No Messi, Ronaldo for World Cup?
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
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.
Time is running out for the two best players in world football 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.
Back from suspension
As things stand in Europe, Ronaldo's Portugal are second in their 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 were held by both Uruguay and Venezuela in Jorge Sampaoli's first games in charge, despite having Messi back from suspension.
Argentina still have 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.
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 are sixth in the South American standings and struggling to force their 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.
The United States are in danger of missing their 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 difference ahead of Honduras. The fourth-place team is still plunged into a playoff against Australia or Syria to qualify for Russia.
Next up in October for the Americans are a Panama side which is a point ahead of them in the third automatic qualification place and last-place Trinidad and Tobago. It's the first time since 1989 that the qualification fate of the US has been on the line going into the finale.