LONDON — Almost half the 24 spots for the 1986 World Cup soccer finals in Mexico have been decided and the remainder will be settled in a series of crucial qualifying matches between now and mid-November.
The draw for next summer's month-long soccer jamboree May 31 to June 29 is scheduled for Dec. 15 in Mexico City, where organizers are pressing ahead with arrangements despite the two earthquakes that ravaged much of the city last month.
Organizers say the earthquakes did not damage the provincial cities that will be used for the World Cup. Although the capital, principal site for the competition, was seriously damaged, neither the Aztec nor Mexico 68 stadiums were harmed, they said.
Eleven countries already are through to the finals: Italy, as defending champion, Hungary, Poland, West Germany, Bulgaria and Spain from Europe; Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil from South America; Mexico as host nation; and Canada, winner of the CONCACAF section, representing North and Central American and the Caribbean.
A fourth South American team will travel to Mexico, and will be decided later this month in an elimination series involving Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru.
Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are out and must wait another four years.
No European nation has ever won the World Cup when it has been played outside Europe, where conditions on and off the field strongly favor South American teams.
But no country is dominating South American soccer at present and West Germany, World Cup champions in 1954 and 1974 and runner-up in Spain three years ago, could pose a serious threat next summer.
The West Germans clinched their place in the finals with a recent 2-2 draw in Sweden.
That left the Swedes battling for second place with Portugal and Czechoslovakia in a group that may not be decided until the last qualifying match on Nov. 17.
Bulgaria's triumph in another group was a surprise that shocked European champion France.
After taking one point from its opening two games, Bulgaria scored five straight wins and clinched its place in Mexico with last month's 3-0 success in Luxembourg.
The French, who have struggled throughout the qualifying campaign because of weak performances away from home, suddenly found themselves locked in a scramble for the runner-up spot with East Germany and Yugoslavia.
East Germany's upset 2-1 win in Belgrade on Sept. 28 slightly eased France's path. With its last two games both at home, against Luxembourg and Yugoslavia, three points should now be enough to send France, which finished fourth in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, to Mexico.
England, which reached the quarterfinals as defending champion when the World Cup was last played in Mexico 15 years ago, needs only one point from Wednesday's home match with Turkey to clinch its place.
Romania, which has drawn twice with the English, plays Northern Ireland the same night in Bucharest, a meeting that could decide the runner-up spot in the group.
The Soviet Union's 1-0 win over Denmark last month made the their complicated group standings slightly clearer, with both nations now favored to advance.
But Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland still have a realistic chance, and the bottom team, Norway, is not totally out of contention, either.
Upcoming is a playoff between Belgium and the Netherlands, bitter rivals who were runners-up in their respective qualifying groups. The winner will qualify.
Another playoff will be staged between Scotland--runner-up to Spain in their group--and the winner of the Oceania section, where Israel, Australia and New Zealand are locked in a struggle. Taiwan has been virtually eliminated.
In the Asian section, from which two teams will advance, South Korea will try to gain the finals for the first time in 32 years at the expense of Japan, which has never made it past the qualifying stage.
Political tension threatens another playoff, Iraq vs. Syria.
The two nations severed diplomatic relations in 1971 and Syria has been backing Iran in the Gulf War. The Gulf news agency said Iraq has warned of a "Brussels-type" disaster if its team is forced by FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, to play in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The Gulf news agency quoted Moayyed Al-Badri, vice president of the Iraqi Football Federation, as saying FIFA "will be held fully responsible if anything happens to the Iraqi team."
Last May 29, 39 people were killed and scores of others injured during rioting by fans attending the European Cup final in Brussels between Liverpool and Juventus.
Morocco and Algeria both look certain to reach Mexico after convincing victories in the first leg of the African zone playoffs.