The final round of World Cup qualifying is taking place, and 14 countries are already assured of their places alongside hosts Russia at next summer’s 32-team tournament.

Five-time winners Brazil are there, as are defending champions Germany, plus Belgium, Costa Rica, England, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Spain.

So how did they get there? Who will be their star performers? And who are the coaches who masterminded their qualification?

finds out more…
Russia (hosts)

Pedigree: Stanislav Cherchesov’s side will be the fourth Russia team to play at a World Cup – they first appeared at USA ’94 – although the Soviet Union had finished fourth in 1966.
Spotlight on the hosts
All of Russia’s 2017 Confederations Cup squad played their club football in their homeland

Key player: Veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has won more than 100 caps and his experience could be vital. The 31-year-old, who has spent his entire career at CSKA Moscow, is likely to captain the hosts.

Premier League players: None.

Who’s the boss? Cherchesov rallied behind his side after the Confederations Cup, saying his players would “mature” because of the experience. A former Soviet Union and Russia goalkeeper, he has been given the target of reaching the semi-finals next summer.

Pedigree: Having failed to qualify for the previous two tournaments, Belgium reached the quarter-finals at Brazil 2014, losing to eventual runners-up Argentina. The Red Devils’ best finish was fourth in 1986.
Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard made his Belgium debut as a 17-year-old in 2008

Key player: Eden Hazard. The twinkle-toed Chelsea forward unlocks defences with his rapid change of pace, close control and eye for a pass. He also wears the captain’s armband for Roberto Martinez’s side.

Premier League players: Michy Batshuayi, Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard (all Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen, (all Tottenham), Kevin de Bruyne, Vincent Kompany (both Manchester City), Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku (both Manchester United), Steven Defour (Burnley), Nacer Chadli (West Brom), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace), Divock Origi (Wolfsburg, on loan from Liverpool), Christian Kabasele (Watford).

Who’s the boss? Roberto Martinez’s greatest achievement in English football was guiding Wigan to FA Cup success in 2013, although they were relegated three days later.

The former Swansea and Everton manager’s prowess in organising an attack has never been in question, but there were concerns over his defensive aptitude at club level. That shouldn’t be a problem with this Belgium outfit, who have the likes of Tottenham defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, and Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany in their ranks.

Pedigree: Since their solitary World Cup success in 1966, England have reached the semi-finals only once – in 1990, when they finished fourth. Four years ago, the Three Lions were knocked out in the group stage. That was the first time since 1958 they failed to get out of their group, and the only time they have been eliminated after just two matches.
England failed to progress from the group stages of the World Cup in 2014
England failed to progress from the group stages of the World Cup in 2014

Key player: With 13 goals for club and country in September, Harry Kane is one of the world’s most in-form strikers. His 27 goals in 2017 puts him only nine behind Lionel Messi.

Premier League players: The entire England squad play in the Premier League.

Who’s the boss? Gareth Southgate will take charge of his first major tournament. England have lost twice under his stewardship – to Germany and France – and are unbeaten in qualification.

Pedigree: The defending champions, four-time winners and number one team in the world.
Toni Kroos has scored 12 goals in 78 appearances for Germany
Toni Kroos has scored 12 goals in 78 appearances for Germany

Key player: Toni Kroos. Apart from Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, the Real Madrid midfielder is the most experienced player in the squad and keeps things ticking over. Since helping Germany win the 2014 World Cup, he has won two Champions League titles, one La Liga title and two Fifa Club World Cup titles.

Premier League players: Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal), Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea), Emre Can (Liverpool), Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Leroy Sane (Manchester City).

Who’s the boss? Joachim Low. Worked as assistant manager to Jurgen Klinsmann from 2004 to 2006, before being given the top job. The 57-year-old guided Germany to victory in the 2014 World Cup final against Argentina, and also triumphed at the Confederations Cup last year.

The international clean sweep has eluded him, though, with Germany runners-up at Euro 2008 and third four years later.

Pedigree: Poland are ranked sixth in the world. Have never won the World Cup but many believe this is one of the country’s strongest squads. Their highest previous finish is third, which they achieved in 1974 and 1982.
Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowsk
Bayern Munich forward Lewandowsk will be appearing for a World Cup for the first time in Russia

Key player: Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has scored 16 goals in nine qualifying matches for Poland and is their all time record goal-scorer. The skipper has scored a total of 51 international goals in 91 games.

Premier League players: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea), Grzegorz Krychowiak (West Bromwich Albion), Kamil Grosicki (Hull City)

Championship players: Pawel Wszolek (Queens Park Rangers)

Who’s the boss? Adam Nawalka has been in charge since November 2013 and has overseen 39 matches as Poland manager. His contract is due to run out in December but he guided the team to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, just two years after they failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, so he is expected to remain in charge for his second major tournament.

