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The Calm Before: The five teams to watch in the October round of World Cup qualifying

We give you the rundown on what to expect in World Cup Qualifying these next two weeks

Japan v Oman - FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier Final Round Group B Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

In our efforts to continually give you the most up-to-date news on what to expect in each matchday outside of the perspective of just Bayern Munich (and in this case, the German national Team), we’re going to take a look around the world this international break.

So, we’ve taken the liberty of finding the team from FIFA’s five major federations who has the toughest or most important slate of games ahead of them. We’ll start in North America:

El Salvador v Canada: 2022 World Cup Qualifying Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images


It’s going to be a tough road ahead for Les Rouges and it seems that manager John Herdman is aware of that. He brings what is probably his A squad into this round of international qualifiers in an attempt to keep Canada toward the top of the newly christened Octa.

From front to back, we see where the true firepower lies. It should be a fairly straightforward selection for the top of the 3-4-3, considering the strength of their opponents. At the left wing we will most likely see one of two options: either Jonathan David of Lille or Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich. It’s actually not that easy of a choice. With three games in a matter of six days, there will need to be a balance of fitness. We’ve seen the two playing in a variety of positions in the Canadian system, but I have a feeling the two will get free shots at left wing. On the right is the more obvious choice: Tajon Buchanan. The current New England Revolution and former Syracuse University star (no, I will not shut up about this) has made a great impression in the 12 games he’s played for The Canucks and looks to this game to continue that. Finally at striker, we will see one of two people set to break records this week for Canada. Cyle Larin — the former UConn and Orlando City product, now at Besiktas — is just two goals away from matching the all time goal scoring record for Canada. Dwayne De Rosario took 81 games in his career to score the current record of 22 goals. Larin has 20 and is only at 42 caps. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to tie or break it this weekend.

The second person set to break a record for Canada this weekend is team captain Atiba Hutchinson. He currently sits just one game away from being tied as the nation’s all-time leader in caps. Hutchinson (88 caps) played every game of Canada’s last three WCQ matches so it seems more than likely he’ll be featured here. Joining him will be some combination of Stephen Eustaquio, Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio.

This team tends to switch back and forth between a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3. If things turn toward the latter, we can expect wing backs to be Alistair Johnston and the aforementioned Laryea. Center back duties will usually fall on Steven Vitoria, Doneil Henry, and former Syracuse defender Kamal Miller (ok I’ll stop now).

So, who does this band of brothers face off against? Oh, nobody big — just Mexico, Jamaica, and Panama. While Jamaica have struggled to get going, two games against teams in the top 4 are tough. Though this team has been individually on form so expect some shock results. In particular, watch that Mexico game which will be a rematch of this summer’s Gold Cup semifinal — a game that was even until a winner in the ninth minute of stoppage time for El Tri.

Games: @ Mexico, @ Jamaica, home v. Panama



Things started nice and easy for La Celeste. An opening draw against Peru was followed by a 4-2 win over Bolivia then a 1-0 over Ecuador. Nice and simple.

Well, this week they play Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil. And they only play Colombia at home.

Both of those latter games are some of the fiercest rivalries in South American football, with Argentina-Uruguay being arguably the second biggest on the continent behind the rivalry between Argentina and Brazil. In fact, Argentina v. Uruguay — known as the Clásico del Río de la Plata — is the most played international fixture in the world with 194 official meetings between the two nations. The first ever game between the two was a 6-0 dismantling by Argentina in Uruguay.

In terms of head to head matches in important fixtures, Uruguay has the edge. While Argentina did beat Uruguay in the Round of 16 of the 1986 World Cup — en route to winning the whole thing behind a stellar performance Diego Armando Maradona — Uruguay’s 4-2 win over Argentina at the first ever World Cup held in 1930 gives them an edge. In addition, Uruguay’s second Olympic gold in football came in 1928 defeating Argentina in the final. Interestingly, the two teams have never met in the finals of the Copa America but they share the record for most titles with 15 a piece.

Uruguay vs. Brazil has not been played as much but it is no less fierce a rivalry. Known as the Classico of the Black River (not going to write it in Spanish for obvious reasons). The two teams also have a contentious history in World Cups. In 1950, Brazil proposed a convoluted way for hosting and finishing the tournament by hosting multiple round-robin pools for both the group and knockout stages. Uruguay topped the pool in the final round — punctuated by a 2-1 win over Brazil in the last game that ultimately decided the tournament. Brazil got some consolation in the 1970 World Cup — knocking Uruguay out in the semifinals en route to winning their third world title. In terms of final matches for the Copa America, the two nations are even at two a piece.

Looking at the teams, La Celeste brings along its typical cast of characters. With Fernando Muslera in goal and a backline featuring Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin, they’re set on defense. A midfield with River Plate’s Nicolas de la Cruz, Federico Valverde, Lucas Torreira, and Rodrigo Bentancur should be enough to cause nightmares. Add to that the never aging front two of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani and the current third place holders should be as well equipped as ever to take on the challenges.

