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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

2018 World Cup qualifying - how it works

The qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup began on March 12, 2015 with preliminary ties between the 12 lowest-ranked nations in Asia.

Chiquito Do Carmo of Timor-Leste had the honour of scoring the very first goal on the road to Russia in a 4-1 victory at home to Mongolia.

There are 31 places up for grabs, joining hosts Russia.



13 places

• European qualifying home page

Qualifying for 2018 sees seven groups of six nations and two groups of five. 


 By PA Sport

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill awarded MBE by the Queen

Michael O'Neill guided Northern Ireland to the last 16 of Euro 2016.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill talked football with the Queen as he was appointed an MBE at Buckingham Palace.

O'Neill was recognised for services to football and to the community in Northern Ireland.

The 47-year-old, who is from Ballymena but lives in Edinburgh, said the Queen remarked on how well Northern Ireland performed at Euro 2016 after they reached the last 16 of the competition.

"All the people at the palace have made it very easy for us, very welcoming, and done it with a nice...

Kosovo call-up rules Besart Berisha out of Brisbane-Melbourne match

Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha
Capped by Albania 17 times, Besart Berisha will now represent Kosovo in World Cup qualifying.

Striker Besart Berisha has stunned Melbourne Victory in the run-in to the A-League finals by answering an international call from his country of birth, Kosovo.

Berisha will head to Europe to represent the Balkan country next month in a World Cup qualifier against fellow minnows Iceland, leaving Victory without his services for a date against former club Brisbane.

"For me, it's a very exciting time ... I was born there and they need my help so I think it's time to go," Berisha said on Thursday.


 By Ben Gladwell

Mario Balotelli Italy recall put in doubt by national team manager

Julien Laurens says Mario Balotelli not only needs to rebound from his red card, but needs to step up his overall effort.
FC's Gab Marcotti reviews Mario Balotelli's sending off against Lorient, and why his form has dropped so drastically.
Wylan Cyprien's second goal in three matches helped Nice overcome Mario Balotelli's red card in a win at Lorient.
Mario Balotelli got his third red card for Nice, for what seems to be dissent after the ref ignored his claims for a foul.
After Mario Balotelli's glowing start at Nice, Julien Laurens explains why things seem to be falling apart.

Italy's team manager Gabriele Oriali has said "it's best if we talk about [Mario Balotelli] as little as possible, for everybody's sake," after the Nice striker was overlooked for a two-day training camp with the Squadra Azzurra this week.

Twenty two fringe players -- mainly consisting of youngsters -- were selected by Italy coach Giampiero Ventura for a get-together in Coverciano less than a month before he picks his next squad for a World Cup qualifier with Albania and international friendly against...

 By PA Sport

Football Association of Wales to appeal FIFA sanctions over poppies

Poppies were displayed around the Cardiff City Stadium for their match with Serbia in November.

The Football Association of Wales says it will appeal against the sanctions imposed by FIFA over its commemoration of Remembrance Day during the World Cup qualifier against Serbia in Cardiff on Nov. 12.

The FAW was fined 20,000 Swiss francs (just under £16,000) by the sport's governing body on Dec. 19 for the displays of poppies around the stadium.

FIFA interpreted the poppy as a political symbol, but the FAW disputed this at the time and has now indicated it will appeal against the fine imposed.