Race to Brazil hots up

Race to Brazil

Race to Brazil.

We're roughly halfway to the next World Cup with 31 places still up for grabs. Europe, Oceania and the Americas have just been in action.

The competition in Europe, which has the lion's share of final qualifiers (13) is now beginning to thin out with some clear water emerging between the competing nations.

In Group A, Belgium and Croatia are tied at the top following comfortable wins over Scotland and Wales respectively.

Italy are in pole position in Group B after beating Denmark in Milan 3-1. The Azzurri are four points clear of second-placed Bulgaria.

The strangest match in Europe saw Sweden claw back a 4-0 deficit in Berlin to draw 4-4 with Germany in their Group C clash. When Mesut Ozil scored Germany's fourth in the 56th minute, all seemed lost for Erik Hamren's team.

But a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header just after the hour mark heralded an extraordinary comeback, capped by Rasmus Elm's equalising drive in the 92nd minute. Germany had never looked so stunned.

The Netherlands continued their 100% record with a 4-1 victory in Romania to top Group D and Switzerland maintained a three-point lead over Norway in Group E with victory in Iceland.

Russia enjoy the healthiest lead in Europe in Group F, five points clear of Israel and Portugal, who could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Northern Ireland. Bosnia & Herzegovina top Group G on goal difference from Greece, and in Group H Montenegro kept up the pressure ith a 1-0 win over Ukraine in Kiev to draw level on points with England, whose game in Warsaw was rained off.

Like Germany, world champions Spain were also victims of a late lapse in concentration, allowing Olivier Giroud to head an injury-time equaliser to snatch a 1-1 draw for France in Madrid. The two countries are now tied with seven points from three games in Group I.

With Brazil hosting in 2014, the fight for the four and a half places in South America is a little easier.As it stands, Argentina are well on their way three points clear of Ecuador and four ahead of Colombia before a four point gap to Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile.

CONCACAF's final round is now set with the three automatic qualifiers to come from Mexico, the USA, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama. Wins for the States and Jamaica on the final day edged out Guatemala on goal difference, while Canada failed to make it through after an 8-1 mauling in Honduras.

In Oceania, New Zealand and New Caledonia are running away with it, with the All-Whites leading the Pacific Islanders by three points after four games. The two meet in Wellington on the 22nd of March and the group winner will play off against the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF for a place in Brazil.

In Asia, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran sit in the automatic qualification spots after four matches, with Oman and Uzbekistan poised to playoff the fifth-placed South American side.

Africa does not resume until March.

BRAZIL 2014's final 32

  • Hosts - Brazil
  • Europe - 13
  • Africa - 5
  • Asia - 4.5
  • North & Central America - 4.5
  • South America - 4.5
  • Oceania - 0.5

Top Scorers so far

  • AFC- Younis Mahmoud (Iraq), Hassan Abdel Fattah (Jordan), Le Cong Vinh (Vietnam) 7
  • CAF - Tresor Mputu (DR Congo) 4
  • CONCACAF - Deon McCaulay (Belize) 11
  • CONMEBOL - Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi (Argentina) 7
  • Oceania - Georges Gope-Fenepej (New Caledonia) 8
  • UEFA - Edin Dzeko (Bosnia-Herz), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Tomer Hemed (Israel) 5

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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