Iran qualified from the AFC third round unbeaten, topping a tough group including South Korea and Syria. Sardar Azmoun, the Rubin Kazan striker, scored 11 goals in AFC qualifying. This will be Iran’s fifth World Cup appearance, following their debut in 1978, and their first back to back.
Portugal breezed through UEFA qualification, losing only their first away game against Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo scored two hat-tricks on his way to 15 goals, while A.C. Milan’s Andre Silva bagged nine.
Morocco will be appearing at their fifth tournament, and their first since 1998, when they went out in the group stage despite only losing to Brazil. To get to Russia 2018, Morocco topped a very difficult group without conceding, seeing off the Ivory Coast and Gabon. Khalid Boutail netted four in the group stage, including a hat-trick at home to Gabon.
Julen Lopetegui steered his Spain side through qualifying without a hitch, which is hardly a surprise given that Spain have qualified for every major tournament since Euro ’96 without defeat. Spain had four players score five in qualification, including Alvaro Morata who did not make the cut. Many of the Golden Generation who won back-to-back European Championships, and the World Cup in 2010, are still present: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Busquets started in 2010 and will likely start in Russia.