Colombia were the fourth-placed side in CONMEBOL qualifying, finishing behind Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina; they were only a point behind Sampaoli’s side, too, and scored more goals. James Rodriguez, who has re-established himself as a world class central midfielder at Bayern Munich this season, led the scoring charts for Jose Pekerman’s side with six goals.
AFC qualifying pitted Japan against Syria and others, including Afghanistan, in the second round’s Group E; Japan comfortably won the group, only dropping points in a 0-0 draw at home to Singapore. They then progressed to Russia with a solid performance to top Group B in the third round, taking first ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia. Pachuca and former AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda scored seven in qualifying, and Shinji Kagawa netted six.
Poland topped Group E of UEFA’s qualifying section and Robert Lewandowski scored 16 goals, the joint highest in World Cup qualifying overall, as his side came through a tough group, losing only to Denmark in Copenhagen and drawing with Kazakhstan in Astana. Poland’s next best goal scorer was Hull City’s Kamil Grosicki with three; Lewandowski, who was once again the Bundesliga’s top scorer, netted almost 60% of Poland’s goals.
Senegal, the darlings of 2002 when they defeated the champions of 1998, France, saw off Madagascar in a two-legged second round of CAF qualifying 5-2, before topping Group D, defeating 2017’s AFCON third place Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, and South Africa. Senegal had a lot of top scorers – Mame Biram Diouf, Cheikh N’Doye, Diafra Sakho, Sadio Mane – but they only netted twice each.