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As the draw date gets nearer, Sports Village Square brings to you some salient points on the 32 teams that will be involved in Friday’s Final World Cup Draw. The Teams are arraigned in alphabetical order.


  • Argentina are competing in their 17th FIFA World Cup and have qualified for 11 consecutive editions starting with Germany 1974.


  • The only player to score a hat-trick in two different editions is Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta, who hit a treble against Greece in 1994 and another three against Jamaica in 1998.


  • Argentina’s haul of 19 goals in the South American World Cup preliminaries is the lowest goal return by a qualifying team since the tournament first adopted the single-group format ahead of the 1998 finals.


  • No team has been involved in as many World Cup penalty shoot-outs as Argentina, who have contested five and won four of them.


  • With his three strikes against Ecuador in the decisive last qualifier for Russia 2018, Lionel Messi became the all-time joint-leading scorer in the South American Zone preliminary competition with 21 goals alongside Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, both players having overtaken Hernan Crespo’s career total of 19. Messi’s hat-trick was also the second by an Argentinian in World Cup qualification, after Gonzalo Higuain struck three times against Chile in 2011.


    • Australia are entering their fifth World Cup and the fourth in a row. They have only been beyond the opening round once, in 2006 when they were stopped by Italy in the Round of 16.
    • In 1974 Australia became the first Oceanian team to qualify for the World Cup. The Socceroos last represented the OFC in the 2006 finals, before joining the Asian confederation.


    • The team have won twice in 13 attempts at the World Cup, beating Japan 3-1 in 2006 and Serbia 2-1 in 2010. The only campaign in which they lost all three of their group matches was in Brazil four years ago.


    • Australia played 22 qualifiers to win their place in Russia 2018, equalling the record held by Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, who both contested the same number in the 2002 tournament. Furthermore, the Aussies were the most prolific scorers in the 2018 preliminary event, netting 51 goals.


    • The Australians qualified by overcoming Honduras in the intercontinental play-off (0-0 away and 3-1 at home). Three out of five of their qualifications have come via the play-offs, with the Socceroos overcoming Korea Republic to reach Germany 1974 and outsmarting Uruguay on penalties in the return leg of the 2006 campaign.



    • Belgium were the first European side to qualify for the finals (apart from Russia, who qualified automatically as hosts), following their 2-1 victory in Greece on September 3, 2017.
    • Belgium are one of four teams that competed in the first three editions of the FIFA World Cup before the Second World War, along with Brazil, France and Romania.


    • The Red Devils equalled their biggest winning margin in the 9-0 victory over Gibraltar on 31 August 2017. Previous nine-goal victories include an identical scoreline in a 1994 friendly against Zambia and a 10-1 rout of San Marino in a World Cup qualifier in 2001.


    • The Belgians hold the tournament record for consecutive draws, with five spanning the 1998 and 2002 editions.


    • This will be the team’s 13th participation at the World Cup finals. Belgium made their tournament debut at the inaugural edition in 1930 and achieved their best placing of fourth at Mexico 1986.




    • With their 3-0 victory over Paraguay in Sao Paulo on March 28, 2017, Brazil became the first team (excluding hosts Russia) to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.


    • The five-time champions are the only team to have participated in all 21 editions of the World Cup since 1930.


    • The Brazilians hold the record for consecutive wins in the global showpiece with 11, a series that began against Turkey in 2002 and ended with defeat by France in the 2006 quarter-finals.


    • Brazil’s tally of 70 World Cup victories is a tournament record.


    • The first goal scored on the road to these finals, Willian’s opener in the 3-1 victory over Venezuela, was also Brazil’s 200th in the history of World Cup qualification. During this preliminary tournament, specifically in the 2-1 success over Colombia in Manaus, A Selecao also became the latest South American team to play their 100th World Cup qualifier.


    • This is Colombia’s sixth participation in the finals of the FIFA World Cup’. They achieved their best placing during the last campaign in Brazil 2014, reaching the quarter-finals where they were eliminated by the host team.


    • The team is called Los Cafeteros and have collected only two draws from 18 matches contested in the World Cup and both came against European sides. A 4-4 draw in 1962 against Soviet Union was followed by a 1-1 stalemate in 1990 against the eventual champions Germany FR.


    • James Rodriguez bagged six goals in Brazil 2014, making him the tournament’s top marksman and the first Colombian to claim this honour.


    • Ten of the 26 goals scored by Colombia in the World Cup were netted in the last 15 minutes of play.


    • Radamel Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and Macnelly Torres all found the net on the road to Russia 2018, thereby equalling the record set by Ivan Valenciano who, until this latest preliminary tournament, was the only Colombian to have scored in three different World Cup qualifying campaigns.




  • Costa Rica are appearing in their fifth World Cup and this is the second time they have qualified for back-to-back editions. Before staking a place in the 2014 and 2018 tournaments, La Tricolor also participated in 2002 and 2006.


