Club football had given way to the international break so that the World Cup qualifiers could be played. But how exactly is the vast multitude of teams from across the globe chosen to play their part in the world cup? First things first, the host nation is automatically selected. They need not go through the qualifying stages with other countries.
Broadly the qualifying tournaments for FIFA are divided into six continental zones: Asia, Africa, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America (also known as the CONMEBOL zone), Europe and Oceania. The qualifiers are organized by their respective confederations to reduce the number of teams from around 200 to 32. For every tournament, FIFA decides beforehand the number of spots awarded to each of the zones, based on the relative strength of the confederation’s teams. Currently, the number of berths per zone is:
- Europe: 13 berths
- CAF (Africa): 5 berths
- AFC (Asia): 3 berths
- CONMEBOL (South America): 4 berths; excluding Brazil
- CONCACAF (North and Central America and Caribbean): 3 berths
- 2 berths for the winners of play-offs between the best team from the Oceania, as well as additional teams from the AFC, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. The pairings for these play-offs are determined by an open draw.
The format for qualification has largely been the same since the last four editions, barring some regional changes.
For the CONMEBOL zone, all national teams; namely- Argentina, Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela, Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia will play against each other twice on a home and away basis in a single group for 4 or 5 allotted spots. The top four teams will automatically qualify for the finals, and the fifth placed team will play in the intercontinental play-offs against the fifth placed team in the AFC’s tournament. The matches had started on 7October 2011 and will go on till 15 October 2013.
According to the current standings, Argentina leads the table with Columbia and Chile completing the top three. Paraguay and Bolivia find themselves at the bottom of the table. Luis Suarez leads the goal chart with 10 goals in the qualifiers, with Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi following suit with 9 and 8 goals respectively.
The biggest zone is Europe, overseen by its governing body UEFA. In this edition of the world cup, the zone will see 53 teams competing for the 13 places in the 2014 world cup. The teams were drawn into eight groups of six teams and one group of five. The nine winners of each qualifying group and winners of four play-offs between the eight best group runners-up will go through. Spain, the defending champions, must also qualify for the tournament. This rule came into existence since the 2002 World cup. The qualifying matches are due to end on October 15.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) sees 52 teams competing for the 5 berths allowed from this spot. There are 3 rounds for eliminating teams to get the final five teams. The first round consists of 12 home and away ties, featuring the 24 lowest ranked teams in Africa. The winners of these series proceed to the second round, whereby the top 28 ranked CAF teams are joined by the 12 winners from the first round. The top team from each group will advance to the third round.
The third round sees the 10 group winners from the second round drawn into five home and away ties. The winners of each tie will advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. Therefore, by November 19 this year, we will get the final list of African teams participating in the World Cup.
The qualification procedures for the rest of the zones are similar in nature. The matches are held over a 2 year period, with ample breaks in between to ensure they do not clash with the club schedules. We are quite close to getting the final list of 32 teams that will be competing in the most prestigious tournament in the world.