Games: home v. Colombia, @ Argentina, @ Brazil


UEFA: Austria

The first two teams we talked about posed interesting matchups, but not from a sense of urgency that underperforming provides. These next three teams are those who are shaking in their boots right now.

It’s important to note each of the next three federations’ process for qualifying for the World Cup. So, we start with UEFA where in the group stages, the winners automatically qualify for the World Cup and the runners up go into a playoff against each other. Looking at the group Austria are in, you’d expect them to be challenging for the top two spots. Instead, they enter this week 4th in the group and eleven points off the top spot.

They began their qualification run with a 2-2 draw against Scotland. Austria had the lead with 10 minutes to go but gave up a gorgeous 85’ bicycle kick to John McGinn. A 3-1 win over the Faroe Islands gave them three points but a 4-0 loss to Denmark hurt them. In September, they again started out with points after beating Moldova 2-0. Things went bad quickly after that. A 5-2 loss to Israel was quickly met by a 1-0 loss in their second game against Scotland.

The results have seen them holding on to 7 points and in fourth place behind 3rd place Israel (10 pts), 2nd place Scotland (11) and leaders Denmark (18). This week is do-or-die for their future qualification chances. They have an easy win game against the Faroe Islands, but then they play away to Denmark. It might be a massive ask for this team but if they don’t get a result against the Danes, they will face a rough November qualifying campaign in what seems like a battle for second place.

Games: home v. Faroe Islands, @ Denmark

Egypt v South Africa: Round of 16 - 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Photo by Visionhaus

CAF: Egypt

I don’t want to skip Africa but there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of “do or die” matches this week.

I’ll briefly explain how the CAF qualifies from the second round onward. In the 2nd round of qualifying, there are ten groups of four teams playing each other in a round-robin. Only the winners of these groups advance to the final round — wherein the teams are drawn against each other and play two legs with the winner qualifying for the tournament.

This is a departure from the 2018 qualifying method which saw two rounds of two leg playoffs leading into a 20 team, five group final round with the winner qualifying for the World Cup. While different, it provided a lot of tasty matchups — like a Group B consisting of Nigeria, Zambia, Cameroon, and Algeria — throughout the final round.

This time, the federation chose to return to the current format — one that was used in 2014 — which leads to this interesting, yet boring scenario in the round-robin where each team plays each other twice over the break. While there are certainly entertaining groups with powerhouses in them — Ivory Coast & Cameroon in Group D, South Africa & Ghana in Group G — none of those matchups happen this weekend. So, I tried to find groups where traditional powerhouses of African football weren’t in the top spot and the only two I found were Egypt and Ghana. Ghana have two games against Zimbabwe this time during the break which they should handle easily.

Egypt should also win both their games, but they’re more interesting as they take on neighbors and rivals Libya. Egypt and Libya have only really met in one World Cup qualifying round before. I say “only really” because things have never been easy for African teams trying to qualify for the World Cup and that has manifested itself in various forms. Specifically for these two teams, Libya has had a harder time fielding a team against Egypt and had to withdraw in previous draws against each other. They last played two matches to qualify for the 2006 World Cup. Each team had a victory against the other — a 2-1 for Libya and a 4-1 for Egypt. If Egypt can grab all six points over this break they will have an easy path forward for qualification.

Games: home v. Libya (10/8); @ Libya (10/11)

Japan v Oman - FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifier Final Round Group B Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

AFC: Japan

Japan have time to fix their current standings, but they’ll need to do it without one of their best and brightest stars.

The AFC is currently in their third round of World Cup qualifying. In this round, twelve teams are divided into two groups of six teams — with the top two teams automatically qualifying for the World Cup and the two third place teams facing off in a fourth round to decide who advances to the inter-confederation playoffs.

It may surprise you that Japan is in none of those positions as of now. After going 8-0-0 in their second round group, the team started on the wrong track with a disastrous 1-0 loss to Oman — a team that has only appeared in the final group stage of qualifying twice and had three wins to their name against Uzbekistan, Jordan, and Iraq. Now they can add the most successful football nation in Asia to their win column. After picking up a win against China, Japan now sit fourth in their group behind Oman in third — who they just played — Saudi Arabia in second and Australia in first.

And guess who Japan plays this international break. Yep, that would be Saudi Arabia and Australia.

As if that wasn’t going to be tough enough they’re missing one of the best players on their team in Takefusa Kubo. The 20-year-old winger has impressed in his second loan spell at RCD Mallorca. However, he went down with a knee injury after clashing with Karim Benzema in a 6-1 loss to Kubo’s parent club Real Madrid.

The team will now have to rely on the talents of former Arminia Bielefeld winger Ritsu Doan, Liverpool winger Takumi Minamino and striker Yuya Osako to try and make up for Kubo’s absence. The midfield will feature Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada in the advanced midfield position with a double pivot of Gaku Shibasaki and VfB Stuttgart’s Wataru Endo. The backline could see contributions from two 2. Liga players: Sei Muroya of Hannover 96 and Kou Itakura of Schalke 04.

At the end of the day, Japan could end up in 2nd place if they can manage at least four points. If they can’t, it makes an already tough group that much tougher.

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