  • The Central Americans achieved their best result of all time in Brazil 2014, reaching the quarter­finals where they were knocked out by the Netherlands on penalties. Earlier in the tournament, the Costa Ricans had won their opening-round group ahead of three former world champions, namely Uruguay, Italy and England.


  • Also in Brazil, La Sele closed out the tournament unbeaten with two wins and three draws (one of which they eventually lost on penalties to the Netherlands). In doing so, they became the second CONCACAF team to finish a World Cup finals campaign undefeated, the first being Mexico in 1986.


  • On their World Cup debut in 1990 in Italy, Costa Rica were the second of five teams to be coached in the finals by Bora Milutinovic.


  • On September 1, Costa Rica recorded their first World Cup qualifying win away to USA for 32 years, triumphing 2-0 in Harrison. The Costa Ricans’ last away success had taken place in May 1985, when they edged a 1-0 victory in Torrance ahead of the Mexico 1986 finals. Those two results came either side of six American wins and two draws.


  • Since making their tournament bow in France ’98, Croatia have only failed to qualify for the 2010 edition and will be making their fifth World Cup trophy bid in Russia.


  • After finishing third in 1998, Croatia were eliminated in the group round during their next three participations. Davor Suker was the tournament’s top scorer in France with six goals.


  • Four goals were scored in each of Croatia’s last four World Cup games. The results were a 2-2 draw with Australia in 2006, followed in 2014 by a 3-1 loss to Brazil, a 4-0 win over Cameroon and a 3-1 defeat by Mexico.


  • For the third time in five qualifications, Croatia have reached the World Cup via the play-off route. The Vatreni overcame Ukraine ahead of the 1998 edition, beat Iceland to reach the 2014 finals and thwarted Greece to secure their place in the 2018 tournament.


  • Having struck five times on the road to Russia 2018, Mario Mandzukic is the all-time leading Croatian scorer in qualifying, with ten goals, surpassing Bosko Balaban’s career tally of seven.


  • Mandzukic previously found the net once in the 2010 preliminaries and four times on the 2014 trail. With three goals in the 6-0 rout of Kosovo, Mandzukic became the second Croatian to bag a hat-trick in qualifying, after Balaban was on target three times in 2001 during the 4-1 victory over Latvia.


  • Denmark are competing in their fifth World Cup, after last appearing in the South Africa 2010 edition. The Scandinavians ventured furthest in 1998 when they made it into the last eight.
  • Denmark’s most recent campaign in 2010 was their shortest and least successful, ending in a group-round exit for the first time. By contrast, the Danes had reached the knockout stage in all their previous outings.


  • The average goal return for World Cup matches involving Denmark is 3.18 per game (27 scored, 24 conceded). The north Europeans have scored in all but two of their 16 games contested, losing 3-0 to England in 2002 and 2-0 to the Netherlands in 2010. Their biggest winning margin was 6-1 against Uruguay in 1986, while their worst defeat was 5-1 against Spain in the Round of 16 of the same edition.


  • Denmark broke new ground by qualifying via the play-offs for the first time. However, they also repeated history by securing their World Cup place with a resounding victory away to Republic of Ireland, just as they did in the 1986 qualifying campaign. On 13 November 1985, the Danes dominated the Irish 4-1 in the final group fixture to leapfrog Soviet Union in the table and thereby book their passage to Mexico 1986. Thirty-two years later in the play-off second leg, they achieved another emphatic victory in Dublin by the score line of 5-1, following a 0-0 home draw in the first leg.


  • By grabbing a hat-trick in the 5-1 away win over Republic of Ireland in the play-off return leg, Christian Eriksen set a national record of 11 goals scored in a single preliminary tournament, surpassing Ebbe Sand’s previous benchmark of nine dating from the 2002 qualifiers. Eriksen’s 11 strikes also make him Denmark’s top marksman in World Cup qualifying, ahead of past players Preben Elkjaer Larsen, Soren Larsen and Jon Dahl Tomasson on ten.




  • Egypt return to the global showpiece after a 28-year absence, following their last appearance at the 1990 edition in Italy. The Pharaohs have never qualified for a World Cup outside of Europe, as Italy was also where they made their tournament debut back in 1934.


  • In that 1934 edition, Egypt became the first African side to participate in the World Cup. The second team, Morocco, did not follow in their footsteps until 1970.


  • Egypt won all four of their home qualifiers on the road to Russia 2018. The North Africans are unbeaten at home in World Cup qualification since 20 June 2004, when they suffered a 2-1 reverse in Alexandria against Cote d’Ivoire. Following that setback, the Egyptians have strung together one draw and no fewer than 17 wins, including ten in their last ten games.


  • Egypt are yet to taste victory in the World Cup after four games played, with a track record of two draws and two defeats. To date they have only faced European opposition, namely Hungary in 1934 and the Netherlands, Republic of Ireland and England in 1990.
  • On October 8 the Egyptians secured qualification for Russia 2018 with one matchday to spare, thanks to their 2-1 victory over Congo in Alexandria. The decisive goal was scored late by Mohamed Salah from the penalty spot on 94 minutes.



