Panama, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Albania and Iceland all share two things in common: none of these countries has ever been to the World Cup, and each has had a strong enough run in qualifying to
suggest that they might make it to Brazil next summer.
Panama currently leads CONCACAF qualifying, where the top three teams automatically go to Brazil, with five points from three games, while Uzbekistan leads Asian qualifying Group A, where the top two teams go through, with 11 points, one clear of second-place South Korea. In African qualifying, Ethiopia leads Group A with 7 points from three games, two points ahead of second-place South Africa. Only the top team in each group advances to the final round of qualifying in Africa.
In Europe, Albania and Iceland are both tied for second in UEFA qualifying Group E, just two points behind group leader Switzerland. While the first-place teams in UEFA qualify automatically go to Brazil, the eight best second-place teams then go through to an elimination playoff against one of the other second-place teams, with the four winners qualifying for the World Cup.