|Dates||4 September 2016 – 14 November 2017|
|Teams||54 (from 1 confederation)|
|Goals scored||807 (2.9 per match)|
|Attendance||5,554,044 (19,979 per match)|
|Top scorer(s)||Robert Lewandowski (16 goals)|
The European section of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification acted as qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, to be held in Russia, for national teams which are members of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Apart from Russia, which qualify automatically as hosts, a total of 13 slots in the final tournament are available for UEFA teams.
The qualifying format was confirmed by the UEFA Executive Committee meeting on 22–23 March 2015 in Vienna.
The qualification process started on 4 September 2016, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, and Spain qualified in the first round by winning their groups. Croatia, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland qualified via the second round play-offs.
UEFA unveiled the branding for the qualifiers on 15 April 2013. It shows a national jersey inside a heart, and represents Europe, honour and ambition. The same branding was also used for the European qualifiers for the UEFA Euro 2016.
The qualification structure is as follows:
- First round (group stage): The 52 teams will be divided into nine groups (seven groups of six teams and two groups of five teams) to play home-and-away round-robin matches. The winners of each group will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the eight best runners-up will advance to the second round (play-offs).
- Second round (play-offs): The eight best runners-up from the first round will play home-and-away over two legs. The four winners will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
With the admission of Gibraltar and Kosovo as FIFA members in May 2016, both national teams were eligible to make their debuts in World Cup qualifying. With two groups of only five teams in the first round, Kosovo was assigned to group I as it was decided that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia should not play against Kosovo for security reasons, and Gibraltar was then added to group H.
Apart from Russia, which qualified automatically as hosts, all remaining 52 FIFA-affiliated national teams from UEFA at the registration deadline of January 2015 entered qualification.
Gibraltar, despite being a UEFA member since 2013, was not a FIFA member at the time of the registration deadline, and thus was not eligible to enter qualification for the FIFA World Cup. They appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge FIFA's refusal to grant membership in order to enter World Cup qualifying. In May 2016, the CAS found in Gibraltar's favour and ordered that FIFA put Gibraltar forward for FIFA membership, which would permit Gibraltar to take part in the qualifiers if membership was granted.
Kosovo became a UEFA member on 3 May 2016, and together with Gibraltar, applied for membership in the FIFA Congress in 12–13 May 2016. FIFA confirmed that in the case both associations succeeded in becoming a member, they would be entitled to participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, with UEFA tasked to integrate them into the competition.
On 13 May 2016, both Kosovo and Gibraltar were officially admitted as FIFA members, thus allowing them to compete. UEFA created a task force to discuss how to integrate the two teams into the competition, and on 9 June 2016 UEFA announced that Kosovo will be assigned to group I, to avoid meeting Bosnia and Herzegovina for security reasons, and Gibraltar will play in group H.
Qualifying matches will start in September 2016, following UEFA Euro 2016, and finish in November 2017.
The scheduling of qualifying matches, which will be centralized by UEFA, will follow the "Week of Football" concept first used for UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying:
- Matches take place from Thursday to Tuesday.
- Kick-off times are largely set at 18:00 and 20:45 CET on Saturdays and Sundays, and 20:45 CET on Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays.
- On double-header matchweeks, teams play on Thursday and Sunday, or Friday and Monday, or Saturday and Tuesday.
- Matches in the same group are played on the same day.
The fixture list was confirmed by UEFA on 26 July 2015, the day following the draw.
Additionally, the hosts Russia, while having already qualified automatically, were to be partnered with a five-team Group H, which would have enabled them to play friendlies against these countries on their spare dates (these friendlies would not have counted in the qualifying group standings). However, with the admission of Kosovo and Gibraltar, all groups were filled to contain six teams and the Russia friendlies against Group H teams were cancelled. UEFA vice-president Hryhoriy Surkis said that the UEFA management will be dealing with the issue of finding opponents for Russia to play friendlies.
The draw for the first round (group stage) was held as part of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Preliminary Draw on 25 July 2015, starting 18:00 MSK (UTC+3), at the Konstantinovsky Palace in Strelna, Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The seeding was based on the FIFA World Rankings of July 2015. The 52 teams were seeded into six pots:
- Pot 1 contains the teams ranked 1–9.
- Pot 2 contains the teams ranked 10–18.
- Pot 3 contains the teams ranked 19–27.
