By Alex McLeod

The All Whites are just one step away from securing a spot in their third-ever FIFA World Cup in Russia next year.

They have made it through to the final stage of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign after defeating the Solomon Islands 8-3 on aggregate over a two-leg series on Tuesday.

They will now be up against the fifth-ranked side from South America in a home-away series in November to determine if they make it to Russia.

Advertisement

As Brazil have already qualified, while Bolivia and Venezuela have both been eliminated, there are seven nations from the CONMEBOL qualifying section still in contention to face the All Whites, with only seven points separating the second and eighth-placed teams.

16 of the 18 matches played in the South American qualifying tournament, and a high level of interest will be held in New Zealand during the final two rounds next month.

So which nations are still in with a shout of facing off against the All Whites in two months time?

Alex McLeod profiles the seven teams that New Zealand fans could potentially be cheering against in November.

Uruguay

Luis Suarez celebrates a Paraguay own goal during his side's 2-1 win on Wednesday (NZT). Photo / Getty Images.
Luis Suarez celebrates a Paraguay own goal during his side's 2-1 win on Wednesday (NZT). Photo / Getty Images.

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

2nd (27 points)

Wins:

8

Draws:

3

Losses:

5

Goal Difference:

+10

Teams to play in final two matches:

Venezuela (away), Bolivia (home)

Key man:

Luis Suarez

La Celeste are probably the best-placed South American side to join Brazil as automatic qualifiers to Russia 2018.

Thanks to a scrappy 2-1 away win over Paraguay, they sit in second place on 27 points, three points clear of the All Whites-bound fifth spot.

In the qualification home run, they face the bottom two sides in Venezuela and Bolivia, both of which are teams the Diego Godin-captained outfit scored dominant victories against earlier in the qualification tournament.

Despite the tight competition between the seven sides in contention to play the All Whites in the inter-confederation play-offs, it would take a couple of big upsets to prevent Uruguay from qualifying directly into football's global showpiece event.

Colombia

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

3rd (26 points)

Wins:

7

Draws:

5

Losses:

4

Goal Difference:

+3

Teams to play in final two matches:

Paraguay (home), Peru (away)

Key man:

James Rodriguez

Similarly to Uruguay, Los Cafeteros are in a good position heading into their final couple of games in the South American qualification tournament.

However, unlike Uruguay, the Colombians are only two points ahead of fifth place, and have to play two tougher opponents to finish their qualifying schedule.

Draws against Venezuela and Brazil in the recent international window didn't help their cause, and they now face tricky fixtures against Paraguay and Peru.

Colombia only just beat Paraguay after scoring in the 92nd minute during their away fixture last October, while a more convincing 2-0 display was shown to defeat Peru in the opening fixture of the qualification campaign.

Headlined by the likes of Bayern Munich star James Rodriguez, Colombia should be expected to gain automatic qualification to the World Cup from their remaining matches.

Nevertheless, a few missed opportunities and other results going against them could see Rodriguez and co fighting for World Cup survival at Westpac Stadium in nine weeks.

Peru

Edison Flores celebrates scoring for Peru against Ecuador on Wednesday (NZT). Photo / Getty Images.
Edison Flores celebrates scoring for Peru against Ecuador on Wednesday (NZT). Photo / Getty Images.

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

4th (24 points)

Wins:

7

Draws:

3

Losses:

6

Goal Difference:

+1

Teams to play in final two matches:

Argentina (away), Colombia (home)

Key man:

André Carrillo

La Blanquirroja have punched above their weight to find themselves in the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot in the South American section ahead of traditional powerhouses Argentina and Chile.

However, their fight to book their flights to Russia next year is by no means over, with their slight advantage over the two aforementioned nations dented by the fact that they have two immensely challenging fixtures to conclude their qualification tournament.

The first is against Argentina, a team that has underwhelmed thus far in qualifying, and has failed to fully utilise the outstanding attacking threats they have at their disposal.

Consequently, a huge clash between the fourth and fifth-placed sides is set to take place in Argentina, with significant ramifications on who the All Whites could play next in their qualifying run riding on the outcome of that encounter.

Peru's final match is against Colombia, in what will be the return leg of the clash that opened both team's qualification campaigns.

The odds will be stacked against Peru in these final two matches, but they have already beaten the odds to find themselves in fourth spot this deep in the qualification process.

They will be unfancied to qualify, but to count them out of either automatic progression or a play-off date with the All Whites would be unwise.

