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3 surprising countries which clinched 2018 World Cup berths

Saturday 14th October 2017
The World Cup Qualifiers have not ended yet, as places are still to be determined through the European and intercontinental playoff rounds. However, we already know 23 nations that have qualified for the tournament. And as is the case every four years, there are several unexpected teams among the list.

Here are three countries that clinched a berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup when not many expected them to make it.

Saudi Arabia



Japan and Australia were the two favourites to clinch direct World Cup berths from Group B of the AFC qualifiers. It reached a point where it seemed no other side could compete with them: both possess far more history and talent than the other three teams in the group. Saudi Arabia, however, had other plans.
The Arabs won six games, drew one and lost three. It was enough to give them the second spot in the zone, behind Japan and ahead of Australia, thanks to their goal differential (+7 to Australia's +5). It means Saudi Arabia will return to the World Cup following a three-event absence. Their last appearance came in 2002 when they lost 8-0 against Germany and made a swift return home following a disappointing group stage.

Can the Green Falcons perform better in Russia next year?

Panama



Panama entered the final match of the CONCACAF qualifiers sitting fourth in the standings, with 12 points. They needed a win over Costa Rica to potentially jump to third place, however, they were also looking at Honduras who sat fifth with the same points total. Panama had never previously qualified for a World Cup, so just making the playoffs would have been deemed a huge success. But other results went in their favour, meaning Los Canaleros secured a direct passage to Russia.
Panama's great achievement didn't happen without suffering, and a little luck, though. During the crucial 2-1 victory over Costa Rica, their first score was a "phantom" goal, and their second came late in the second half when every sign indicated Honduras were the ones qualifying.

It is difficult to predict what will happen with Panama in next year's World Cup. But just seeing them there is a huge upset, especially considering they finished above the United States in final standings.

Iceland



Should Iceland be regarded as a surprise team anymore? After all, they were coming off a quarter-final appearance in the 2016 European Championship. Also, several Icelandic players feature in some of the world's top leagues. Considering their opposition during the UEFA Qualifiers, however, it came as somewhat of a shock to see them top the standings.
Iceland featured in the same group as Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey. The Croats appeared the main favourite; there was also an argument to suggest the Turks seemed like the second strongest team, at least on paper. So, a World Cup berth was complicated for the Icelanders. Most fans would have been happy with a playoff, but their players had other plans. Impressively, Iceland topped the standings with 22 points and will now experience the World Cup for the first time in the nation's history.

Using their Euro campaign as a benchmark, Iceland could easily turn heads next year on Russian soil.
Juan Pablo Aravena

29-year-old sports analyst and journalist with over three years of experience in the industry. Writes about all kinds of sports from football to golf, but there is no question his biggest passion in life is football. Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Colo Colo fan.


Total articles: 190

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