Pedigree: Currently ranked 11 in the world. They held the number one spot from 2008 until 2013. Spain were world champions in 2010, as well as European champions in 2008 and 2012.
Isco scored two goals in Spain’s 3-0 win over Italy in February
Isco scored two goals in Spain’s 3-0 win over Italy in February

Key player: Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco has been in fine form during qualifying, with six goals and an assist in Spain’s past seven matches. He has seven goals in 23 appearances in his international career.

Premier League players: Juan Mata (Manchester United), Nacho Monreal (Arsenal), Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), David de Gea (Manchester United), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Ander Herrera (Manchester United), Pedro (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City).

Who’s the boss? Julen Lopetegui was appointed in July 2016 and remains unbeaten in 13 matches in charge. He has won the European Championships with Spain’s U21s and U19s, although he has never coached a side at a senior major tournament.

Pedigree: Winners in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, Brazil were beaten 7-1 at the semi-final stage by Germany last time out.
Paris St-Germain forward Neymar is the world’s most expensive footballer

Key player: Neymar. The £200m forward is averaging a goal and an assist a game since his world-record move to Paris St-Germain. Brazil legend Pele says the 25-year-old is the country’s best player and has backed him to win the Ballon d’Or.

Premier League players: Ederson, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus (all Manchester City), Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (both Liverpool), Willian (Chelsea).

Who’s the boss? Brazil were sixth with a third of the qualifying campaign gone when journeyman coach Tite replaced former Brazil midfielder Dunga. The former Corinthians boss, 56, has since guided his country 11 points clear of Colombia with three games to go.

“What a difference a coach makes. Out went the snarling Dunga and in came Tite – charismatic and intelligent – and he made an immediate impact,” South American football expert Tim Vickery told BBC Radio 5 live.

Pedigree: Mexico have reached the knockout stage in each of the past six World Cups, and made the quarter-finals as hosts in 1986.
Juan Carlos Osorio

Key player: Hirving Lozano has scored three goals in three games since leaving Pachuca for PSV Eindhoven this summer, and the 22-year-old is also becoming the star of the national team, netting Mexico’s winner against Panama.

‘Chucky’ even impressed Argentina legend Diego Maradona on his Eredivisie debut, and the Philips Stadion crowd gave the winger a standing ovation following his first goal for PSV.

Premier League players: Javier Hernandez (West Ham).

Who’s the boss? Former Manchester City assistant manager Juan Carlos Osorio is the man in charge, but missed his side’s Gold Cup campaign this summer after being given a six-match ban by Fifa for “using insulting words and displaying an aggressive attitude towards officials” during the Confederations Cup.

The Colombian, who graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a diploma in science and football, has been backed by a number of experienced players in his squad following criticism from fans.
Costa Rica

Pedigree: Russia 2018 will be the fifth time Los Ticos have appeared at a World Cup finals. Last time out in Brazil, they finished top of a group containing Uruguay, Italy, and bottom-placed England, before going out in the quarter-finals on penalties to the Netherlands.

Key player: Bologna defender Giancarlo Gonzalez made the BBC pundits’ team of the tournament in 2014, but the man on whom Costa Rica’s recent success is built is Keylor Navas. The 30-year-old goalkeeper’s performances at the last World Cup earned him a move to Real Madrid. Since then he has firmly established himself as the number one there, winning one Spanish league title and two Champions Leagues.
Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas
Navas celebrates qualifying for the 2018 World Cup

Premier League players: Arsenal striker Joel Campbell is Costa Rica’s only Premier League player – though he is on a season-long loan at La Liga side Real Betis.

Who’s the boss? Oscar Ramirez was a player when Costa Rica made their World Cup debut in 1990. Since ending his playing career and moving into coaching, he has carved out a reputation for being tactically astute and creative, winning several league titles in club football before taking over from Paulo Wanchope, who resigned after being involved in a brawl during a match against Panama, at the helm of the national side in 2015.

Pedigree: This is the fifth time Iran have qualified for a World Cup, but their only victory in the tournament remains a 2-1 win over the United States at France ’98.
Carlos Queiroz
Carlos Queiroz has led Iran to back-to-back World Cups

Key player: Striker Sardar Azmoun is arguably Asia’s best striker since his compatriot Ali Daei, who scored more international goals than any other male player. The 22-year-old Azmoun is strong with both feet, and in the air, and plays his club football for Russian side Rubin Kazan.

Premier League players: None

Who’s the boss? Carlos Queiroz has a CV to rival any manager in international football. Via Sporting Lisbon, South Africa, Real Madrid, Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United and two stints in charge of Portugal, it is with Iran that Queiroz has spent the past six years.

“They fight for their lives, they fight for history, they fight for their reputations,” said the Portuguese, having seen Iran become the highest-placed Asian side in Fifa’s rankings at 24th.

Iran ticket ‘glitch’ gave female fans hope


Pedigree: Mainstays in the competition since 1998, Japan have twice reached the second round, including in 2002 when they jointly hosted the tournament with South Korea.

Key player: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Leicester forward Shinji Okazaki will of course be key, but a young forward on the books at Arsenal could be leading the line come next summer.

Takuma Asano has already netted three times for his country and helped Stuttgart win promotion to the Bundesliga last season while on loan from the Gunners. Arsene Wenger has called the 22-year-old “a talented young striker and very much one for the future”.

Premier League players: Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City), Takuma Asano (Stuttgart, on loan from Arsenal).

Who’s the boss? Vahid Halilhodzic, although that could change come the finals if reports of unrest in the camp are true. The Bosnian, however, has already proved his worth on the World Cup stage by leading Algeria to the knockout stages for the first time in the country’s history in 2014.

The former Yugoslavia forward has also coached teams such as Paris St-Germain, Dinamo Zagreb and the Ivory Coast.
Nasser Al Shamrani
Nasser Al Shamrani has 19 goals in 77 caps for Saudi
Saudi Arabia

Pedigree: Saudi Arabia’s only victories at a World Cup came in their first appearance in 1994, when they won two group matches and reached the second round. Their second win – 1-0 against Belgium – featured one of the greatest goals of all time when forward Saeed Al Owairan ran from his own half and beat half the Belgian defence to score.

Key player: Veteran striker Nasser Al Shamrani will play a vital role. The 2014 Asian Player of the Year can be a bit volatile – he was once banned for eight games for spitting at Western Sydney Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic before trying to headbutt him after his Al Hilal side lost in the 2014 Champions League final.

Premier League players: None

Who’s the boss? Bert van Marwijk, who has been in charge since 2015. The Dutchman, 65, led the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final and has coached the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord and Hamburg.
South Korea

Pedigree: No Asian team has a better World Cup pedigree than the side nicknamed the Taegeuk Warriors. South Korea’s goalless draw against Uzbekistan secured a place at a 10th finals and the tournament in Russia will be the ninth World Cup in a row in which they have featured.
Lee Dong-gook will be 39 by the time the World Cup begins in Russia
Lee Dong-gook will be 39 by the time the World Cup begins in Russia

Key player: Son Heung-min has showcased his trickery at Tottenham and is the stand-out name on the team sheet. He has managed just one international goal since the start of 2016 however, as the side have struggled in front of goal. And keep an eye out for Lee Dong-gook who came on as a substitute in their final qualifier and will be 39 by the time the World Cup comes around. The former Middlesbrough striker boasts 105 caps spanning 19 years.

Premier League players: Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea), Son Heung-min (Tottenham)

Who is the boss? Shin Tae-yong has been nicknamed ‘the Asian Mourinho’ but he has come under pressure as a result of their hit-and-miss displays in qualifying. However, having only taken charge in July, he is likely to be given time to get things right. The 48-year-old spent 12 years as a player in South Korea’s K-League and then made a single league appearance in Australia before retiring in 2005.

Pedigree: Egypt are currently 30th in Fifa’s world rankings – one place below Netherlands. Having missed out on the 2010 and 2014 competitions after play-off defeats, they qualified for Russia when Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scored a dramatic injury-time winner against Congo on 8 October. Their last notable success at a major tournament was in 2010, when they lifted the Africa Cup of Nations for the seventh time.
Mohamed Salah has scored six goals in qualifying but has never been to a World Cup competition
Mohamed Salah will be making his World Cup debut in Russia

Key player: Mohamed Salah, Liverpool’s major summer signing, is Egypt’s most talented player. The speedy forward has scored 32 goals in 56 international appearances, including five during qualifying for Russia.

Premier League players: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal), Ahmed Hegazy (West Brom), Ramadan Sobhi (Stoke),

Championship players: Ahmed Elmohamady (Aston Villa)

League One players: Sam Morsy (Wigan),

Who’s the boss? Argentine Hector Cuper, who previously coached Valencia and Inter Milan, was appointed in March 2015. He also managed Georgia between 2008 and 2009. His only major tournament was the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations – where Egypt were defeated 2-1 in the final by Cameroon.

Pedigree: This will be Nigeria’s sixth appearance at a World Cup – and their third in a row. They have reached the last 16 three times – 1994, 1998 and 2014 – but have never advanced beyond that stage.

Key player: Captain John Mikel Obi, the most experienced member of the squad with 80 caps, will be a key figure for the Super Eagles in Russia. This will be the former Chelsea midfielder’s second World Cup – the 30-year-old helped the team reach the knockout stages in 2014 for the first time since 1998. He now plies his trade in China with Tianjin Teda.
John Mikel Obi
John Mikel Obi helped Nigeria win the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations

Premier League players: Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City), Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City), Ahmed Musa (Leicester City) and Ola Aina (on loan at Hull City from Chelsea).

Who is the boss? Gernot Rohr has managed all over the world. From Nice to Gabon, Burkina Faso to Nigeria, the 64-year-old German has extensive knowledge. Rohr played at Bayern Munich and Bordeaux. He then coached Bordeaux when they lost to Bayern in the 1996 Uefa Cup final. Previous managerial jobs also include French club Nantes, Young Boys Berne in Switzerland, Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel and the Niger national team

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