The road to the 2018 World Cup is already at a tipping point outside Europe

Some countries expected to qualify are already facing a mountain to climb

Argentina, Lionel Messi, Colombia

Argentina's Lionel Messi, second left, celebrates with teammate Angel Di Maria, after Di Maria scored Argentina's third goal against Colombia, during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match in San Juan, Argentina, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Prior to Tuesday night's match against Colombia, Argentina's road to Russia in 2018 was looking decidedly rocky.

A 3-0 defeat to Brazil had left Lionel Messi and co sixth in the CONMEBOL table of South American qualifiers and given that the top four automatically go through to the next World Cup and fifth goes into a playoff, sixth was pretty much nowhere.

But last night, Messi played a huge role in righting the ship as they defeated Colombia 3-0 at home with his free-kick and two assists proving decisive.

In terms of their qualifying hopes, the three points eases the risk of missing out on the World Cup slightly as they leapfrog Colombia into fifth place.

But there is a breakdown in relationships with the Argentine media. Messi and the squad are boycotting their local press over stories that have angered them greatly. So watch this space with six matches to go for every team/

Brazil look odds on to qualify now already, as they sit on 27 points, a full eight clear of Argentina and four ahead of second placed Uruguay, who lost 3-1 to fourth-placed Chile (20 points) who are level on points with Ecuador.

2014 quarter-finalists Colombia, in sixth, are one point behind Argentina but three clear of Paraguay. 

In Africa, the final group phase is two games old from six rounds. The five group winners are the qualifiers for the World Cup and already we can see likely candidates.

In Group A, Tunisia and DR Congo have won two from two which makes it a straight shootout between those two unless Guinea and Libya can stage unlikely comebacks in the final four matches.

Group B is already in Nigeria's control. Beating highly fancied Algeria 3-1 made it two wins from two and leaves them four points clear of second placed Cameroon.

Reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast are top of Group C after an important away draw in Morocco.

That leaves two points between the sides at this juncture.

Group D remains tightly balanced with both Burkina Faso and South Africa top of on four points, one point clear of 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal.

But it's Ghana who now have a mountain to climb in Group E. Having qualified for every World Cup since 2006 and got within a Luis Suarez goalline handball from a semi-final, they are already five points behind group leaders Egypt after just two games.

The Egyptians defeated them the Black Stars 2-0 in Alexandria to give themselves a great chance of a first World Cup appearance since 1990 despite multiple Africa Cup of Nations triumphs in the interim. 

In Asia, the race for automatic and playoff places is finely balanced. The final round of qualifiers are split into two groups of five teams each, with the top two from both going to the World Cup and third in each group going into a playoff.

At present, an Australia side that could only draw 2-2 with Thailand and Uzbekistan are occupying the respective playoff places in Group B and A respectively.

Group A is led by Iran on 11 points, ahead of perennial qualifiers South Korea on 10 points.

Meanwhile, Group B, Saudi Arabia and Japan are top with 10 points.


United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann watches the game on the sideline during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Costa Rica, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. United States lost 4-0 to Costa Rica. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

And in the CONCACAF region, Jurgen Klinsmann's USA are in real trouble in the final group stage in North and Central America.

Three teams automatically qualify, while a fourth goes into a playoff from the six-team table.

And USA are rock bottom after following a 2-1 loss to Mexico with a humiliating 4-0 defeat to table-toppers and 2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica.

Mexico's draw with Panama means both sides are second and third respectively on four points each. Honduras occupy the fourth-placed playoff spot on three points.

There is still a long way to go. But USA really need to turn things around fast.