Qualifying play for Euro 2016 still isn't finished yet, and it still seems like the 2014 World Cup was just wrapping up a few weeks ago, but things are already getting underway for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. On July 25th, UEFA officially announced the 2018 World Cup qualifying stage draw for all of its teams, separating 52 countries into nine lettered groups.
The qualifiers won't begin for over a year still-the earliest date of any of the fixtures is September 4, 2016. It will also be more than two years before the World Cup qualification rounds officially wrap up, on November 14, 2017. Still, while there are a lot of events on the soccer circuit that will happen before these qualifiers get started, that doesn't mean it's too early to look at some of UEFA's top soccer teams and see who they'll be facing as they take their first steps toward Russia in 2018.
Recent Cup Victors and Contenders
The German national football team will be playing the role of defending champions at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If they win the tournament, they will tie Brazil's current record of five titles at the venerated FIFA tournament.
Needless to say, the stakes are high for Germany, but they aren't likely to face many substantial challenges in the qualifying rounds. They've been drawn into Group C, alongside the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, Azerbaijan, and San Marino-all teams that didn't reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The Czechs are the most likely challengers.
The Netherlands, UEFA's next-highest finisher at the 2014 World Cup (third place), will play in Group A, alongside France, Sweden, Bulgaria, Belarus, and Luxembourg. Of those teams, the Dutch are the highest on FIFA's most recent world rankings list (they are in fifth, at the moment). However, judging by the Netherlands' surprising struggles in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, the French could easily steal the top spot in the group.
Speaking of FIFA rankings, Belgium is at third right now, making them the second highest ranked UEFA team after Germany. The Belgians were eliminated from the 2014 World Cup in the quarterfinals (by Argentina), but did well in the group stage, and beat the USA in the round of 16-arguably the tournament's most exciting and entertaining match. FIFA are almost surely overrating Belgium's status among the best national football squads on the planet, but the team shouldn't have any trouble in World Cup qualifying Group H, where they'll face Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Estonia, and Cyprus.
As 2010 World Cup winners (and current reigning European Champions), Spain will be a team to watch at the 2018 event-even if they've lost most of their "golden age" players at this point. They'll contend in Group G, where they'll battle Italy for the top spot. Albania, Israel, Macedonia, and Liechtenstein are expected to be also-rans.
Other World Cup Hopefuls
Fans in the England football jersey were heartily disappointed by their soccer squad's early elimination from the 2014 World Cup. However, the Three Lions have been tearing it up in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and should have a fairly easy path to Russia in 2018. In Group F, they'll compete for qualification with Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania, and Malta.
The other three groups don't have as clear frontrunners. Wales, currently at 10th place on FIFA's rankings, is the top contender in Group D, which also includes Austria, Serbia, the Republic of Ireland, Moldova, and Georgia. Similarly, Romania are the likely winners of Group E, though they'll battle Denmark and Poland for the win. The group also includes Montenegro, Armenia, and Kazakhstan.
Finally, Group I will pit Croatia (fresh off a solid group stage performance at the 2014 World Cup) and Iceland (fresh off a solid Euro qualification campaign) against one another for the qualifying slot. The other football teams in the group are Ukraine, Turkey, and Finland.
Which team will you be rooting for when qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup get underway next year? Find jerseys to support your team at Soccer Box! Whether you are looking for the England jersey 2014 2015, or Germany's four-star 2014 World Cup winner's jersey, we've got you covered.