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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 10 - 2017

Mohamed Salah's historic brace ensured Egypt became the 15th national team to officially reach the World Cup next year after the 2-1 win over Congo on Sunday. There are still 17 nations fighting to follow Egypt and co to Russia but the favourites to win next year's edition already sealed their place in the tournament whether in this international break or a long time ago.
First, Russia themselves guaranteed a place in the World Cup as hosts so they were the first team to officially qualify to the World Cup without the need of qualifiers. The second team to seal qualification were Brazil on 28 March 2017 thanks to some scintillating football led by their superstar Neymar and Liverpool's magician Phillipe Coutinho as they swept away team after team in the South American qualifiers including Lionel Messi's Argentina who need to win their final game of the qualifiers to have any chance of reaching the World Cup.
The third team to qualify was Iran on 12 June as they topped Group A in Asia and go to the tournament for the fifth time in their history. Mexico were next as they sealed their place in Russia on 1 September to make it 16 appearances in the biggest football tournament in the world. Two days later Belgium sealed their 13th World Cup appearance after topping Group H in the UEFA qualifiers. September 5 saw four nations in the form of Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Germany and England seal their places in Russia after they all sealed top spots of their groups either in Asia or Europe. The following day saw another big name in the form of Spain reach Russia 2018 as Group G winners to confirm a frightening European attendance at the World Cup thanks to the presence of Germany, England, Belgium and Spain themselves.
Saudi Arabia
Nigeria and Costa Rica both sealed their places in Russia on 7 September to make it two in a row for each of the two. September 8 witnessed the qualification of two other nations in the form of Poland who last qualified to the World Cup in 2006 and finally our beloved Egypt which thanks to Salah will have some part to play in Russia in only their third ever appearance at the tournament after 1934 and 1990. Egyptian fans waited so long to see their nation back at the World Cup and Salah ensured this would happen this time after falling short in the past six World Cup qualifiers.
Other countries who are almost there but still need confirmation in the final round are Tunisia, France, Uruguay, the US, Senegal, Serbia and Iceland while the likes of Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia and Chile should be fine as well. Big guns Italy and Argentina will need to win their final game of their groups as well as getting some favours from other teams to seal their place in Russia next year.

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