  • England are contesting their 15th World Cup and this campaign equals their record of six consecutive participations, which was set between 1950 and 1970.


  • Of the eight teams that have won a World Cup, England were the last to make their debut in the competition, kicking off with a 2-0 success against Chile on June 25 1950. The first of England’s 79 goals in the finals was scored by Stan Mortensen.


  • In the Brazil 2014 tournament, England were eliminated in the group stage without winning any of their matches (one draw and two defeats). The only other time the Three Lions had exited the competition without a victory was in the 1958 edition, when they collected three draws and one defeat.


  • Harry Kane was England’s top scorer on the qualifying trail to Russia 2018, with five goals. The forward bagged no fewer than three of those strikes in injury time after 90 minutes, snatching a 2-2 draw with Scotland, sealing a 4-0 over Malta and edging a 1-0 victory over Slovenia.


  • Besides being England’s most experienced player in the World Cup, with 17 appearances, goalkeeper Peter Shilton shares the tournament record of ten clean sheets with French stopper Fabien Barthez.




  • France are competing in the 15th World Cup and the sixth in a row. Les Bleus were the last side to win the title on home soil, back in 1998.


  • France have made the title “First time in World Cup history” their own by scoring the competition’s first goal (Lucien Laurent netted in the 19th minute of their 4-1 win over Mexico on 13th July 1930), saving the first penalty (Alex Thepot against Chile on 19 July 1930), scoring the first penalty in extra time (Georges Verriest in the 116th minute against Austria in 1934), scoring the first penalty in a penalty shoot-out (Alain Giresse in the 1982 semi-final against Germany FR), saving the first penalty in a penalty shoot-out (Jean-Luc Ettori, also in the 1982 semi-final) and, finally, scoring the first golden goal through Laurent Blanc in 1998’s Round of 16 match against Paraguay.


  • Olivier Giroud’s opener in the 5-2 win over Switzerland at Brazil 2014 was the 100th World Cup goal notched by France, who are the fifth team to have passed the century mark after Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Italy. Subsequently on the trail to Russia 2018, France hit their 200th goal in World Cup qualification. The milestone was passed on October 7, 2016 when Dimitri Payet made the score 2-0 against Bulgaria, in a match that would eventually finish 4-1 in favour of the home side.


  • French striker Just Fontaine still holds the record for the most goals scored in a single edition of the World Cup, having struck 13 times in Sweden 1958.


  • On September 3, France drew 0-0 with Luxembourg in the Stade de Toulouse, their first qualifying match in the southwestern French city for almost 18 years, since they overcame Cyprus 2-0 on 18 November 1989.




  • Germany have played the most matches (106) and scored the most goals (224) in the World Cup. They have also accumulated the most appearances in the semi-finals (13 in 18 participations) and in the Final (eight).


  • The records for the most World Cup appearances as a player and as a coach are both held by Germans, as is the honour of being the event’s all-time top scorer. Lothar Matthaus played 25 matches between 1982 and 1998; Helmut Schon coached the national team in 25 games between 1966 and 1978; and in Brazil, Miroslav Klose became the event’s all-time leading scorer with 16 goals.


  • A total of 12% of Germany’s goals scored in the World Cup (27 out of 224) were netted by players with the surname Muller: 14 by Gerd,10 by Thomas, 2 by Dieter and one by Hansi.


  • With ten victories from as many preliminary matches, Germany are the only team to have qualified for Russia 2018 with a 100% winning record.


  • Die Nationalelf also set other records en route to the 2018 World Cup: at international level, by fielding 21 different players during qualification, and at European level, by scoring 43 goals (the same number as Belgium) and achieving a goal difference of +39.




  • Iceland are one of two newcomers in the 2018 edition of the World Cup, the other being Panama. The islanders are the 34th European team to take part in the finals, after Bosnia and Herzegovina who debuted four years ago in Brazil.


  • Not counting Iceland’s third-placed finish in the Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing in 2014, Strcikamir okkar are making their debut in the finals of a FIFA competition. The senior side reached the quarter­finals of the UEFA European Championship 2016, also in their maiden campaign.
  • Iceland have played 106 World Cup qualifiers and won 28. Seven of those successes, or 25% of the total, came in the ten-match qualification push for Russia 2018.


  • The islanders’ five home matches (all won) en route to Russia 2018 were played at the Laugardalsvollur stadium in Reykjavik, which has hosted every one of Iceland’s 51 home games in the history of World Cup qualification.


  • Gylfi Sigurdsson was Iceland’s top scorer in qualification for Russia 2018, netting four goals, and is now his country’s all-time second-highest marksman in the preliminary tournament with eight goals overall, three behind Eidur Gudjohnsen. With his two goals against Ukraine on September 5, 2017, Sigurdsson became the only Icelander to net a brace in two different qualifying campaigns, having bagged the first in March 2013 during the 2-1 victory away to Slovenia.




  • Iran were the first Asian team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, thanks to their 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in Tehran on 12 June 2017.


