Jack Wilshire, Gary Cahill, and Danny Welbeck of England warm up during an England Training session ahead of their Group H qualifying match against Poland
The final round of matches for the European section of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup will take place today.
After a long and arduous run, for quite a few teams there’s still plenty left to do to ensure qualification whilst certain other teams just need a draw.
The rules are very simple – the teams that finish top of their respective groups automatically qualify for the finals, while eight of the nine runners-up will go into the playoffs. The runner-up team with the worst record against the rest of the teams in the group will miss out.
Five of the nine slots reserved for group winners has already been decided – Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands have all already clinched their berths by ensuring that they will finish top of the group regardless of tonight’s results.
Croatia and Sweden have also managed to seal a place in the playoffs by cementing second spot in their respective groups.
Here’s a preview of how the groups stand and what each team needs to do to ensure qualification:
Business in Group A has already been concluded. Belgium have qualified as group winners after the previous match where they came from behind to beat Croatia 2-1 thanks to a double from Romelu Lukaku.
Croatia with 17 points are also assured of second place as they lie 6 points ahead of Serbia. But the Croats have to make sure that they try and get a point away at Scotland as a bad defeat could leave them vulnerable to going out of the playoffs as the worst of the runners-up.
This group also has a winner – Italy clinched qualification with a 2-2 draw against Denmark in their last outing which happened to be keeper Gianluigi Buffon’s 137th game as he broke the record for most caps by an Italian player.
Second place is up for grabs and there are four teams who are vying for it – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark and Armenia all stand a chance to claim that runners up spot.
Bulgaria play host to the Czech Republic in what is going to be the crucial game of the night for this group as both teams will look to come out of it with 3 points. Denmark though, will be hoping that the two teams draw, as that opens up the door for them with them hosting lowly Malta wherein they are rather assured of a win.
Armenia have a tough task with a trip to group winners Italy.
The downside for the four teams though is that their poor head-to-head record against the other teams in the group could likely mean that they are eliminated as the weakest of the runners-up.
The Czech Republic will definitely not make it if they come out of the group in second place.
This is the group where nothing can change regardless of the results elsewhere in the group or other groups for that matter.
Germany have booked their flight tickets for their 18th appearance at the World Cup finals after beating Ireland on Friday night.
Sweden will stay second and are assured of a playoff berth as they have been vastly superior to the other group teams and hence have a good comparative record.
3-time finalists Netherlands also were one of the teams that qualified for the World Cup during the previous round of matches when they thrashed Hungary 8-1 with Robin van Persie netting a hat-trick. In the process, van Persie eclipsed Patrick Kluivert as the leading goal-scorer of all time with 41 goals.
Second-placed Turkey need at least a point from their game against the group winners and as they are level on points with Romania, they need to match the Romanians’ result on the night to stay second on goal difference.
Hungary, soundly beaten last time, have to win against Andorra at home and also require Turkey and Romania lose their home games to the Netherlands and Estonia respectively. The chances of that happening seem unlikely though.
The Swiss have a very talented squad of players featuring the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, Tranquilo Barnetta and Gokhan Inler and that has allowed them to qualify ahead of time as group winners. They won 2-1 away at Albania on Friday night to clinch their place.
Lars Lagerback’s Iceland team with 16 points are second, a point ahead of Slovenia. Iceland play Norway away and a win there will make it impossible for Slovenia, who are away at Switzerland, to qualify.
If Iceland only manage a draw, and Slovenia win, then the Slovenians will go through.
It’s between Russia and Portugal in Group F.
Russia are in pole position at the moment as they lie at the top of the group with 21 points. They travel away to Azerbaijan and unless they get hammered, they are likely to take top spot and win the group.
Portugal host Luxembourg and need win big and at the same time hope that Russia get beaten badly for them to have any chance of topping. Else, it’s the playoffs for the Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese.
All the other teams are out.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece are tied at the top with 22 points, with Bosnia ahead on goal difference. And it’s a big difference too!
Bosnia’s goal-scoring exploits during the qualifiers have been bettered only by the Germans and the Dutch and as a result they have a staggering goal difference of +23. So all that they need to do is match Greece’s result to make their first major finals as an independent nation.
The top two places will be decided amongst these two and neither team is likely to miss out even if they finish second as they have performed reasonably well through the qualifiers.
The group that features England; having won 4-1 against Montenegro the other night, the English are riding high on confidence and will be looking to finish off the job against Poland tonight.
England are top of the table and they just need to match Ukraine’s result on the night and they are through. Ukraine however, are playing San Marino, where a win should be a formality.
So, it is imperative that England beat Poland to make sure that they top the group and clinch automatic qualification, otherwise they could slip to second.
Unless Ukraine lose to San Marino and Montenegro thrash Moldova by a margin of more than 12 goals, either of England or Ukraine will finish one and two.
Spain just need a draw and they are through to Brazil where they will go about defending their 2010 crown. France to finish as winners, need to beat Finland at home, and hope for a massive drubbing for Spain.
They might as well try throwing a stone to the moon!
France are mostly headed to the playoffs, while Finland, Georgia and Belarus are all knocked out.(Tables courtesy: Eurosport)