Sorted: Messi, Cristiano and Griezmann, finalists in last year's Ballon d'Or will be at the 2018 Russia World Cup. France and Portugal had uncomplicated evenings to secure their 2018 tickets but things were slightly more complex for the "Albiceleste". Playing in Quito, some 2.800 metres above sea level and the national team with their backs against the wall needing three points. Things couldn't have started worse for Sampaoli's men with the home side opening the scoring. Messi then started to take control and resolved the situation with three goals to secure an automatic place in Russia. It would have been a disaster for Argentina to miss out on the World Cup but the Barça striker was on hand to navigate their passage through to the tournament with a heroic performance.
Now that we have established 23 of the participating nations, credit must go to Iceland who were the surprise package at Euro 2016, beating England on their way to an ultimate quarter-final exit as the hands of host nation France, The were placed in a tough group, up against the likes of Croatia, Ukraine, Turkey, Finland and Kosovo with the first three nations boasting a strong international pedigree. To put things into perspective, Iceland has the same number of inhabitants (331.000) as the city of Alicante. “Less than Vallecas”, pointed out a native from the Madrid suburb with a touch of both respect and irony. Never has such a small nation participated at the World Cup finals and their population contrasts drastically with the 1.400 million of China who failed to qualify.
Lopetegui squad selection
As the UEFA qualifying round came to a close, it was time to number-crunch in an effort to establish if Lopetegui's "La Roja" would be among the top seeds for the December 1st draw. It's also interesting to see that the most used players by the new national team coach have been: De Gea; Carvajal, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets; Silva, Koke, Thiago, Isco; Diego Costa. Both Sergio Ramos and David Silva have been involved with the national team since the day's of Luis Aragones in 2008. Other players have played significant roles in the qualification process such as Iniesta, Vitolo, Monreal, Nacho and Morata and it will be a tough task for Lopetegui to select just 23 from the array of talent available at his disposal.