Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
The countdown to the 2018 World Cup in Russia has begun and with a little over forty days until the first ball of the tournament is kicked, preparations are being finalised by the competing teams ahead of the most prestigious competition in sport.
While some nations breezed through their respective 2018 World Cup Qualification stages, others had to fight tooth and nail for a place at the Finals. Some countries blitzed their opponents, while others built their success on strong defensive foundations.
Let’s take a look at the top scorers, the goal getters, as well as the best and worst defences from the qualification stages of the World Cup.
Read our guide about which outsiders and dark horses to look out for at the 2018 in World Cup in Russia here.
UEFA Qualification Region
- Top Scorers: Germany & Belgium – 43 goals in 10 games
- Best Defence: Spain & England– 3 conceded in 10 games
- Worst Defence: Poland – 14 conceded in 10 games
- Top Scorers: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)– 16 goals
The German football juggernaut keeps on rolling. Not content with scoring more goals than every other team in Europe bar Belgium, Germany were the only team from any region around the world to win 100% of their qualification matches.
Germany collected thirty points out of thirty on their way to the summit of Group C, smashing in 4.3 goals per game on average past the other five teams in their section, who quite frankly, must have felt a little bullied.
Helped by their seventeen goals in two Group H games against Estonia and Gibraltar, Belgium were able to match the German’s exploits in the final third. However, the Belgians did concede double the number of goals as the teams with best defences in the European region.
England’s and Spain’s defences were breached just three times each in their respective ten game qualifying campaigns, though the English (18) attack hit exactly half the number of goals that their Spanish (36) counterparts did.
The region’s worst qualifying defenders were Poland, who conceded an eye-watering total of fourteen goals in their ten Group E matches. Poland conceded more times than three of the other teams in their section and more than thirty two of the other fifty one competing teams across the nine UEFA qualification groups.
Though, who needs to defend when you have Robert Lewandowski in your team? The Bayern Munich front man scored sixteen times for his country, which is more than any other player in any other FIFA region worldwide. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo pushed him close by racking up fifteen goals in Group B.
AFC Qualification Region
- Top Scorers: Japan & Saudi Arabia – 17 scored in 10 games
- Best Defence: Iran – 2 conceded in 10 games
- Worst Defence: Australia – 11 conceded in 10 games
- Top Scorers: Tomi Juric (Australia) and Nawaf Al Abed (Saudi Arabia) – 5 goals each
Japan scored seventeen times on their way to winning six of their ten qualification fixtures. Traditionally a possession based side; the Japanese have made the transition to a counter attacking side under Manager Vahid Halilhodzic. Japan’s biggest win during qualification came in March of last year, when they struck four without reply past Thailand.
Saudi Arabia finished just behind Japan in Group B, though they did match them stride for stride in the goalscoring stakes, registering seventeen times in qualification. Juan Antonio Pizzi’s side recorded two 3-0 wins during their campaign against UAE and section whipping boys Thailand respectively. Twenty eight year old Al-Hilal striker Nawaf Al Abed bagged five of their seventeen goals, putting him joint top scorer of the section.
Interestingly, Iran, who topped Group A in the ACF region, averaged just one goal per game on their way to qualification. Their lack of attacking prowess didn’t hinder their progress however and they had their outstanding defence to thank for that. Iran conceded just twice in their ten games.
Australia, who qualified for the World Cup via a Playoff win over Syria conceded more goals than any other of the nations that qualified for the Finals from the AFC region. They shipped eleven goals in their ten Group Fixtures and they conceded in both legs of their Playoff against Syria. Tomi Juric, who plays his club football for FC Luzern in Switzerland, helped himself to five goals during Australia’s qualification run.
CAF Qualification Region
- Top Scorers: Tunisia, Nigeria & Morocco – 11 scored in 10 games
- Best Defence: Morocco – 0 conceded in 6 games
- Worst Defence: Nigeria – 6 conceded in 6 games
- Top Scorers: Mohamed Salah – 5 goals
The quintet of groups in the Confederation of African Football qualifying region were some of the most keenly contested sections anywhere in the world. That fact is evidential in the low number of goals scored across the five sub-sections.
