Europe is the continent which provides the World Cup with its largest share of teams – 13 in total, from the 54 which start qualification. Hosts Russia will also qualify automatically.
It is also the continent which has provided the largest share of previous winners, with Germany, Italy (four times each), Spain, France and England (once each) all claiming the trophy.
The European qualification campaign for Russia 2018 will be played over 278 games – an initial group phase will see nine first placed teams qualify automatically, with the best eight runners-up battling it out in a second round of play-offs over two legs, for the remaining four places.
Let’s have a look at the teams who seem primed to take the automatic qualification spots:
They may be without former talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but with an unbeaten home record, Sweden are looking good to qualify for the first time since 2006. Three stern tests away from home, including against the Netherlands, await.
The French squad oozes talent, and with three of their last four games at home, a team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe has to be fancied to leapfrog Sweden and qualify automatically.
No-one could have predicted the amazing start Switzerland have had to qualifying. Six games, six wins, and one foot on the plane to Russia. However, they must guard against complacency and negotiate tricky fixtures against Portugal and Hungary to make their fourth consecutive finals.
Expect the Germans to qualify without any problems; their progression from Group C looks a formality. It would take a minor miracle for anything to stop Joachim Low’s defending world champions now, as they look ready to head to Russia with a fifth title in their sights.
Nothing looks like coming easy in Group D, but Serbia are top at the time of writing, and a talented squad containing the likes of Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Mitrović can help them hold off the Republic of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland
You would be foolish to completely discount the Irish, especially with them level on points with Serbia at this time. A spirited showing at Euro 2016 showed that Martin O’Neil’s men can perform on the big stage, and they are within touching distance of at least a play-off place.
One of the revelations of qualifying so far, they have dropped only two points. Robert Lewandowski and co. are a team which might be peaking at the right time, and they look very likely to earn the chance to build on a run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals by progressing to Russia.
The 1966 World Cup winners have made easy work of qualification in recent times, and barring upsets in their final games against Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia, the perennial underachievers of world football will be participating in the finals.
While their period of dominance has come to an end, Spain can still boast an embarrassment of riches, from Premier League stars such as Diego Costa and David De Gea to La Liga talents like Isco and Andres Iniesta – their problem is, they are tied on points with Italy!
Neck and neck with the 2010 World Cup winners, Italy are looking to grab top spot in Group G and progress to Russia, where they will vie to win a fifth title. An away trip to Spain on 2nd September will be crucial to their ambitions.
Take a look at the Belgium squad and it is almost hard to believe the quality at their disposal. Far from a football giant in the traditional sense; the time is now for this pool of talent including the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. They have a four point cushion at the top of Group H and look well on their way to Russia.
The Southern Europeans are battling hard in Group I, with a talented squad containing the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandžukić putting them in pole position. There are still four games to go, however.
The country which is threatening to become everyone’s second favourite team is at it again. Hot on the heels of their Euro 2016 fairy tale, when they dumped out England on the way to quarter finals – they are level on points with Croatia at the time of writing, and could be heading to Russia to shake up the big boys.