It took 29 months to get here – first official qualifier match for World Cup 2014: Montserrat and Belize back on June 15, 2011 – but the 32-team field for Brazil is set.
(Bonus points if you actually know where Montserrat is. And no cheating with Wiki-whatever.)
So, in some ways, the fun is just beginning. Next up: the Dec. 6 draw from Bahia, a tourist-heavy coastal spot in Brazil, not far from Salvador, one of the 12 venue cities. Teams will be grouped into eight separate foursomes.
One of those will be labeled the Group of Death.
And people like me will remind everyone that we really should stop calling this the Group of Death.
(U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told our own Arlo White that he had a premonition, that the United States would end up in the Group of … well, you know.)
The final draw will take place at 11 a.m. ET that day. What you are reading now is just a starting point, of course – there is so very, very much to come – but here is what you need to know:
The (almost) final list of teams is here. For now, just pretend like Mexico and Uruguay are in. Because unless the world turns completely upside down — truly bizarre stuff, like galaxies imploding, educational programming on TLC, dogs and cats … sleeping together and such – Mexico and Uruguay are in.
For most books, Brazil is the top favorite. Remember, hosts typically tend to do well; France was the last host to win, in 1998. But Germany did make a surprisingly strong showing (3rd place) in 2006. For the coming tourney: Spain (the defending champs, pictured above), Argentina and Germany are in as the next favorites in some varying orders, depending on which odds site you like.
Both teams missed goalmouth headers from Nayef Aguerd and Wilson, and either team could’ve come away with a win as the Magpies could not keep their energy and a midweek League Cup semifinal win over Saints while West Ham was off longer could’ve played its part.
Newcastle finishes the day fourth with 40 points, 10 back of Arsenal, while West Ham’s 19 points are one more than 18th-place Everton.
Newcastle goes to Bournemouth in what will be an emotional day for Eddie Howe and Callum Wilson as former Cherries. That kicks off 12:30pm ET on Feb. 11.
West Ham gets Chelsea at home on Saturday before going to Tottenham for another big London derby on Feb. 19.
Newcastle vs West Ham score: Mad start at St. James’ Park has it 1-1
Callum Wilson goal video
Lucas Paqueta goal video
How to watch Newcastle vs West Ham live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday TV Channel: NBC Online:Stream via NBCSports.com
Key storylines & star players
The Magpies won’t have their best all-around player in influential Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, and center forward Alexander Isak will miss out following a head injury suffered against Saints. Sean Longstaff will need to shine again after scoring twice against Saints.
As for West Ham, they have three attackers out but can look to Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to continue upturns in form.
Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Bruno Guimaraes (suspension), Alexander Isak (concussion), Javier Manquillo (undisclosed), Matt Targett (foot), Emil Krafth (knee)
Liverpool can’t worry about its European positioning when it’s currently getting outfinished by relegation-threatened Wolves in a 3-0 affair at the Molineux on Saturday,
It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay, and Wolves will feel they deserved the full three points in several ways.
A Joel Matip own goal after six minutes was worsened by Craig Dawson’s goal on debut for Wolves in the 12th minute, and Liverpool could not break down Julen Lopetegui’s defense despite Mohamed Salah’s best efforts.
Adama Traore tortured Liverpool’s lifeless defense to set up Ruben Neves’s 71st-minute goal, and the Molineux crowd was Ole-ing every last touch of a stoppage-time possession in utterly unpredictable fashion.
The expected goals total was kinder to Liverpool, but that and the club’s current situation count for little more than a handshake; The Reds now sit 10 points outside the top four, the 10 next to their name wild given their status under Jurgen Klopp (even considered their terrible injury list).
Wolves entered the day in the bottom three and exits it in 15th with 20 points. That’s two points clear of the bottom three but the upward trajectory is real.
Injuries definitely start the story of this one, a 3-0 that was much closer on the xG scoreboard but just as divided in spirit.
Jurgen Klopp’s one-time mentality monsters looked mentality defeated, especially in front of either goal, as the boss exclaimed after the game — full comments below — that the club was lined up as directed but “passive, not active.”
Wolves, meanwhile, were very active, and Klopp would’ve wondered what might’ve been when Neves lashed in the third goal by darting between a collection of lined-up Liverpool backs to snap home the end product of Adama Traore’s robust work breaking the lines and conducting a trademark dribble.
The Reds have big holes by Darwin Nunez is snakebit in front of goal and Cody Gakpo may get there. At the moment, Liverpool’s entire attack seems to be, “Let’s hope Mo Salah cooks today.”
