The final rounds of European qualifying for next year’s World Cup will take place over the international break, with teams trying to book their spots in Qatar by winning their groups, while playoff places are also up for grabs.
Germany and Denmark have already guaranteed their places at the finals, but with eight more automatic qualification spots and 12 playoff places up for grabs, there is sure to be plenty of drama that will unfold over the coming days.
Decisive Fixtures to Come in Groups A, B and C
Serbia and Portugal have dominated Group A and both are guaranteed at least a playoff place heading into their decisive encounter in Lisbon on Sunday.
As it stands, Serbia sit a point clear of Cristiano Ronaldo and co in the standings, but Portugal have a game in hand against Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Thursday, and if they were to take at least a point from that contest then they would head into Sunday’s showdown as group leaders.
There is a similar story developing in Group B, with Sweden and Spain set to meet in a crunch qualifier in Seville on Sunday, with the visitors currently sitting two points clear of their hosts in the standings.
However, that could all change before Sunday, as both teams face tricky looking away fixtures on Thursday, with Sweden heading to Kosovo and Spain taking on Greece.
Spain are priced at 4/9 to win in Athens, but if they were to lose that game and also failed to beat Sweden, then Greece could leapfrog Luis Enrique’s side in the standings and clinch a playoff place.
Group C’s decisive encounter looks set to come on on Friday when Italy take on Switzerland at the Stadio Olimpico with both sides locked together on 14 points at the top of the standings.
European champions Italy are priced at 20/33 to win the contest, while a Swiss victory is available at 19/4 and the draw is on offer at 59/20.
The draw would leave Italy in pole position to qualify, although they would still have to at least match Switzerland’s result the following Tuesday, which will not be a foregone conclusion with the Azzurri facing a testing trip to Northern Ireland, while the Swiss will be hosting Bulgaria.
Playoff Dreams Very Much Alive for Wales and Scotland
Reigning world champions France are guaranteed at least a playoff place in Group D and a maximum of three points from their final two matches against Kazakhstan and Finland would be enough to see them secure automatic qualification.
The race for the playoffs is a lot tighter though, with just two points separating Ukraine, Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the standings.
Bosnia’s destiny appears to be in their own hands, as their final two qualifiers will be at home to Finland on Saturday before they also host Ukraine next Tuesday.
In Group E Belgium should seal qualification with victory over Estonia on Saturday, but they could have a huge say in which team finishes second, as they will then visit Wales the following Tuesday.
Wales will just have to better the Czech Republic’s result in that fixture – providing they avoid defeat at home to Belarus on Saturday – with the Czechs likely to pounce on any slip ups from Robert Page’s side as they will be taking on Estonia.
The saving grace for both Wales and the Czechs, is they are both likely to qualify for the playoffs anyway based on their performances during the UEFA Nations League.
Denmark have already qualified from Group F and Scotland will secure the playoff berth provided they win in Moldova on Friday – Steve Clarke’s side are 4/17 to claim the three points in Chisinau.
However, if Scotland do not win that game, then they may need something from their final group match against Denmark, which could open the door for Israel to pinch the playoff spot.
Dutch Delight Not Guaranteed
Group G has been one of the most intriguing during qualifying, with four teams still in the mix, although Montenegro’s playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.
The main battle looks set to come in Rotterdam next Tuesday when the Netherlands, who sit two points clear at the top of the group, entertain Norway.
That looks set to be a winner takes all contest, providing the Dutch win in Montenegro and Norway beat Latvia on Saturday, but whichever team loses on Tuesday could open the door for Turkey to sneak into the playoffs.
There is also set to be a decisive contest in Group H, with 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia likely to need to beat Russia in Split if they are to top the standings and qualify automatically.
Croatia are priced at 20/31 to win Sunday’s contest, while Russia are available at 19/5 and the draw is on offer at 3/1.
Russia are currently two points clear at the top of the standings and will expect to at least maintain that advantage when they host Cyprus on Thursday, while Croatia should also have no problems winning in Malta.
England need a maximum of four points from their final two matches to seal top spot in Group I and with fixtures to come against Albania and San Marino, that should not pose much of a problem.
Albania are likely to need to win Friday’s match at Wembley to keep their playoff hopes alive, as if they don’t, second-place Poland will guarantee their playoff spot with a victory in Andorra.
Germany have already qualified for the finals by winning Group J with two games to spare, but there is a four-way battle for the remaining playoff berth, with Romania, North Macedonia, Armenia and Iceland all in contention.
Iceland realistically need miracle to finish second, but there is just a point separating the other three teams, with Romania currently holding the advantage, as they will finish second if they win their final two matches against Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Any slip ups from Romania would open the door for North Macedonia and Armenia, who are set to meet in Yerevan on Thursday – with the loser of that match likely to see their qualification hopes ended.
*All odds correct at time of writing.