Assessing the field after three matchdays of UEFA World Cup qualifying

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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UEFA World Cup qualifying is 364 days away from its final group stage match day, with thirty percent of matches in the books ahead of next month’s fourth batch of games.

If it all wrapped up today, uneven schedule and all, we’d see five Pot 1 sides heading to Russia: Germany, Belgium, England, Spain, and Croatia. Two Pot 2 sides — France and Switzerland — would join them, while Serbia (Pot 3) and Montenegro (Pot 4) complete the nine automatic bids.

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Headed to the playoffs would be eight of the following team, with the remaining ninth second-place team eliminated: Azerbaijan, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Italy, Greece, and Iceland.

Notable names who would miss out on the 2018 World Cup? Iceland, Ukraine, Slovenia, Slovakia, Denmark, Wales, Austria, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, and Netherlands (amongst others).

Perhaps you’re asking which of these national teams currently have misleading statuses? Let’s take a look.

Netherlands (Group A, third place)
The Dutch sit third, but have already played two of its toughest matches. Danny Blind’s side lost 1-0 at home to France and drew 0-0 at Sweden. It’s a tough group, but the Dutch still have plenty of hope of catching second-place Sweden.
Verdict: Contender

Azerbaijan (Group C, second place)
These guys might be for real in the race to finish 1-2 with Germany, who is 3-0 and cruising. Azerbaijan have scooped a road point at Czech Republic while winning at home against Norway. Second place and a playoff bid is a legit thought.
Verdict: Contender

Czech Republic (Group C, fifth place)
Conversely, the Czechs are in real trouble with their winless start. Two home draws gave points to Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland, giving them loads of work to do on the road to make up points on the field.
Verdict: In real trouble

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Wales (Group D, third place)
Gareth Bale and the Dragons are two points back of Serbia and Ireland, which doesn’t seem bad until you consider Wales has played the fourth, fifth, and sixth place teams in the group. The home draw against Georgia is tough to stomach.
Verdict: Not dire, but not good

Montenegro (Group E, first place)
A draw at Romania and a win in Denmark have the Brave Falcons dreaming big, and deservedly so. Given the relative on-field struggles of Poland — who still have 7 points — and a November date with in Armenia, Montenegro should be in first over the four-month break.
Verdict: Contender

England (Group F, first place)
No, the Three Lions have not looked good in a single match of qualifying. But England is unbeaten through three and has the two toughest road matches out of the way (draw to Slovenia, win over Slovakia). England is probably going to Russia (Yes, already).
Verdict: Contender