2018 World Cup UEFA Qualifying Group B, and Portugal’s Easy Road to the Tournament
We’ve been looking at qualification groups recently drawn for the FIFA World Cup. Today is the turn of 2018 World Cup UEFA Qualifying Group B. Who is the potential winners and losers? Though they entered the 2014 World Cup with a stellar FIFA ranking, the Portugal national football team actually nearly didn’t qualify for the event at all. In UEFA Qualifying Group F, the Portuguese squad finished second, behind Russia. That left them to fight for one last chance in a playoff against the second-place teams from the other qualification groups—a list that included other eventual tournament participants like France, Greece, and Croatia. Portugal ultimately beat Sweden in a two-leg playoff battle, but relied completely on Cristiano Ronaldo to do so: Ronaldo scored one goal in the first leg and three in the second to beat Sweden (whose Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two goals in the second match).
This time around, it looks like Portugal should have a clear and easy road to reach the 2018 World Cup. For qualification, they’ve been drawn into UEFA Group B, which also includes Switzerland, Hungary, the Faroe Islands, Latvia, and Andorra. Hungary haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1986, while the Faroe Islands, Latvia, and Andorra have never qualified for the prestigious FIFA event.
The Swiss Spoilers
That leaves Switzerland as the potential spoilers for Portugal’s World Cup qualification hopes. The Swiss national soccer team has actually qualified for the global football event 10 times over the years—including participation in the last three tournaments.
In fact, Switzerland actually made it farther than Portugal in the 2014 World Cup, reaching the round of 16 before losing to eventual runners-up Argentina. Even then, the Swiss squad held their own, keeping the game at a scoreless draw until extra time, when Angel Di Maria finally scored at the 118th minute to give the Argentine team the win.
Granted, Portugal had to contend with a “group of death” in the group stage—not to mention an injured Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese side was drawn into a group with Germany (en route to a fourth World Cup victory), the United States (performing above all expectations), and Ghana (a surprising dark horse at FIFA events past). Knee and thigh problems left Ronaldo unable to play at full capacity, at least without jeopardizing his career. He ultimately only scored one goal, which almost singlehandedly resulted in Portugal’s third-place finish in the group and early elimination from the tournament.
Switzerland, meanwhile, were in a markedly easier group (alongside France, Ecuador, and Honduras), and took advantage of the favorable draw to finish second in the group and progress to the knockout stages—in spite of a rough 2-5 loss against the French football team.
Bottom line, you can expect one of these two teams to top the UEFA Qualifying Group B for a spot in the 2018 World Cup. Portugal is currently more highly ranked than Switzerland by FIFA—sixth in the world versus 17th—but since qualification play doesn’t even begin until September 6th 2016 that could still change.
The Question of Cristiano Ronaldo
On one hand, Ronaldo doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. He won the Ballon d’Or Award last year, and scored record goal tallies during his 2014 – 2015 season at Real Madrid (48 in La Liga games, 61 overall). It’s tough to imagine a guy who is still pulling down those kinds of numbers deciding not to wear the Portugal jersey anymore.
On the other hand, Ronaldo is getting older. In February, he will turn 31. By the time the 2018 World Cup rolls around, he’ll be 33. If he opts not to play in the tournament—which is set to take place in Russia—then does Portugal stand a chance at even qualifying, let alone contending? Based on how big a role he played in getting the Portuguese football team into the tournament in 2014, the answer is no.
Right now, most signs point to Ronaldo playing in the 2018 World Cup. He hasn’t publicly said anything to the contrary, and since his contract at Real Madrid expires after the 2017 – 2018 season, he could be planning on making the FIFA competition one last big hurrah for his career (though some reports have indicated that Cristiano plans on a few years in the MLS after finishing up with Real).
Furthermore, Ronaldo will probably want to play one more World Cup, if only to salvage his underwhelming history at the tournament. Indeed, FIFA’s famous soccer competition is really the one stage on which Cristiano has not excelled: he’s only scored three goals in his 13 World Cup appearances, and has never played in a final. By comparison, his rival Lionel Messi has tallied five goals in 15 WC appearances, played in a championship match in 2014, and won the Golden Ball Award in 2014.
What are your thoughts on UEFA Qualifying Group B, the Portugal national team’s chances, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s international career? Pick up a Portugal jersey 2015 – 2016 from Soccer Box, and then find us on social media to discuss! Soccer Box is active on numerous networks including Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.