  • En route to Russia 2018, the Iranians set the record for the most consecutive clean sheets in World Cup qualification, going 12 games and a total of 1121 minutes without conceding a goal. The previous record of 11 straight clean sheets was jointly held by Korea Republic and Republic of Ireland, on 1053 and 1041 minutes respectively.


  • The West Asians are appearing in their fifth World Cup, having qualified for back-to-back editions for the first time.


  • Team Melli’s only victory in 12 World Cup games finished 2-1 against USA in 1998 in Lyon, following goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mandavikia for Iran and Brian McBride for the Americans.


  • Ahead of Russia 2018, Iran concluded their preliminary campaign unbeaten with 12 wins and six draws. They had only done so once before, during their first successful charge to the 1978 finals, when they saw out the Asian qualifying competition with a total of ten wins and two draws.



  • Japan are attending their sixth World Cup and have appeared in every edition since 1998.
  • Since June 3, 2012, Japan have played every one of their World Cup home qualifiers in Saitama. However, during this campaign the Samurai Blue recorded their first qualifying defeat at the Saitama Stadium 2002, against United Arab Emirates on September 1, 2016.
  • Japan have got beyond the group stage twice, only to be eliminated in the Round of 16 on both occasions, by Turkey in 2002 and on penalties against Paraguay in 2010.


  • In their two previous World Cup campaigns on European soil, Japan failed to record a win, mustering only a draw and five defeats in six games played. Their only positive result was a 0-0 draw with Croatia in 2006.


  • The Japanese collected the most wins of any Asian team on the trail to Russia 2018, with 13 out of a possible 18. Their other fixtures yielded three draws and two defeats.




  • No other Asian side can claim as many World Cup participations as Korea Republic, who will be making their tenth appearance at Russia 2018 and their ninth in a row. The Taeguk Warriors made their debut in 1954 and have competed in every finals since 1986.


  • Four of Korea Republic’s five wins from 31 matches contested in the World Cup came against European opposition, namely Poland, Portugal and Italy in 2002 and Greece in 2010. The only non-European side they overcame was Togo in 2006.


  • Korea Republic have played more World Cup qualifiers than any other Asian team, with 135, and their haul of 82 victories is also an AFC record.


  • The Koreans’ fourth-place finish in the 2002 edition was the best placing by an Asian side in World Cup history.


  • The 8-0 victory over Laos on September 3, 2015 was Korea Republic’s second-biggest winning margin in World Cup qualification, eclipsed only by a 9-0 success over Nepal in 1989.



  • Mexico are competing in their 16th World Cup, a tally bettered only by Brazil, Germany, Italy and Argentina.


  • El Tri have contested a record 175 World Cup qualifiers and are the only side to have passed the milestone of 400 goals scored in World Cup qualification.
  • The Mexicans achieved their best placing in the editions which they hosted, reaching the quarter-finals before losing to the eventual runners-up both times, namely Italy in 1970 and Germany FR in 1986. In each of their last six outings since 1994, El Tri made it past the opening round only to be eliminated in the Round of 16.
  • A Mexican scored the first penalty in the World Cup, after Chilean Carlos Vidal and Argentina’s Fernando Paternoster had respectively failed to convert the first two spot-kicks awarded in the competition’s history. Mexico’s Manuel Rosas beat Argentinian goalkeeper Angel Bossio from 12 yards on July 19, 1930 in the 42th minute, although he had a second penalty saved 23 minutes later.


  • On November 11, 2016, Mexico achieved their first World Cup qualifying victory in the USA for 44 years, winning 2-1 just like they did the previous time in 1972, ahead of Germany 1974.





  • Morocco return to the World Cup finals 20 years since their last outing, at France 1998. Their best finish dates to 1986, when they went beyond the first round before losing1-0 to Germany FR in the Round of 16, following an 88th-minute goal by Lothar Matthaus. In each of their other three participations, the Atlas Lions exited in the group stage.


  • The Moroccans made their World Cup debut in Mexico 1970, marking African football’s comeback to the centrepiece tournament 36 years after Egypt became the continent’s first entrant in 1934.


  • The Atlas Lions have contested 13 matches in the World Cup, posting two wins, four draws and seven defeats. All the positive results (two wins and four draws) came against European sides, notably a 3-1 win over Portugal in 1986 and a 3-0 success over Scotland in 1998.


  • The North Africans have played 112 fixtures in the African Zone preliminary competition, more than any other team.


  • In the 3-0 win over Gabon on October 7, 2017, Khalid Boutaib grabbed the second hat-trick by a Moroccan player in World Cup qualification, following Jaouad Zairi’s treble on February 9, 2005 in the 5-1 win over Kenya.



  • This is the sixth World Cup contested by Nigeria, who have won more games (five) and scored more goals (20) than any other African side in the competition’s history.


  • The Nigerians earned all five of their World Cup wins against European opponents, beating Bulgaria 3-0 and Greece 2-0 in 1994, Spain 3-2 and Bulgaria 1-0 in 1998, and Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 in 2014.


