When Japan became the first team to make the World Cup (through qualifying), some saw it as a testament to how great the AFC nation can be on the global stage. While Japan is a formidable squad — their technical brilliance in South Africa made me an instant fan — qualifying first or last for the World Cup depends almost entirely on the where in the world you play.
Since some confederations have just a few nations (CONMEBOL) while others have over 50 (UEFA, CAF), they finish at different times of the year. The first to finish is usually always OFC, comprised of the nations of Oceania, excluding Australia. During this World Cup cycle, they finished in March with New Zealand winning the group. But since OFC doesn’t receive an automatic place in the World Cup, they’ll have to face off against the 4th place CONCACAF winner to earn their spot.
Here’s the end date to qualifying for each confederation (in order of finish):
OFC: March 26, 2013
AFC: September 10, 2013
CONCACAF, CONMEBOL: October 15, 2013
UEFA, CAF: November 19, 2013
By looking at it this way, the end dates have more logical explanations. OFC’s final round has come and gone, while AFC’s is in progress now. Japan has already qualified and South Korea could virtually lock their spot up with a win this morning (note the goal differential).
Both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL are in the final round of qualifying as well, but there is still much to be decided. The table is still very close (especially in CONCACAF), and the matches will gain more significance in the coming months.
UEFA gets 13 spots, so the winners of their nine groups are automatically qualified. Group play will actually end the same day as CONCACAF and CONMEBOL wrap up. But the eight best second-place teams in UEFA will face off in four home-and-away series that won’t end until November 19th.
Meanwhile CAF’s current group stage won’t warrant any World Cup qualifications. Rather, the ten group winners will be placed into home-and-away ties to decide which five nations will qualify for Brazil.
It’s quite the confusing process, but when fully comprehended, it’s a joy to watch. This is why I’ve been going through the trouble of highlighting the best games to watch. Most would agree that international football is more exciting than club football, so giving almost every nation a chance to make the World Cup provides quite the entertainment in between actual World Cup tournaments.
With less games of note this time around, I put them all on one single page. And as I mentioned last weekend, First Row Sports will likely stream all of these matches, but I won’t endorse them. I’ll be adding to the list later in the week for CONCACAF, AFC, and CAF, since they have multiple match days over the next seven days.