/2 represents great value here to top the pile, but the Austrians can’t be counted out. They are way better than how they played at Euro 2016.
Group E Romania, Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia, Kazakhstan
Where does the favouritism fall in this one? Well it’s not too hard to pick Poland out as the stand out quality side here. They really didn’t shine as well as many would have hoped at Euro 2016 as they went more defensive than they were during qualification. Still, they are a postive 11/8 price to win Group E and that screams value here. Denmark are awkward opposition but nothing more and then Romania may have their say in patches. But the home form of Poland and the goals of Robert Lewandowski should push them to a comfortable top spot. It may be worth having a flutter on Romania to sneak past Denmark because they have come on well the last couple of years with Denmark really stagnating.
Group F England, Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Malta
England are 4/11 odds on favourites to win this group and given how easily qualifying for Euro 2016 was for them it would be tough to go against them. Big Sam Allardyce should benefit from a pretty easy group draw here and there appears to be very little to topple England here. Perhaps the only thing is will be them beating themselves through complacency. But really the perceived threats from Slovakia, Scotland and SLovenia aren’t great at all. It would be a shocker if England didn’t win this group while Scotland are a bit of a distant 4/1 shot to qualify for Group F. There’s a lot of work there for the Scots to do.
Group G Spain, Italy, Albania, Israel, Macedonia, Liechtenstein
Thankfully Spain and Italy were drawn together here to give this group a bit of spice or else it would have been a non-starter. Spain are 1/2 still to get the group win on the board, but the Italians are always efficient enough through qualifying for tournaments to keep their neck in the race. Italy though will now have lost the special touch of Antonio Conte so how will that affect them? But Spain too enter a new era as well after Vicente del Bosque stepped down leaving new head coach Julen Lopetegui in charge. You would expect the Spaniards to pretty much carry on regardless, more so than Italy but the games between the two of them should be a real highlight of World Cup qualifying. The Italians are 13/8 to win the group. There will be one big nation guaranteed to have to go through the play offs. Spain or Italy? Toss of a coin.
Group H Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, Cyprus, Gibraltar
As with most qualification groups there is a strong favourite set to run away with things and here that would be Belgium who are 2/7 favourites to win Group H. They should do just that unopposed really. It’s hard to really even see Bosnia-Herzegovina putting up enough to really get anywhere near to Belgium in this group so the rest have no chance. The Red Devils with new boss Roberto Martinez in charge, should be super comfortable in this one. Whoever comes runner up from this group may struggle to make it as one of the best eight to reach the play offs. Very poor group. Gibraltar make their World Cup qualifying debuts in this group.
Group I Croatia, Iceland, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland, Kosovo
Group H has Gibraltar making their debut, while Group I have Kosovo making theirs. Croatia, who really should have gone further at the summer’s European Championships are 11/10 to win this group. The Ukraine are there at 3/1 with Turkey just a little longer at 10/3. Turkey are hit and miss and only scraped over the finish line in their Euro 2016 qualifying group because of the Netherlands’ deficiencies, while the Ukraine don’t generally offer much away from home. You even have Iceland in her, remarkable Euro 2016 quarter finalists but while the slick Croatians should win the group, picking a second place team of the Ukraine, Turkey and Iceland is tough. For value would run with the Turks.
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World Cup Qualification 2018 Groups Europe Match Dates
Matchday 1 4–6 September 2016
Matchday 2 6–8 October 2016
Matchday 3 9–11 October 2016
Matchday 4 11–13 November 2016
Matchday 5 24–26 March 2017
Matchday 6 9–11 June 2017
Matchday 7 31 August – 2 September 2017
Matchday 8 3–5 September 2017
Matchday 9 5–7 October 2017
Matchday 10 8–10 October 2017