  • Nigeria faced Argentina in all but one of their five previous participations. The only edition in which the pair did not meet was France 1998, which is also the Super Eagles’ only campaign contested on European soil prior to Russia 2018.
  • Nigeria are undefeated in their last 36 qualifiers, representing the joint-second-longest unbeaten streak in World Cup qualification, level with Germany and behind Spain’s 63-game record. The West Africans’ last defeat dates back to June 20, 2004, when they lost 1-0 to Angola in Luanda.


  • The 3-1 victory over Algeria on November 12, 2016 was the 100th World Cup qualifier contested by Nigeria, whose tally has since risen to 104. The Super Eagles are one of three African sides to have passed the century mark, together with Morocco (112) and Tunisia (104).



  • Along with Iceland, Panama are one of two teams making their World Cup debut. The last of the previous ten CONCACAF representatives to make

their tournament bow were Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.


  • Since 2003, Panama have qualified for five FIFA U-20 World Cups and two FIFA U-17 World Cups, with the U-17 team posting the best finish by reaching the Round of 16 in 2011.


  • The team’s historic first qualification was confirmed with a 2-1 home success over Costa Rica on the last day of the final group round. The decisive goal was scored by Roman Torres two minutes from the end.


  • Gabriel Torres’ opener in the 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago on 5 September 2017 was Panama’s 100th goal scored in World Cup qualifying.


  • With his two strikes en route to Russia 2018, Luis Tejada increased his overall World Cup qualifying haul to 14 goals and becomes Panama’s leading scorer in the competition, overtaking Blas Perez who achieved a career total of 12. Tejada is also the first Panamanian to score in four different preliminary campaigns, an exploit achieved by another eight players in the CONCACAF Zone. Within that group, however, only the trio of Russell Latapy (Trinidad and Tobago), Rafael Marquez (Mexico) and Carlos Ruiz (Guatemala) have been on target in five editions.






  • Peru are appearing in their fifth World Cup after a 36-year hiatus, the longest of all the qualified teams, having last featured in Spain 1982. La Blanquirroja have gone beyond the group round twice, losing 4-2 to eventual champions Brazil in the 1970 quarter-finals and contesting the second-round group stage in 1978.


  • One of the 13 goal scorers who have reached double figures in the World Cup is a Peruvian, Teofilo Cubillas, whose ten goals were spread equally between the 1970 and 1978 editions.


  • Peru’s qualification means that eight of the teams that took part in the inaugural edition in 1930 will be competing in Russia 88 years later.


  • The player who broke the deadlock in the return leg of the intercontinental play-off against New Zealand, Jefferson Farfan, is also Peru’s leading goalscorer in the history of World Cup qualification with 16 goals. The forward struck four during this edition, all in Lima and inside 35 minutes.


  • The Peruvians accrued seven victories in the South American qualification group, equalling their best total since 1998, when the single group format was introduced. The South Americans also won seven matches in that edition, despite playing two matches fewer, but did not manage to qualify. Subsequently between 2002 and 2014, Los Incas failed to collect more than four wins per campaign. Their latest tally of 27 goals is an outright record, eclipsing their previous best haul of 20 in 2006.



  • Poland are appearing in their eighth global showpiece, 12 years since their last participation in Germany
  • Poland’s most successful spell in the World Cup was undoubtedly between the 1974 and 1982 editions, when they finished third in two out of three campaigns (1974 and 1982) and reached the second round in 1978. In these three editions, the White and Reds played the joint-most games (20, the same as Germany FR) and notched the most wins (12).
  • In both of their last two participations, Poland faced the host team (Korea Republic in 2002 and Germany in 2006) and failed to make it past the group round, mustering a total of two wins. Both of those successes came against CONCACAF opposition, namely USA (3-1) in 2002 and Costa Rica (2-1) in 2006.
  • With 16 goals on the trail to Russia 2018, Robert Lewandowski broke the record for the most goals scored in a single European Zone qualifying campaign, surpassing Predrag Mijatovic’s previous benchmark of 14 for Yugoslavia ahead of France 1998.
  • Grzegorz Lato, top scorer in the 1974 edition with seven goals, is one of 13 players to have bagged at least ten goals in the World Cup finals. The Polish winger became the seventh in chronological order to reach double figures when he hit his tenth and last goal in 1982, during the 5-1 victory over Peru.




  • This is the seventh World Cup to involve Portugal, who have been ever-present since 2002. A Seleccao das Quinas achieved their best finishes in the two previous European-based editions (England 1966 and Germany 2006), reaching the semi-finals both times and ultimately placing third in 1966 and fourth in 2006.


  • The Lusitanians faced the eventual world champions in both of their last two outings, exiting 1-0 against Spain in the Round of 16 in 2010 and losing 4-0 to Germany in their opening match in 2014.


  • Portugal are one of just two teams that have won a World Cup match from three goals down. Just 25 minutes into the quarter-final on 23 July 1966, Portugal were already three goals behind against Korea DPR, but managed to turn the tables and triumph 5-3. The only other team to have performed this feat are Austria, who trailed Switzerland 3-0 after 23 minutes of the 1954 quarter-final before battling back to win 7-5.


