If you have been following the Casual Fan series on our blog or listening to our podcast, you have often heard us reference the international break. It is a phrase that is never said with a positive tone. In a previous post, we discussed what the international break is and why it occurs several times per year.
Now that we are embarking on the second international break of the year, this post will explain how World Cup qualifying – the purpose of this break – works.
The entire world is divided up into six zones, or confederations, by FIFA for soccer purposes. Each confederation has a predetermined number of World Cup slots and conducts its own World Cup qualifying process to fill them. Here is the breakdown of slots by confederation:
- UEFA (Europe) – 13
- CONMEBOL (South America) – 4 or 5*
- AFC (Asia/Middle East/Australia) – 4 or 5*
- CAF (Africa) – 5
- CONCACAF (North America/Latin America/Caribbean) – 3 or 4*
- OFC (Oceania) – 0 or 1*
*The last qualifying country in these confederations play intercontinental playoff matches to determine the final World Cup teams.
The host country automatically qualifies for the World Cup, which means that Russia is in. They get to skip the qualifying process.
Qualifying Process for CONCACAF and UEFA
During these international breaks, each confederation conducts its own World Cup qualifying process. CONCACAF, for instance, has narrowed down its World Cup qualifying through two rounds to six countries. Starting in November (the next international break), those six countries will begin the process of playing the other five in the group – a process that will go on until the end of 2017. There are 10 total matches to be played, with each country playing once at home and once away.
The top three of the six at the end of those 10 matches will automatically advance to the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-place team will play in an intercontinental playoff.
UEFA’s qualifying is different. To fill their 13 slots (not including Russia), 52 nations have been divided into nine different groups. Each team will play all the other teams in their own group twice – once at home and once away. The first place team in each group at the end of the qualifying round will automatically advance to the World Cup. The second-place teams (with one exception) will participate in a playoff to determine the final spots.
This Weekend’s Football
CONCACAF has taken this particular break off from qualifying; that is why the United States is playing Cuba and New Zealand in “friendly” matches. So has the OFC.
The other four are all in action this weekend, providing plenty of international football to watch from Thursday to Tuesday. International football can be fun, but once you get sucked into the greatness of the Premier League, it always feels like a step down.
Maybe this is the weekend to sleep in, or to go out and enjoy the start of the fall season. At the very worst, there is still football being played! Take in a few international matches. Just keep telling yourself: there is only one more week until the Premier League season returns!