With only two rounds remaining in Europe’s initial World Cup qualifying stage, things are heating up. Two teams have already qualified, with a few more on the brink. But while only the top team from all 10 groups qualifies directly, second placed teams enter playoffs come spring. Because of this, there is still plenty to play for. So let’s take a look at where things stand.
The two teams progressing from Group A are already known, all that is left to find out is in what order. Though Portugal trail Serbia by a point, they have a game in hand on their opponents, giving them the edge. However, the two nations will also face each other one more time on Nov. 14, in Lisbon. That game will then more than likely determine who tops the group and who will continue their World Cup qualifying campaign into the spring.
Though it looks pretty straightforward on the surface, a lot could still change in Group B. Sweden lead Spain by two points thanks to the Spaniards’ opening day draw against Greece. However, the two teams will face-off in the group’s ultimate game, making it a crucial game for both sides. While Sweden will likely only need a draw, Spain will have home advantage, setting things up perfectly. But while Spain could end up topping the group, they can also miss out on progression altogether. Their penultimate game will see them travel to Greece, and if the Greeks can get an upset they could very well pipe the Spaniards to second place. Three teams therefore still have everything to play for, making Group B one to keep an eye on.
Like Group A, Group C already know its top two. But also like Group A, those two are still locked inbattle for supremacy. The two nations tied their first encounter with each other, and both dropped another two points against lesser competition. As such, Italy edge the group on goal difference alone, and only by two. Switzerland will now travel to Italy on Nov. 12 in a crucial game for both sides. But should it end as a draw, the group could very well come down to which nation gets the biggest scoreline in their final game. With Italy traveling to Northern Ireland and Switzerland hosting Bulgaria, anything is possible.
Group D is one of the most contested groups for the simple reason that nearly a third of its games ended in a draw. As a result, every team bar Kazakhstan still has a mathematical chance at progression. Fresh off their Nations League success, France remain favourites to top the group thanks to their game in hand on second placed Ukraine. But second place is anyone’s to win. With Bosnia still playing the two teams right above them, three teams still have every chance to clinch the playoff spot.
Given their massive goal difference, Belgium only need one point from two games to qualify. And with a game against second to bottom Estonia still on the cards, top spot looks all but guaranteed. Second place, however, is still hotly contested. Though Wales have the advantage through their game in hand, their final game is against Belgium. As such, a lot could come down to whether the Belgians have officially qualified by that point and decide to rotate, or go full strength out of competitive integrity.
It’s fair to say EURO 2020’s surprise team picked up where they left off. Not only are Denmark the only European team with a 100% record in World Cup qualifying, they have yet to concede a single goal. It is therefore no surprise that they have already booked their ticket to Qatar. Second place, however, is still up for grabs, though it is Scotland’s to lose. Though their final game will be against the all-conquering Danes, the other one is to bottom placed Moldova. And if the Scots can get a result there, they will have secured second place with a game to spare.
Group G is undoubtedly one of the most exciting groups, with three teams still vying for top spot. While the Dutch edge it for now, they still need to host second placed Norway on the final day. And while Turkey are a long shot for first, they will definitely hope to pounce on that matchup to sneak into second place. Given the closeness at the top, goal difference could also realistically come into play. The Dutch will then be thankful that their repeated demolition of Gibraltar gives them a definite edge on that front.
Russia took advantage of Croatia’s draw in their latest game to take control of Group H. However, while the two nations are guaranteed the top two spots, either one can still finish first. The next game for both teams is against one of the bottom two teams, almost guaranteeing them a win. But Croatia will then host Russia in the final group game, a perfect chance for them to snatch top spot at the death.
Though England started their World Cup qualifying campaign with five wins out of five, recent slip ups have opened the door for Poland. One of their two remaining games is against San Marino, however, so Albania’s trip to London is the only realistic hope for their rivals. But the Poles will be cautious about cheering too heavily for the Albanians, as they in turn will have their sights set on overtaking Lewandowski & co.
It will come as no surprise to soccer fans to know that Germany were the first team to book their ticket for Quatar 2022. Despite a shock defeat to North Macedonia on Matchday 3, the Germans breezed through the World Cup qualifying process. Group J’s second place, however, will be fiercely contested between four nations. Though Iceland are nearly out of the race, they still face both Romania and North Macedonia. Armenia, meanwhile have a game against the table-topping German, with their other game being against direct rivals North Macedonia. Everything is therefore still up for grabs, though second placed Romania maintain a clear advantage thanks to their fixture against Lichtenstein.
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