It’s getting anxious for teams and players fearing missing out on the World Cup.
By the time the draw for the finals is conducted in Moscow in December, even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could be facing up to spending next June on the beach rather than on the fields in Russia.
For now, only seven qualification slots have been filled by Belgium, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Another 24 places are still vacant, after the latest rounds of qualifiers.
Argentina, Portugal on the bubble
Time is running out for the two best players in world soccer over the last decade. Not just to win the World Cup for the first time, either, because Ronaldo and Messi might not even make the trip to Russia.
As things stand in Europe, Ronaldo’s Portugal is second in its qualifying group and the reigning European champions are facing a November playoff to gain a spot in the following month’s finals draw.
At least Portugal won both games in the last week; Argentina was held by both Uruguay and Venezuela in Jorge Sampaoli’s first games in charge, despite having Messi back from suspension.
Argentina still has time to move up from fifth to the fourth and final automatic qualification place. But the final two qualifiers next month for the two-time world champions are against Peru — currently fourth — and Ecuador — chasing Argentina in fifth place for the right to face New Zealand in a playoff.
Continental champions struggling
The World Cup will be without African champion Cameroon. Copa America winner Chile could be absent, too.
Cameroon’s qualification bid ended this week, while Chile is sixth in the South American standings and struggling to force its way into a playoff after losing to Bolivia on Tuesday. It’s barely two months since the Chileans were contesting the Confederations Cup final where they lost to Germany, and players are feeling the heat.
“You get tired of being criticized with reason and without reason,” Chile forward Alexis Sanchez wrote on Instagram. “You get tired of people wanting to see you lose, you get tired of saying to yourself ‘Once more I’ll get up’ after crying after a defeat, and you get tired of telling the world and people who are with you, that everything is going well.”
Americans, Dutch in danger
The United States is in danger of missing its first World Cup since 1986 after a home loss to Costa Rica and a draw in Honduras. Bruce Arena’s team is hanging onto fourth place by goal…