  • The Portuguese have contested 139 World Cup qualifiers, more than any other European team.


  • With his 15 goals in this preliminary campaign, Cristiano Ronaldo took his overall tally in World Cup qualifying to 30 and became the all-time leading European marksman in the competition, bettering Andriy Shevchenko’s haul of 26. The Portuguese forward, scorer of four goals against Andorra on October 7, 2016 and three against Faroe Islands on 31 August 2017, is also the second player to have scored three or more goals in four different World Cup qualifiers, a feat previously achieved only by New Zealand’s Vaughan Coveny between 1997 and 2004.






  • Including participations under the banner of the Soviet Union, this is Russia’s 11th outing in the World Cup finals. Competing as an independent nation, they qualified in 1994, 2002 and 2014.


  • Their best result was fourth position as Soviet Union in 1966, whereas under the name Russia they have always been eliminated in the group stage.


  • In total, 62% of home teams have reached the last four in previous World Cups (13 out of 21, including both hosts of Korea Republic/Japan). Six won the title, two finished runners-up, three came third and two were placed fourth.


  • The top-scoring player in a single World Cup match is Russia’s Oleg Salenko, who netted five goals in his team’s 6-1 win over Cameroon in 1994.
  • The last three wins achieved by Russia/Soviet Union in the World Cup all came against African opposition, namely Cameroon (4-0 in 1990 and 6-1 in 1994) and Tunisia (2-0 in 2002).




  • Saudi Arabia return to the World Cup 12 years after their most recent campaign in Germany 2006, which was the last of four consecutive appearances starting with the 1994 edition.


  • The Saudis achieved their best placing on their debut outing in USA 1994, notching their only World Cup victories in 13 attempts against Morocco and Belgium before being eliminated in the Round of 16 by Sweden.


  • The 10-0 victory over Timor Leste on November 17, 2015 in Round Two of the Asian preliminary tournament was Saudi Arabia’s most emphatic victory of all time, surpassing their 8-0 friendly defeat of Indonesia in 1980.


  • Saudi Arabia’s Sami Al Jaber was the first Asian player to score in three editions of the World Cup (1994, 1998 and 2006). His record has been equalled only by Park Jisung of Korea Republic, who was on target in 2002, 2006 and 2010.


  • Mohammed Al Sahlawi struck five goals in the 10-0 win over Timor Leste. Only two players have scored more in a single Asian qualifier, with Japan’s Kazuyoshi Miura hitting Macao for six in 1997 and Iran’s Karim Bagheri achieving the feat twice, netting seven against Maldives in 1997 and six against Guam in 2000.




  • Senegal are taking part in their second FIFA World Cup’, following Korea/Japan 2002, where they reached the quarter-finals. In that debut campaign, Senegal equalled the best finish by an African side in the competition’s history, which was previously achieved by Cameroon in 1990 and Ghana in 2010.


  • Senegal are the only team to have been involved in two World Cup matches decided by a golden goal. The West Africans won their Round of 16 duel with Sweden 2-1 thanks to Henri Camara’s strike in the 104th minute, before exiting in the quarter-finals at the hands of Turkey, with Ilhan Mansiz netting the game’s only goal on 94 minutes.


  • In the group round of their debut campaign, Senegal defeated reigning champions France in their maiden match and drew their third game 3-3 against former champions Uruguay, after having led 3-0 at half-time.


  • In the 2018 preliminary tournament, Senegal went through the competition unbeaten for the first time in 12 participations.


  • Senegal’s unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifying stretches back 19 matches. The Lions of Teranga were last beaten at home on July 17, 1993, when they lost 3-1 to Morocco.






  • Serbia’s last World Cup finals participation dates back to 2010. They previously competed nine times under the banner of Yugoslavia between 1930 and 1998 (reaching the semi-finals in 1930 and 1962) and once as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.


  • The Serbians were eliminated in the group stage in each of their last two participations with just one victory in total, 1-0 against Germany in 2010.


  • As Yugoslavia, they hold the record for the most players to score in a single match, with seven players having found the target in the 9-0 victory over Zaire in 1974.
  • The goal in the 1-0 win over Georgia that cemented Serbia’s place in Russia 2018 was Aleksandar Prijovic’s first strike for the national side.
  • Yugoslavia were the first European national team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, back in 1930. In the same edition, they were also the first side in the event’s history to beat Brazil, triumphing 2-1 on both teams’ tournament debut.




  • Sweden are returning to their World Cup after a 12-year absence and this will be their 12th participation. Their last two title bids ended in the Round of 16, at the hands of Senegal in 2002 and Germany in 2006.


  • Sweden are one of two sides to have finished runners-up as tournament hosts. The first was Brazil in 1950, before the Swedes lost the 1958 final 5-2 against the South Americans. The Scandinavians have also finished third on two occasions (1950 and 1994) and secured fourth spot in 1938.


