That’s because the UK, comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a UN member while each of its country’s football associations are individual FIFA members and compete separately for qualification.
FIFA is bigger than the 193-member UN. The world football body has 209 member associations including China, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) and Macau. It also includes Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Guam, Suriname, Tahiti and Denmark’s Faroe Islands, along with several other dependent territories of France, the US, UK and the Netherlands.
Most of the associations that are not a UN member are FIFA members on the basis of Article 10, Paragraph 6 of the Fifa statutes. It states: ‘A football association representing a territory that has not yet gained independence may apply for FIFA membership if it has the authorization of the association of the country to which this territory belongs.’
Not so for Kosovo. Despite recognition from 96 countries, it is not a full member of FIFA because of Serbian objections.
Besides the United Kingdom, there are seven other UN member states that are not members of FIFA – Monaco, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.
Although its economic and political influence is waning on the world stage, Europe still dominates on the football field with 13 of the 32 World Cup slots allocated to the continent while South America gets six, Asia and Oceania, 5, Africa, 5, and North and Central America, including the Caribbean, gets four places.
The World Cup draw itself has produced some interesting UN battles with current Security Council members Australia and Chile facing off in Group B, while fellow non-permanent members Nigeria and Argentina meet in Group E, a group that also includes Bosnia and Iran, two countries that are both on the Security Council’s agenda.
But the biggest battle of all could happen in the knockout stage. If the US emerge as runners-up in its very difficult group and Russia wins its somewhat easier group – which also includes non-permanent Council member South Korea – then the two will meet in the round of 16.
Let the games begin.
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz