We now know each of the 32 nations that will be competing in Russia next year for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and European giants, Italy and the Netherlands both missed out on places at the tournament. This paved the way for two countries who will be competing at their first ever World Cup: Iceland, who knocked England out at Euro 2016, and North-American minnows, Panama.
There were plenty of stand-out players in the qualifying groups, and many played a huge role in securing their nation’s place in Russia next summer. It tends to be the strikers that are seen as most important, and we look at each continent’s top goal scorer in qualifying.
Robert Lewandowski, Poland – 16 goals
It may come as a surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t top this list but it was Robert Lewandowski who scored just one more goal than the Real Madrid star. He powered Poland to a perfect first place finish in Group E, despite it being seen as one of the easier groups. The Bayern striker is one of the best number 9s in world football, and he will be vital if they want to go far in the World Cup.
Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, Saudi Arabia and Ahmed Khalil, UAE – 16 goals
The spoils were shared in terms of the top goal scorer in Asian qualifying, but as Mohammad Al-Sahlawi’s Saudi Arabia qualified for the World Cup, Ahmed Khalil’s UAE failed to do the same. It was a very strong qualifying campaign for both players, but it ended in heartbreak for Khalil as he couldn’t inspire his team-mates to make it through to the Finals.
Edinson Cavani, Uruguay – 10 goals
As Lionel Messi’s Argentina almost failed to qualify, it was Brazil and Uruguay who ran away with the CONMEBOL qualifying group. PSG frontman, Edinson Cavani was brilliant in the qualifying matches as he hit 10 goals, at least three more goals than any other South American player. He and Luis Suarez will be very important for Uruguay next June, and there won’t be any international defenders that will want to face the two deadly forwards.
Carlos Ruiz, Guatemala – 9 goals
To say it was a strange qualifying campaign in North America is an understatement as strong favourites, the USA didn’t even make the playoff spot. One nation that failed to make it through to the final stage of qualifying was Guatemala, despite their striker, Carlos Ruiz contributing to half of their goals in the fourth qualifying round. It was Mexico who dominated the North American section, and they claimed the top spot in the group as they only lost one match out of the ten they played.
Préjuce Nakoulma, Burkina Faso and Mohamed Salah, Egypt – 5 goals
With just six qualifying group fixtures, both Préjuce Nakoulma and Mohamed Salah did well to register five goals, but despite his best efforts for Burkina Faso, Nakoulma won’t be featuring in Russia as his country failed to qualify. Egypt, on the other hand, cruised through Group E after winning four of their six matches. Uganda only beat them. Salah is certainly the Egyptians’ best player, and he needs to ensure that he shows this next summer.
Chris Wood, New Zealand – 4 goals
It was no surprise at all as New Zealand steamrolled their way through the Oceanic qualifying group before demolishing the Solomon Islands 8-3 in the OFC Final. In the last of the World Cup playoffs, the Kiwis were beaten 2-0 on aggregate by a Peru side that qualified for their first World Cup since 1982. Chris Wood was always going to be the favourite to be the top goal scorer, and he delivered as expected with four goals, which was more than any other player in that section of qualifying.