Argentina

Sergio Aguero is one of many star attackers who have been out of form for Argentina throughout qualification. Photo / Getty Images.
Sergio Aguero is one of many star attackers who have been out of form for Argentina throughout qualification. Photo / Getty Images.

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

5th (24 points)

Wins:

6

Draws:

6

Losses:

4

Goal Difference:

+1

Teams to play in final two matches:

Peru (home), Ecuador (away)

Key man:

Lionel Messi

If the South American qualifying section finishes with the standings remaining unchanged, it would be La Albiceleste that would be making the trip to Wellington for the first leg of the inter-confederation play-offs against the All Whites.

The fifth-placed side have not played to the full ability that exists within their squad, failing to showcase the sort of form that propelled them to the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, as well as back-to-back Copa América finals in 2015 and 2016.

Heavily reliant on all-time great Lionel Messi, the plethora of other genuine attacking threats - such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala - have not mustered the goals they should have, leaving Argentina with the second least amount of goals in the CONMEBOL qualification campaign (16).

A vital meeting with Peru will be a hugely defining factor on whether they automatically qualify, whether they have to travel to and from New Zealand, or whether they miss out on the World Cup entirely, meaning a win on October 5 is crucial.

Five days later, Argentina wrap up their qualifying series in Ecuador in what will no doubt be another critical match, no matter what happens against the Peruvians.

If there was any time that Messi and his attacking compatriots needed to fire, it would be these next two matches, or else Russia could be set to host an Argentina-less World Cup next year.

Chile

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

6th (23 points)

Wins:

7

Draws:

2

Losses:

7

Goal Difference:

+1

Teams to play in final two matches:

Ecuador (home), Brazil (away)

Key man:

Arturo Vidal

The only one of the 'big five' South American teams that is currently situated outside of the top five is La Roja.

One point behind Peru and Argentina, the Chileans are not in a position they want to be in with two matches remaining.

They next face Ecuador, a side who are also fighting for their World Cup hopes, in Santiago.

The last time the two nations met ended with a comprehensive 3-0 win for the Ecuadorians in Quinto, with the result decided by the 50th minute.

If Chile can exact revenge on their South American rivals, everything will come down to their October 10 clash against table-toppers Brazil in São Paulo.

This match could prove to be a difficult one for the visitors, as while Brazil have already qualified for Russia 2018 with qualifying matches still to play, head coach Tite is still selecting close to full-strength squads for these fixtures as he tinkers with line ups and tactics in the lead up to football's pinnacle event.

It will be difficult for Chile to overcome their next two opponents, but they are by no means out of the equation for both the World Cup and a play-off series against the All Whites.

Paraguay

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

7th (21 points)

Wins:

6

Draws:

3

Losses:

7

Goal Difference:

-6

Teams to play in final two matches:

Colombia (away), Venezuela (home)

Key man:

Óscar Romero

Los Guaraníes lack the star power of their rivals, and it is showing on the CONMEBOL standings.

Trailing Peru and Argentina by three points, the seventh-placed side will be aiming to secure the modest placing of fifth on the table.

With a poor goal difference, not only will they need to topple Colombia in Barranquilla (a difficult task in itself) and defeat Venezuela at home (a more attainable feat), they will likely need Peru, Argentina and Chile score unfavourable results if they are to have a chance at surviving.

Considered only an outside chance of making the cut, the closing two fixtures will be paramount for the Paraguayans.

Ecuador

Position on CONMEBOL standings:

8th (20 points)

Wins:

6

Draws:

2

Losses:

8

Goal Difference:

0

Teams to play in final two matches:

Chile (away), Argentina (home)

Key man:

Antonio Valencia

If Uruguay are considered the most likely side to join Brazil as the as automatic qualifiers to Russia 2018, then La Tricolor can be considered the least likely of the teams whose fate is yet to be decided.

In eighth place and four points away from fifth spot, the Ecuadorian woes are compounded by the fact they have a rather tough finish to their qualifying series, as they travel to Chile before hosting Argentina.

Ecuador can take inspiration from their 2-0 and 3-0 wins over those two opponents earlier in the series, but the Chileans and Argentines will be fuelled by the fight for World Cup survival this time round, inevitably making these upcoming fixtures more difficult.

A tough ask for star man Antonio Valencia and his teammates, but expect a battle by the Ecuadorians for that elusive fifth spot.