MX23RW : Friday, January 18 21:05:06

World Cup 2018: Who has qualified for Russia?

Sports Mole rounds up who has qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia so far, and how they got there.

While the international break can often be a time dreaded by fans of club football, the latest provided twists and turns galore as the qualifying stages for next summer's World Cup in Russia came to a close.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Lionel Messi's Argentina both rescued themselves with victories on the final day, with the latter scoring a hat-trick to single-handedly ensure that La Albiceleste did not miss out on a World Cup for the first time since 1970.

There were shocks elsewhere as USA missed out on the biggest tournament in football for the first time since 1986 and reigning Copa America champions Chile saw their dreams ended, while Netherlands will be forced to watch a second consecutive major tournament from home for the first time since the 1980s.

Twenty-three teams have booked their place on the plane to Russia, though, with nine more to come before the lineup is completed.

Who has qualified?

Russia: The host nation, who have known that their place is secure since winning the right to stage the tournament in December 2010.

Brazil: The five-time champions were the first team aside from Russia to book their place at the World Cup, having overcome a shaky start to qualifying to win 10 and lose none of their final 12 matches and finish 10 points clear at the top of the CONMEBOL standings.

Iran: Unbeaten in their 10 matches during the final leg of Asian qualifying to finish seven points clear at the top of Group A.

Japan: Came out on top in a three-way battle for top spot in AFC third round Group B, edging both Saudi Arabia and Australia by a single point.

South Korea: Finished as runners-up behind Iran in Group A of the AFC third round, two points clear of Syria and Uzbekistan.

Saudi Arabia: Reached their first World Cup since 2006 by finishing as runners-up in Group B, ahead of Australia only on goal difference.

Mexico: Finished five points clear of Costa Rica in CONCACAF qualifying round five to seal their seventh straight appearance at a World Cup.

Belgium: The first European nation to qualify aside from hosts Russia, winning Group H by dropping just two points and scoring 43 goals from their 10 matches.

Germany: The only team to qualify with a perfect record. Reigning World Cup champions won all 10 of their qualifying fixtures, also scoring 43 goals in the process, to finish 11 points clear at the top of Group C.

England: Not exactly convincing in qualification, but a 1-0 win over Slovenia last week secured top spot in Group F ahead of Slovakia, who were the unlucky second-placed team to miss out on a playoff spot.

Poland: Record-breaking Robert Lewandowski fired Poland to the top of Group E with 16 goals during qualifying as they finished five points clear of Denmark.

Costa Rica: Quarter-finalists in 2014, Costa Rica finished behind Mexico in CONCACAF but qualified with a game to spare to keep themselves out of the scramble for the final automatic spot.

Nigeria: The first African side to seal their place on the plane, dropping just two points in third-round Group B to finish comfortably clear of Zambia, Cameroon and Algeria.

Egypt: Will be gracing the World Cup finals for the first time since Italia '90, with Mohamed Salah scoring the goals to confirm their place ahead of Ghana, amongst others.

Iceland: Made World Cup history by becoming the smallest ever country to qualify for the finals, building on their memorable Euro 2016 run to pip the likes of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey to top spot in Group I.

Serbia: Came out on top in one of the closest groups, finishing above both the Republic of Ireland and Wales in Group D.

Spain: Dropped just two points on their way to top spot in Group G, despite being drawn alongside fellow heavyweights Italy.

France: Beaten Euro 2016 finalists and amongst the favourites to go all the way in Russia, France nonetheless were forced to wait until the final day to confirm their place as Group A winners.

Portugal: Fifteen goals from Cristiano Ronaldo fired Portugal to top spot in Group B, but only courtesy of a final-day victory over the previously-perfect Switzerland as they clinched the automatic qualifying place on goal difference.

Panama: Scored an 88th-minute winner to dramatically come from behind in their final group game against Costa Rica and steal the final automatic place from under the noses of USA, who were beaten by Trinidad and Tobago. This will be their first appearance at a World Cup.

Argentina: By the skin of their teeth. Went into the final day in sixth place and fell behind inside the first minute against Ecuador, but a hat-trick from Lionel Messi inspired them to a 3-1 victory which left them third in the standings and with an automatic route to Russia.

Uruguay: Luis Suarez scored a brace as Uruguay came from behind to beat Bolivia 4-2 on the final day, keeping them clear of the drama behind them as they finished second to Brazil in South American qualifying.

Colombia: A draw with Peru on the final day was enough to clinch the fourth and final automatic qualification spot from South America.

Who could still qualify?

Sweden, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Greece and Croatia will all go into the playoffs in the European section, with the draw for that to take place next Tuesday. The four teams ranked highest in the next FIFA rankings will be seeded for that draw.

Having finished fifth in the South American standings, Peru face a two-legged playoff against New Zealand for a place at the World Cup.

Australia are also still fighting for their place at next summer's tournament and must overcome Honduras in their own playoff if they are to make their fourth consecutive appearance on the grandest stage.

There are still three places up for grabs in Africa, meanwhile, with that section of qualifying not complete until next month. As things stand it will be Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal filling those berths, but Congo DR, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Cape Verde Islands are still in the mix too.

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Lionel Messi during an Argentina training session on March 22, 2016
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