Although not on our mind immediately, the qualifiers for the World Cup begin just a year after the world cup ends. For this tournament being hosted in Russia, 210 nations proudly stepped up to the plate from 6 confederations. The host for each tournament automatically qualify for the tournament without needing to play a game.
To make sure that a continent does not dominate the world cup, these 210 teams play the other teams in their confederation. They play their games throughout the regular season over the next two years, competing for the top spots in their group.
The number of teams then dwindle down to 32. This is why even qualification to the world cup is a phenomenal achievement. This year, we are welcoming to the tournament, for the first time ever, both the national teams from Iceland and Panama.
These 32 teams are entered into the world cup draw, an event which happened this year in December 2017. The teams are sorted into eight groups of four. The position A1 is given to the hosts, who then play the opening game of the world cup. The rest are divided up, but a new rule introduced makes sure that there are no more than 2 European teams in a single group, allowing fairer game.
Each team plays each other in the group, meaning each team gets to play at least three games in Russia. The most amount of points a team can achieve is therefore nine points, a win being three points. The two teams with the most points are allowed to progress to the next round. If two teams share the same number of points, then the officials take goal difference into account, so the team who has a higher “goals scored: goals conceded” ratio takes the higher spot.
The top team that qualifies then plays a team that came second in another group. This is why it is imperative to win the group, not just qualify, as you’ll avoid facing the tougher team for another round.
This is called the round of 16, then the winning teams in each team progress to the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals. The losing teams in the semi-finals enter a third-place play-off, but the winning teams will be heading to Moscow to participate in the World Cup final.
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