- Pot 4 contains the teams ranked 28–36.
- Pot 5 contains the teams ranked 37–45.
- Pot 6 contains the teams ranked 46–52.
Each six-team group contains one team from each of the six pots, while each five-team group contains one team from each of the first five pots.
Due to the centralisation of media rights for European Qualifiers, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands were all drawn into six-team groups. Netherlands and France were drawn together in Group A, and Spain and Italy were drawn together in Group G.
In consideration of the delicate political situations of the relationships between Armenia and Azerbaijan, UEFA requested that FIFA maintain the current UEFA policy not to draw these teams into the same qualification groups (since the two teams were in the same seeding pot, this did not happen regardless of the request).
Teams were allocated to seeding pots as follows (July 2015 FIFA Rankings shown in brackets; the national teams which eventually qualified for the final tournament are presented in bold; the national teams who will take part in the play-offs are presented in italic).
FIFA recognised the football nations of Gibraltar and Kosovo after the draw, and on 9 June 2016 it was decided Gibraltar would join Group H, and Kosovo would join group I. In addition, it was decided that Kosovo not play against Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia for security reasons.
|2018 FIFA World Cup qualification tiebreakers|
|In home-and-away league format, the ranking of teams in each group is based on the following criteria (regulations Articles 20.6 and 20.7):
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group A
|France||7||5||1||1||15||5||+10||16||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Sweden||7||4||1||2||14||7||+7||13||Possible Second round|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group B
|Switzerland||7||7||0||0||15||3||+12||21||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Portugal||7||6||0||1||27||4||+23||18||Possible Second round|
|Faroe Islands (E)||7||1||2||4||3||15||−12||5|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group C
|Germany||6||6||0||0||27||1||+26||18||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Northern Ireland||6||4||1||1||11||2||+9||13||Possible Second round|
|San Marino (E)||6||0||0||6||1||30||−29||0|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group D
|Serbia||6||3||3||0||13||7||+6||12||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Republic of Ireland||6||3||3||0||8||4||+4||12||Possible Second round|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group E
|Poland||6||5||1||0||15||7||+8||16||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Montenegro||6||3||1||2||14||7||+7||10||Possible Second round|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group F
|England||8||6||2||0||16||3||+13||20||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Slovakia||8||5||0||3||14||6||+8||15||Possible Second round|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group G
|Spain||6||5||1||0||21||3||+18||16||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Italy||6||5||1||0||18||4||+14||16||Possible Second round|
|North Macedonia (E)||6||1||0||5||8||13||−5||3|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group H
|Belgium||6||5||1||0||24||2||+22||16||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Greece||6||3||3||0||10||3||+7||12||Possible Second round|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||6||3||2||1||13||5||+8||11|
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Group I
|Croatia||6||4||1||1||11||2||+9||13||Qualification to 2018 FIFA World Cup|
|Iceland||6||4||1||1||9||6||+3||13||Possible Second round|
Ranking of second-placed teams
At the time of the draw two groups had one team fewer than the other groups, so it was announced that matches against the last-placed team in each of the six-team groups would not be included in this ranking. As a result, eight matches played by each team would be counted for the purposes of the second-placed table. However, after the admission of Kosovo and Gibraltar all groups now contain six teams and it is not known if matches against all teams will be counted.
The eight best runners-ups determined by the following parameters in this order:
- Highest number of points
- Goal difference
- Highest number of goals scored
- Main article: 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Second Round
The eight best group runners-up will contest the second round, where they were paired into four two-legged (home-and-away) fixtures.
Seeding and draw
The draw for the second round (play-offs) was held on 17 October 2017. The eight teams were seeded by FIFA World Rankings published on 16 October 2017, rather than qualifying record, with the top four teams in Pot 1, and the remaining four teams in Pot 2. Teams from Pot 1 play teams from Pot 2 on a home and away basis, with the order of legs decided by draw.
|Pot 1||Pot 2|
The first legs will be played on 9–11 November, and the second legs will be played on 12–14 November 2017. The winners of each tie will qualify for the World Cup.
|Team #1||Agg.||Team #2||1st leg||2nd leg|
|Denmark||5–1||Republic of Ireland||0–0||5–1|
The following teams from UEFA have qualified for the final tournament.
- 1 Bold indicates champions for that year. Italic indicates hosts for that year.
- 2 Competed as Soviet Union.