It’s boiling point in the World Cup qualifying stages, heading into the final two matches in Europe, South America and North America. Most groups in Europe are about second place battles, but England demand most of the attention in Group G, battling with Ukraine, Poland and Montenegro for the top spot, playing the last two mentioned, both at Wembley. Mexico grab the focus in North America with their huge match against Panama, while South America still has plenty of options open.
The final state of the African qualifiers commences as well, but it’s not more group stages. Five playoff matches in a two-leg format, with the first match happening this week, while the others come in November.
Belgium vs Croatia: There’s no question about the identity of the top two teams in Group A, with Belgium holding a five point lead over Croatia and two matches left. Their visit to Zagreb is a tricky one, but Belgium need only two points from their next two matches, which includes hosting Wales, the worst team in the group. Croatia, without too many chances of finishing as the best runner-up, need to beat Belgium and Scotland while hoping for Belgium to mess up on the final match in order to secure automatic qualification.
Group B Mess: Four teams are trying to make it to second place after Italy have already qualified; Bulgaria with 13 points, Denmark with 12, Czech Republic with 9 and Armenia with 9. Bulgaria have to play in Armenia before hosting the Czech Republic; Denmark host Italy and Malta; the Czech Republic play in Malta and Bulgaria, while Armenia host the Bulgarians and then travel to Italy.
Sweden vs Austria: Right now, Sweden have a three point lead over Austria as the two race to finish second behind Germany, who need one more point to clinch their qualification. Anything but an Austrian win will put Sweden very close to sealing the deal, although Austria play the Faroe Islands on the final match, while Sweden have to host Germany.
Hungary, Romania & Turkey: Group D is clinched with the Netherlands taking the first place easily. The battle is for what happens behind them, with Hungary at second at 14 points, followed by Turkey and Romania, both with 13. Romania have the easiest of draws, playing in Andorra and then hosting Estonia. Turkey play at Estonia and finish by hosting the Netherlands. Hungary play in the Netherlands before hosting Andorra.
Group E Mess: Switzerland are top of the group with 18 points, needing one more to pretty much qualify. Behind them is the mess, with Iceland at second (13), followed by Slovenia (12),Norway (11) and Albania (10). Pretty much every match has direct implications on the qualifiers, and there are no easy matches in this group, except for Cyprus. Slovenia hosting Norway and Norway hosting Iceland seem to be the biggest direct battles of the final four days.
Group H Mess: England lead the group with 16 points, followed closely by Ukraine (15), Montenegro (15) and Poland (13). England have a tough finish, but do host both matches against Poland and Montenegro. Poland also have to play in Ukraine, while Montenegro’s second match is against Andorra. Ukraine have the easiest second match of all, playing San Marino.
Mexico’s Last Chance: The USA and Costa Rica have already qualified to the World Cup. They’re followed by Honduras with 11 points, Panama at fourth (playing against the Oceania team, New Zealand) and Mexico at fifth, both with 8 points. Mexico host Panama for a super crucial match, knowing they have to travel to Costa Rica for the finale, while Panama host the United States. It’s pretty much a must win for both teams, but if Mexico doesn’t win, which means they miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1990 (and it was suspended that time), it’s going to be a failure of epic proportions, with similar consequences.
South American Finish: Argentina have qualified, while Colombia and Chile are assured at least a spot in the playoff. The big battle is between Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Colombia host Chile, Ecuador host Uruguay, Venezuela host Paraguay in the first batch of meaningful matches, although Venezuela don’t have a realistic shot unless Uruguay or Ecuador are beaten badly on their last two matches, while Venezuela enjoys a bit win over Peru.
The finale sees Colombia playing in Paraguay, Chile hosting Ecuador and Uruguay hosting Argentina, who don’t have anything to play for.
In the African qualification zone (CAF) , we have five first legs, with a month to wait until the second legs. Ivory Coast play Senegal, Ethiopia play Nigeria, Tunisia play Cameroon, Ghana play Egypt and Burkina Faso play Algeria. The five winners qualify to the World Cup.