  • In each of their last four participations in the World Cup, Sweden have faced a debutant side, accumulating a negative record of one win, one draw and two defeats. Specifically, the Blagult lost 2-1 to Costa Rica in 1990, beat Saudi Arabia 3-1 in 1994, suffered another reverse in 2002 against Senegal and drew 0-0 with Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.


  • Sweden were involved in the first World Cup qualifying match, overcoming Estonia 6-2 on 11 June 1933 in Stockholm.


  • Sweden qualified via a play-off victory over Italy, winning 1-0 at home and drawing the away leg 0-0, which gives the Blagult an even record of two wins and two losses in World Cup play-offs. They also reached the 1974 finals after beating Austria 2-1, but lost 2-1 to Switzerland in the 1962 edition and to Portugal in a double-header four years ago (losing 1-0 away and 3-2 at home).




  • Switzerland are competing in their 11th finals and the fourth in a row, having also featured in four consecutive editions between 1934 and 1954.


  • After failing to keep a clean sheet in their first 22 games played in football’s showpiece event, Switzerland conceded no goals in their four matches at Germany 2006, thus becoming the first team to be eliminated from the World Cup without letting in a goal. Having reached the Round of 16 with three shutouts from their three group matches, Switzerland were ousted on penalties by Ukraine following a 0-0 stalemate. That 3-0 spot-kick defeat by Ukraine in 2006 was also the first time that a team had failed to score in a penalty shoot-out in the history of the World Cup.


  • During the 2010 event, Switzerland were the only team to defeat the eventual world champions Spain, having edged the Iberians 1-0 in the opening group game. The Swiss subsequently lost their second match 1-0 to Chile following a 75th-minute winner from Mark Gonzalez. It was the first goal that Switzerland had conceded for 559 minutes of play, a tournament record that topped the 550-minute run of invincibility previously achieved by Italy.


  • This is the third time that Switzerland have qualified for a World Cup via the play-offs. The Helvetians secured their place in Chile 1962 by edging Sweden 2-1 in a decider contested in Berlin on 12 November 1961. The Swiss subsequently qualified for Germany 2006 after a double-header against Turkey, which yielded a 2-0 home win and a 4-2 away defeat.


  • The opening strike by Granit Xhaka in the 5-2 success over Hungary on 10 October 2017 in Basel was the 200th goal netted by Switzerland on the road to the World Cup.



  • Spain are competing in their 15th World Cup and have been a continuous presence since 1978. They were the eighth and last team to win the world title for the first time.


  • The Iberians’ opening match in Russia will be their 60th in the World Cup. Currently on 92 goals scored, La Roja are closest to reaching the milestone of 100. Only five teams have bettered that tally to date, namely Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Italy and France.


  • Including the 2018 preliminary campaign, Spain extended their unbeaten streak in World Cup qualification to 63 games, including 50 wins and 13 draws, with 164 goals scored and 29 conceded.


  • Spain’s 5-1 defeat by the Netherlands during the group stage in Brazil 2014 was the heaviest defeat conceded by reigning champions.


  • Spain’s one and only previous match on Russian soil was played 47 years ago on 30 May 1971, when they lost a EURO 1972 qualifier 2-1 to Soviet Union in Moscow.




  • Tunisia are participating in their fifth FIFA World Cup’, 12 years since their last appearance in the Germany 2006 edition.


  • The June 2, 1978 is a historic date for Tunisian and African football, because on that day the Carthage Eagles made their World Cup bow with a 3-1 success over Mexico in Rosario. Not only was that result the Tunisians’ only victory in 12 matches played in the competition, it was also the first win by an African side in the global showcase.


  • With 15 goals netted en route to Russia 2018, Tunisia increased their overall tally in qualifying to 180 and are the all-time top scorers in the African Zone preliminary competition.


  • The 1-0 victory away to Libya on November 11, 2016 in Algiers was Tunisia’s 100th World Cup qualifier. The North Africans are the second team to reach a century of games in the preliminary tournament, behind Morocco.


  • Of all the qualified teams competing in Russia 2018, Tunisia have the longest active winless streak in the event, with 11 fixtures played since their last World Cup victory. Following their maiden win in the 1978 edition, the Tunisians have collected four draws and seven defeats.




  • This is Uruguay’s 13th outing in the World Cup finals and the third in a row. Of all the former champions, the Uruguayans have gone the longest time since their last title win, which they achieved all of 68 years ago in Brazil.


  • Los Charraas have not contested a World Cup in Europe for 28 years, dating back to Italy 1990 when they were eliminated in the Round of 16 by the host team. Their next three campaigns were in Korea/Japan 2002, South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014.


  • La Celeste won ten of their first 11 matches contested in the World Cup, in the 1930 and 1950 editions when they were eventually crowned world champions each time. The Uruguayans were absent from the Italy 1934 and France 1938 tournaments.


  • Diego Forlan is the only Uruguayan to have been named top scorer in a World Cup, albeit along with another three players. In 2010 he netted five goals, the same number as Germany’s Thomas Muller, Spaniard David Villa and Dutchman Wesley Sneijder.


