Qualifying is almost done bar the playoffs. By Wednesday at least 22 teams will have secured their passage to Russia with only 6 playoff matches and a final round of games in Africa to play on November.
Who’s made it?- Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria
What’s left to play for?
France held their nerve to claim a vital win in Bulgaria and stay top with only a home win over Belarus required to go through. The big story however is Holland are almost out- after Sweden romped to an 8-0 win over Luxembourg and the Dutch narrowly won 3-1 in Belarus , they now need to beat Sweden by 6 goals to make the playoffs.
Switzerland and Portugal will square off for top spot in Portugal on Tuesday night. Saturday night saw the European Champions needing to bring Ronaldo off the bench to beat the mighty Andorra whilst the Swiss rolled Hungary 5-2. His royal CR7ness will need to come up with the goods on Tuesday if Portugal are to secure the win they need with Switzerland only needing a draw. Whoever loses out is guaranteed a play off spot,
Germany are through after their convincing win in Belfast and whilst Northern Ireland are guaranteed second place they require a result in Norway tonight to ensure they avoid the dreaded lowest placed runner up spot and miss the playoffs- a draw should be enough for Micheal O’Neill’s men.
It may be a fixture more famous for rugby than football but Ireland visit the Principality Stadium for the winner takes all (well more likely a playoff spot) game with Wales. Wales currently hold the edge but both need to win as a draw may see the Welsh finish as the lowest placed runner up. Serbia missed the chance to secure the group by losing in Austria this week but have a second chance at home to lowly Georgia on Monday night.
Poland will secure qualification with a draw at home this afternoon against third placed Montenegro, meanwhile resurgent Denmark will guarantee themselves a playoff berth with a home win over Romania.
Given England have scored 4 goals in injury time and Scotland 5 after the 84th minute we should have expected Harry Kane’s 93rd minute winner and Chris Martin (not the one from Coldplay) forcing an 87th minute Slovakian own goal. It all means England have qualified and Scotland will make the playoffs if they win in Slovenia tonight. A draw almost certainly won’t be enough for the Scots given third place Slovakia fave the open goal of a home game with Malta.
It’s done and dusted- Spain are there after Italy laughably failed to beat Macedonia at home. Italy have to make do with a playoff spot- needless to say they’ll be the team to avoid.
Belgium had already qualified but still provided some fun (Gareth Southgate take note) with a 4-3 win over Bosnia. Greece will finish second with a home win over Gibraltar but may need to top up their goal difference to avoid the lowest placed runner up spot and elimination.
Iceland will make their World Cup debut with a home win over last placed Kosovo on Monday night. Meanwhile Croatia travel to Kiev needing a point to secure second place- a win for Ukraine will see them leapfrog Croatia and claim a possible playoff.
Argentina are in deep trouble- they lie sixth in the group and will be out if they don’t make it to at least fifth. The good news is they have their destiny in their own hands- a win and they will finish at least fifth, the bad news is the game is Ecuador away (at altitude) where they often struggle. Elsewhere Brazil qualified years ago and Uruguay are practically there due to their strong goal difference. Colombia face Peru with the winner guaranteed qualification meanwhile Chile need a result away to Brazil to make sure of a top 5 finish. Finally Paraguay’s late goals against Colombia gives them a shout of a playoff spot.
Congratulations to Nigeria who’ve secured qualification with a game to spare. Tunisia, Egypt and Senegal all look good to join them but will have to wait until November to make sure. The real intrigue is in Group C where the tradition African powerhouse Ivory Coast are a point behind Morocco with 1 game to play, and the last game is: Ivory Coast hosting Morocco. Watch this space.
The USA finally got going with a 4-1 home win over Panama which puts them on course to join Mexico and Costa Rica in the finals- a draw away to Trinidad & Tobago will be enough. Panama and Honduras meanwhile are level points for the playoff spot with Panama holding a stronger goal difference, they host Mexico and costs respectively on Wednesday when the group concludes.
Syria scraped a 1-1 Home draw (played in Malaysia) against Australia with the return leg in Sydney on Tuesday. The Socceroos will be hit favourites to progress and face the 4th place Concaaf team.
This week New Zealand will finally discover which South American will knock them out, sorry lads.