The five individual group winners Tunisia, Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal and Egypt averaged just 1.8 goals per game between them from their combined twenty eight qualification fixtures. The first three of those were the joint highest scoring teams in the ACF region, scoring just eleven goals each in ten games.
Remarkably, Group C winners Morocco didn’t concede a single goal in their six fixtures, making them the only team at the 2018 World Cup to have an unblemished defensive record in qualification. They did however concede once in the second leg of the round preceding the CAF Group stages against Equatorial Guinea. Nigeria had the worst defensive numbers out of the five African qualifiers, though conceding six times in six games shouldn’t cause Manager Gernot Rohr too many sleepless nights.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Mo Salah was the top marksman from the teams that qualified from the CAF region. The talismanic Liverpool forward scored five of Egypt’s eight goals in Group C.
Read More: Mohamed Salah: How Far Can He Take Egypt?
CONCACAF Qualification Region
- Top Scorers: Mexico – 16 scored in 10 games
- Best Defence: Mexico – 7 conceded in 10 games
- Worst Defence: Panama – 10 conceded in 10 games
- Top Scorers: Marco Arena (Costa Rica), Hirving Lozano (Mexico) – 3 goals each
In the notoriously competitive six team CONCACAF qualification section, eventual winners Mexico were the highest scoring nation, hitting the net sixteen times over their ten matches. The Mexicans’ biggest winning margin was in their 3-0 win over Honduras.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s team weren’t exactly prolific, though they didn’t need to be. They had the meanest defence in the group, conceding just seven times in ten fixtures. Mexico kept a clean sheet in 50% of their ten CONCACAF Group contests. Panama had the highest number in their goals against column, conceding ten times in their ten fixtures.
Winger Hirving Lozano, who recently lifted the Eredivisie championship with PSV, was the joint top marksman from the qualified CONCACAF teams alongside Costa Rica’s Marco Arena. Both Lozano and Los Angeles FC striker Arena scored three times each to aid their respective country’s qualification bids. Interestingly, the four top scorers from the CONCACAF region won’t be taking their shooting boots in Russia this summer. The goals scored by Carlos Ruiz (nine goals for Guatemala), Jozy Altidore (eight goals for USA), Christian Pulisic (seven goals for USA) and Romell Quioto (six goals for Hunduras) weren’t enough to get their respective nations over the line.
CONMEBOL Qualification Region
- Top Scorers: Brazil – 41 scored in 18 games
- Best Defence: Brazil – 11 conceded in 18 games
- Worst Defence: Peru – 26 conceded in 18 games
- Top Scorers: Edinson Cavani (Uruguay)– 10 goals
With teams in the CONMEBOL qualification region generally playing more Group matches than in any other region of the world, the statistics produced from that section can sometimes take on a distorted look.
Nevertheless, Group winners Brazil’s haul of forty one goals in eighteen matches is a decent total. The Brazilians scored a full nine goals more than the next highest scorers Uruguay. Even though Brazil’s total is the highest as a standalone figure in qualification, their goal per game average doesn’t compare well to some of the qualified teams from Europe.
Brazil averaged 2.7 goals per game in South America, but that pales in comparison to Germany’s and Belgium’s averages of 4.3 each, while Spain’s (3.6) and Portugal’s (3.2) averages also blow the Samba Boys out of the water. It would be interesting to see Brazil’s figures had they too had games against Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein however.
Brazil also had the stingiest defence in their section, conceding just eleven times. Peru, back at the World Cup for the first time in thirty six years, conceded a hefty twenty six goals in their eighteen qualification fixtures, which is far more than any other of the teams that made it out of the famously tough CONMEBOL section.
PSG’s Edinson Cavani led the way as the highest scoring individual. He struck ten goals during Uruguay’s successful campaign, which accounted for 31% of their total number of goals.
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