The Egyptian has been fine this year but nowhere near an even average day on Saturday. Thiago Alcantara was one of only a few to really show up in a loss that leaves the Reds fodder for Europa League qualification and not much else. Maybe the UCL route can open up for them.
Stars of the Show
Jurgen Klopp reaction: ‘I have no words for it’ (231 words later)
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable. When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring, the third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game then this is the start is horrible,” Klopp told BBC Match of the Day.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away. We were passive in the two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it, I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.
“The leadership [defensively] is missing but this is not my first explanation, I really think in the specific situation we could have and should have done better. We have to do better in these moments by not coming to this situation in the game so not chasing the game. We didn’t finish things off properly, we missed the last pass, the intensity we played at times was good but we have put ourselves in a really average position for the two goals.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100%. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry.”
Wolves will feel they can enter a purple patch with a trip to Southampton and a visit from Bournemouth on the next two Saturdays.
Liverpool has to snap to life quick: There’s a Merseyside derby at home to Everton, then Newcastle away followed by the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 vs Real Madrid.
How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time
Craig Dawson goal video: Debutant makes it 2-0 to Wolves with rare goal
Ruben Neves goal video: Adama Traore turns on style as Liverpool goes to sleep
Key storylines & star players
Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.
Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.
Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)
Manchester City can gut the gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal to just two points with a win over Tottenham in north London on Sunday (watch live, 11:30 am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).
Arsenal (50 points) were handed just their second defeat of the season on Saturday, beaten 1-0 away to Everton as Sean Dyche made his debut as Toffees manager. Now level on games played for just over 24 hours, Manchester City (45 points) are once again within striking distance, but Tottenham (36 points – 5th place) have given them fits in recent seasons, when few others could.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham vs Manchester City.
When these sides met just two weeks ago, Tottenham found themselves 2-0 up at halftime and threatening to cause the Man City upset yet again, effectively handing rivals Arsenal a three-point boost in the title race. Then the second half kicked off, and the two-time defending champions poured in four games, including three in the first 18 minutes. Another fantastic half wasted by Tottenham, though it was typically a poor start followed by a frantic finish of their own. Harry Kane will pass Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time top scorer when he scores his next goal, taking his total in all competitions to 267. If Kane scores that goal in a Premier League fixture, the record goal will also be his 200th in the league.
Erling Haaland (25 goals) is the only player with more PL goals than Kane (16) this season, and though his numbers are certainly eye-popping, his arrival has clearly unsettled Pep Guardiola’s tactical system to some degree. A season ago, Manchester City conceded just 26 goals in 38 games (0.68 per game). This season, 20 goals in 20 games, up nearly a half-goal per game.
Tottenham team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Lucas Moura (calf) | QUESTIONABLE: Richarlison (adductor)
Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Phil Foden (foot)
Mitoma has four goal and an assist in six appearances all competitions since Dec. 31 and four of those games are Brighton wins. The Seagulls are back into sixth place, two points off fifth-place Spurs with a match-in-hand, and give points behind Newcastle before the Magpies meet West Ham.
Bournemouth sits 19th, a point off safety and two points above 20th-place Saints.
Kaoru Mitoma certainly looks to be comfortable in the Premier League, and who needs a 20-yard banger or intra-box juggle-and fire every week? This time Mitoma turned up with a late header for his show-stopper.
It was fitting for Brighton in this match with two goalkeepers who looked locked-in for zeroes, as the Seagulls are very much a team that’s kept mojo from Graham Potter to Roberto De Zerbi and is finding new wrinkles under the latter.
But Bournemouth can and should feel renewed optimism after new owner Bill Foley sanctioned moves for some badly needed flair players.
One of those, Dango Ouattara, looks downright dangerous, while Ivorian attacker Hamed Traore and Ghanaian striker Antoine Semenyo are proper alternatives to Kieffer Moore and injured Dominic Solanke.
When the Cherries get Marcus Tavernier back, the puzzle will be much closer to their best. How many pieces remain missing is what will dictate whether Bournemouth keeps its puncher’s chance to stay up.
Stars of the Show
Brighton goes to Palace at 10am ET Saturday before Fulham pays a visit to the Amex one week later.
Bournemouth hosts old friends Eddie Howe, Callum Wilson, and Newcastle United at 12:30pm ET Saturday before going to Wolves a week later.
Kaoru Mitoma goal video: Brighton breaks through
How to watch Brighton vs Bournemouth live, stream link and start time