  • Luis Suarez took his overall goal tally in World Cup qualifying to 21 with a brace against Bolivia in the last match of the CONMEBOL preliminary tournament. Along with Lionel Messi, who reached the same total after grabbing a hat-trick against Ecuador, Suarez thus overtakes Hernan Crespo’s career tally of 19 in the competition, becoming the all-time joint-leading goal scorer in South American World Cup qualifying.



Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Manu Garba proud of Eaglets as team countenances Niger Republic



Coach Manu Garba has asserted that he is proud of the Golden Eaglets after Thursday’s scoreless encounter with their Burkina Faso counterparts in the Group B opener of the WAFU B U17 Championship.

 Five-time champions Nigeria created several scoring chances particularly late in the game at the Accra University Stadium, but failed to utilise even one that could have earned them the three points and handed them early leadership of the pool.

 However, Garba said the boys played a cohesive game in their first-ever international outing and deserve credit for their display.

 “We are proud of our team’s performance. Although we didn’t secure the win that we hoped for, our players showed great teamwork and sportsmanship. We look forward to our next match and the opportunity to continue growing and improving.

 “The boys will get better with experience and exposure.”


 Against the Burkinabes, the Eaglets showed flair and fluency, but a heavy downpour in the final 15 minutes of the game disrupted the general flow of play, with the pitch waterlogged and effective control and passing impossible.

 The Golden Eaglets go up against their counterparts from the Niger Republic on Sunday evening (6pm Ghana time; 7pm Nigeria) with renewed hope and vigour to pick up the three points that will enhance their chances of a place in the last four.

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Paris to face major disruption ahead of Games opening ceremony, says police chief



Paris will face major disruption ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along the Seine on July 26, as organisers ramp up security measures to safeguard the event, the city’s police chief said on Thursday.

Organisers hope the opening ceremony, in which 160 boats carrying athletes from around the world will travel a 6 kilometre route along the Seine river towards the Eiffel tower, will deliver a jaw-dropping spectacle. Some 300,000 spectators will watch from the banks of the Seine as a global audience tunes in on TV.

But the ceremony is also a major security headache, taking place against a backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Gaza. French President Emmanuel Macron has already floated the possibility of scrapping the river ceremony and reverting to at least two back-up plans if the security risks become untenable.

Paris residents with a view of the Seine can invite friends to watch the opening of the 2024 Summer Games from their balconies, but should prepare for heavy traffic and limited movement, Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said at a press conference.

Adjacent metro stations, most river crossings and all water traffic will be halted in the week before the open-air ceremony, Nunez said, adding that some bridges will remain open “in order not to cut Paris in two halves.”


Everyone who wants to access the immediate surroundings of the Seine in the week before the Games will need to sign up on an online platform, Nunez said. Local residents hoping to access their homes, which are among the most prestigious addresses in France, will need to do the same.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who also spoke at the event said the disruption would impact around 20,000 residents and business owners.

Asked about Macron’s comments earlier this month, Nunez said his teams were still working on the ‘Plan A’ of the river ceremony.

“As of today, we have no reason to be worried,” Nunez said.



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New dawn expected as Nigeria sports ministry partners with Yanga Games



Towards creating a new dawn for Nigerian Sports,  the Federal Ministry  of Sports has signed a landmark  agreement with  top lottery  company Yanga Games to raise the revenue profile of the Ministry  and ensure a new deal for the welfare of athletes. 

Speaking during the unveiling  of the partnership between  the Ministry  and  Yanga  Games in Lagos on Friday,  Chairman/CEO of Yanga Games  Derrick  David Kentebe  said: “we are so super excited by this opportunity to work  with the Ministry  of Sports Development to change the narrative about Sports in the country. 

Continuing, he remarked: “We see opportunity for marketing our athletes  and sports generally . We shall avail ourselves  the best use  of this unique and  special partnership. We shall pursue this mandate with vigour, passion and unrivaled  commitment  to bring benefits to all the critical stakeholders.”

The agreement  according  to Kentebe  will provide  support for retired athletes, enhance grassroot  sports Development and advance the potentials of  special athletes.

He assured that ” Yanga Games has the capacity to  raise funds on behalf of the Ministry  of Sports for athletes  Development, endorsement and sponsorship deals for athletes”. 


Minister of Sports Senator John Owan Enoh assured that the Ministry has total and absolute  confidence  in Yanga Games to deliver on the given mandate.

“Gone are the era when we depended solely  on government  to fund sports  development.  We are partnering with  Yanga Games to bring maximum  benefits  to the athletes and all critical stakeholders.

“We shall give institutional encouragement and support to the Management of  Yanga Games to succeed in this onerous task of rebuilding our sports sub sector.”

Speaking further, Kentebe  said ” We shall raise about 34 Billion in the next four years to assist athletes and improve sports in the country.

“We shall help to develop  grassroot  sports and  sustain youth involvement  through raffle draws, fund raiser and other avenues.

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