The World Cup in 2014 will be held in Brazil, but for some nations, such as my hapless Scotland, it might as well be held on Mars as the chances of making the tournament are so slim.
With qualifiers taking place all over the world this week, here is a very speculative look at who might be flying into Rio in 20 months to join the hosts Brazil.
(53 Teams, 13 places, 9 Automatic qualifiers & 4 Playoff winners)
Hotly tipped Belgium should top the group if they navigate tricky away trips to the Balkan countries. They have far too much talent at their disposal to miss out like they did for Euro 2012 and are a dark horse for the entire tournament itself.
Croatia are marginal favourites for second place in the group, though games against Serbia will be explosive both on and off the pitch.
Italy are the standout team in the group and you’d fancy them to do more than enough to get the job done despite tricky looking away trips to Prague and Copenhagen.
Denmark have a younger team than the experienced Czech Republic and may just beat them and Bulgaria out for second spot.
Traditionally strong qualifiers, the Germany team put down their marker with an emphatic 6-1 victory over the Republic of Ireland in Dublin and will likely go to Brazil as one of Europe’s best three sides, as usual.
Sweden simply have more craft and ingenuity in Zlatan Ibrahimovic alone than in Ireland’s entire 23.
The Netherlands barely ever lose in qualifying and this should be no different, a 4-1 victory away in Hungary in probably their second hardest fixture showing their intent.
Romania may not have been everyone’s pick before qualifying started but tough away wins in Turkey and Estonia have left them with three wins from three and could see them pip the Turks and Hungarians.
An unbelievably weak group is headlined by Switzerland who can probably not believe their luck to have drawn this straw.
Norway are the best of a bad bunch that includes Iceland, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Albania.
A home victory against Portugal and a strong victory away in Israel means Russia are in great position to qualify.
Portugal have too much firepower not to claim second place at a minimum.
Another extremely weak group could be won by any one of four teams, though I favour the consistent pragmatism of the Greece side to get over the line as they always do.
Bosnia & Herzegovina have taken a point away in Athens and may just pip the Slovaks and Lithuanians for second.
England will have no problem qualifying in an extremely weak group, particularly as any potential rivals keep drawing.
Poland has the forward options that Ukraine and Montenegro don’t and could grab second place.
Spain has won the last three tournaments and will be strongly backed as the best European team coming into the championships.
France will find themselves second best to the Spanish, but won’t struggle to secure second place.
Of the 9 second placed teams, the one with the lowest record when the sixth placed team is removed does not make the playoffs. Because they have already dropped points to Iceland, and have a very pragmatic manager, my best guess for this would be Norway.
UEFA is likely to seed the remaining teams making it harder for underdogs to come through, but without knowing the matchups, I’d favour France, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark ahead of Croatia, Poland, Romania and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
(52 teams, 5 places)
After an initial first round to eliminate some of the lowest ranked countries, Africa’s qualification process is split into 10 separate groups of four, with the winners of each advancing to home and away playoffs to determine who goes to Brazil.
Group A: South Africa have started slowly but should pip Ethiopia
Group B: Tunisia have already won their hardest game against Cape Verde and will advance.
Group C: Surviving their hardest game away to Morocco, the Ivory Coast should get through now.
Group D: A shock loss to Zambia rocked Ghana, but they should still advance past the ACN champs.
Group E: Gabon beat Burkina Faso, the #1 seeded team, and could win this tight group
Group F: Nigeria have been in the wilderness for a while, but will come through here
Group G: Egypt are too strong not to come through this group.
Group H: Algeria lost to Mali away, but will be favoured to pip them and Benin
Group I: The hardest group of the lot to call – traditional powerhouses Cameroon may just survive.
Group J: Senegal will be strongly backed to survive a testy group ahead of Uganda and Angola.
African Playoffs: Without knowing the draws, Africa’s strongest five representatives could be the Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, and Senegal ahead of Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Tunisia, and Gabon.
(43 teams, 4 places, and ½ a place against CONMEBOL in the Intercontinental Playoffs)
The final stage sees two groups with six teams each. The top two in each group qualify, the third placed team in each plays each other for a right to be Asia’s representative in the Intercontinental Playoffs.
Group A: South Korea have started well and will be firm favourites to qualify. Qatar will be desperate to qualify for their first ever World Cup before they host the event and with their improved infrastructure, may just pip Iran into third place ahead of Uzbekistan & Lebanon
Group B: Japan were firm favourites and rightly so as they are running away with the group. Australia have started terribly but with three home games to come should improve as the group goes on. Iraq were only narrowly beaten in Japan and could come through in third.
Playoff: Due to a higher ranking and a more settled environment, Iran will be slight favourites to beat Iraq in a playoff that world politics could really, really do without.
South America (CONMEBOL)
(9 teams, 4 places, and ½ a place against AFC in the Intercontinental Playoffs)
In an epic long qualification process, all 9 teams play each other home and away. Over this time frame, it is difficult to imagine that Argentina and Uruguay’s class won’t come through. Long-time sleeping giant Columbia have only lost to Argentina and Ecuador and could be on course to a return to International competition. The feast or famine style leftover from Marcelo Bielsa has seen Chile win four and lose four, but with players like Alexis Sanchez, they might kick on in the second half. Ecuador have started very well and their home record is perfect, but a defeat to bottom placed Paraguay maybe shows a little frailty, and I suspect they will end up in the playoffs ahead of Venezuela, Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia.
North & Central America (CONCACAF)
(35 teams, 3 places, ½ a place against OFC in the Intercontinental Playoffs)
The current stage sees three groups of four, with two teams from each qualifying for the final round.
Group A should see the United States seal progress with victory over Guatemala, who may also be pipped by Jamaica for second place.
Group B has been won by Mexico, and Costa Rica should join them by avoiding defeat to eliminated Guyana.
Group C should see Panama pick up the point they need to ensure qualification, and Canada will be slightly favoured to avoid defeat in Honduras and qualify.
Round Four is a round-robin group stage with all six teams playing each other home and away, and the top three qualifying. This will surely include Mexico and the United States but beyond this it is difficult to guess. Jamaica is the highest ranked team left and might take third, with Canada sneaking fourth place.
(11 teams, ½ a place against CONCACAF in the Intercontinental Playoffs)
New Zealand are romping the group and will easily be Oceania’s representative in the Intercontinental playoffs.
Canada (CONCACAF) will edge New Zealand (OFC) in a battle of the colonies.
Ecuador (CONMEBOL) will ensure South America has six representatives at the world cup as they see off Iran (AFC).