So it’s come to this. At the end of the international break, eight more teams will have qualified for Russia. The remaining four spots will be contested in a playoff during the November break. Let’s take a look at each group and highlight the one or two matches that will make or break these European teams.
France (17), Sweden (16), Netherlands (13), Bulgaria (12), Belarus E (5), Luxembourg E (5)
Both France and Norway get bottom feeders in the group at least once this round. France can eliminate Bulgaria on Saturday before beating up on Luxembourg on next Tuesday. They should cruise to World Cup qualification. The Netherlands have some work to do. They need to be perfect, beat up on Luxembourg to erase some goal differential, and then beat Sweden at home on Tuesday. That should be one helluva game but less than a five or six goal win in Luxembourg will see the Oranje fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002 and fail to qualify for their second major international tournament (they failed to qualify for the 2016 Euros).
Switzerland (24), Portugal (21), Hungary E (10), Faroe Islands E (8), Andorra E (4), Latvia E (3)
This group is pretty much done and dusted. The only match that will make any difference is when Portugal hosts Switzerland on Tuesday. Portugal has a lead on goal differential of 9 so Switzerland needs to secure at least a point in Portugal in order to automatically qualify.
Germany (24), Northern Ireland (19), Azerbaijan E (10) Czech Republic E (9), Norway E (7), San Marino E (0)
Another group that is basically wrapped up. Germany has been an absolute machine allowing only two goals all tournament. Northern Ireland took it’s momentum from the 2016 Euros and also have only allowed two goals all tournament (unfortunately those two were in Germany). Germany goes to Belfast today and Northern Ireland needs to win to have any chance at direct qualification (they would also need Germany to lose at home to Azerbaijan on Sunday).
Serbia (18), Wales (14), Republic of Ireland (13), Austria (9), Georgia E (5), Moldova E (2)
Serbia is guaranteed at least a playoff spot and can officially eliminate Austria on Friday when they travel to Vienna. A win here or against Georgia on Monday would secure the group. The key match here to determine second place is on Monday when the Welsh host Ireland without talisman Gareth Bale. Both teams will need a win, because Wales are currently sitting out of the playoff spots so two wins would be immensely helpful.
Poland (19), Montenegro (16), Denmark (16), Romania E (9), Armenia E (6), Kazakhstan E (2)
Montenegro and Denmark are even on points, goal difference, goals scored, and goals conceded and both teams could still win the group. So this is the proverbial “where the rubber meets the road.” A trip to Montenegro will be huge, but Denmark beat group leaders Poland 4-0 in the last break. Both teams can still win the group, especially if Montenegro can secure a win against Denmark before they travel to Poland on Sunday.
England (20), Slovakia (15), Slovenia (14), Scotland (14), Lithuania E (5), Malta E (0)
Slovenia travels to England and desperately needs at least a point to keep their hopes of the playoffs alive. Likewise, Slovakia travels to Scotland and will be hoping to secure a point as well. Then, on Sunday, Scotland has to travel to Slovenia and Slovakia hosts Malta. So each of those three teams control their destinies. Should be a fun weekend for Group F.
Spain (22), Italy (19), Albania (13), Israel E (9), Macedonia E (7), Liechtenstein E (0)
This group is all but locked up. Spain can officially eliminate Albania and wrap up the group with a point on Friday. Albania ends their tournament with a trip to Spain and then hosts Italy, so not the best.
Belgium Q (22), Bosnia and Herzegovina (14), Greece (13), Cyrpus (10), Estonia E (8), Gibraltar E (0)
Belgium is the first to qualify and have nothing to play for. Any of B & H, Greece, or Cyprus could snag second place and a playoff spot (although they are right near the bottom of that table). On Saturday Bosnia hosts Belgium and Greece travels to Cyprus; Bosnia losing and Greece winning would make things quite nervy for Bosnia. Cyprus needs a lot of help in addition to taking care of business on Saturday.
Croatia (16), Iceland (16), Turkey (14), Ukraine (14), Finland E (7), Kosovo E (1)
The tightest at the top among any group, Group I has some great matches on Friday. Iceland leads Turkey and the Ukraine by two points and they are all tied on goal differential. Iceland travels to Turkey for a huge match on Friday. An Iceland win would eliminate Turkey from winning the group. Croatia hosts Finland and Ukraine travels to Kosovo. Depending on what happens Friday could make Monday a great matchday. On the final day Ukraine hosts Croatia, Iceland hosts Kosovo, and Finland hosts Turkey. All of those games could, and more than likely will, have big World Cup qualifications.
Enjoy the International Break!