England are in pole position to qualify top of Group I
The final international break of the calendar year is upon us and each nation is facing the final hurdles they must overcome to reach the 2022 World Cup finals – or to at least keep alive their hopes of getting there via the play-offs.
Some of the groups are now very straight-forward, routine and just need one or two results to fall into place, while a few have several teams scrapping over one play-off spot, desperate for points against each other in the final two rounds of games.
Here’s exactly what needs to happen in each of the Uefa zone groups for different nations to qualify for Qatar 2022.
It’s already done in terms of which teams are in the running, with Portugal and Serbia well clear of the rest. Republic of Ireland sit fourth, below Luxembourg, highlighting the scope of how dismal their campaign has been so far in terms of results.
Serbia are currently a point above Portugal but have played a game more; Cristiano Ronaldo and co can go top with a draw or better against Ireland on Thursday and will stay there if they then avoid defeat against Serbia in the final matchday.
Sweden lead the way, two points ahead of Spain – Greece can still get a top-two place if they win both their remaining games and Spain take no more than a point from their last two.
Luis Enrique’s side will still aim to go through automatically though and they can finish top by winning their last two: against Greece, then Sweden. Winning the first guarantees a play-off spot; winning the second would see them leapfrog Sweden at the last moment. The Scandinavian side won the reverse fixture, however, and can finish first themselves by beating Georgia then drawing with Spain (or winning while Spain drop points to Greece).
Italy and Switzerland are already sure of being the top two. Northern Ireland are down in fourth, with just one win so far. In terms of top spot it’s basically a shoot-out in the next game: the Stadio Olimpico hosts the Azzurri and the Swiss on Friday and whoever wins will be three points clear at the top. Italy have the better goal difference, so a draw favours them.
The Euro 2020 champions have Northern Ireland last, which should be a routine three points, while Switzerland face Bulgaria at home.
France have first place all but wrapped up, three points clear with a game in hand. If they get a victory against Kazakhstan at home on Saturday, they win the group. If not, they get another chance away to Finland.
There’s far more competition for second place and the play-off spot, though: Currently Ukraine have nine points with one game to play, Finland have eight with two left and Bosnia-Herzegovina have seven with two left.
The latter two nations meet in Zenica on Saturday; if Bosnia-Herzegovina lose they are out of the running. A win for them leaves Finland needing to beat France and see Ukraine draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina – plus they’ll need to overturn a goal difference deficit of at least three goals. If Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland draw, Ukraine will be second on goal difference going into the final round of qualifiers, so they would simply need to match whatever Finland do against France to stay ahead of them…unless they both lose, then Bosnia-Herzegovina take second.
Ukraine are unbeaten in the qualification group, but have drawn six of their seven fixtures – they could end up avoiding defeat throughout the qualification campaign and still not make the play-offs.
Wales may need points against Belgium in their final qualifier
Belgium need two points from two games to seal top spot and given they are first at home to fifth-place Estonia, that seems likely to happen.
The fight for second place is between Czech Republic and Wales – but Robert Page’s team have their Nations League performance to fall back on.
Essentially, the two best-performing countries from the Nations League who do not finish in the top two in World Cup qualifying are given entry into the play-offs: three European nations must reach Qatar 2022 via the play-offs, which means three different “paths” are open, each seeing semi-finals and a final, the winner progressing to the World Cup itself. That’s 12 nations in total to be in the play-offs, comprised of the 10 runners-up from the World Cup qualifying groups, plus the best two from the Nations League.
As Wales won their Nations League group, they will reach the play-offs regardless as long as at least three of France, Spain, Italy and Belgium finish in the top two in their respective qualifying groups.
Now, back to what they must do in Group E to finish second anyway: beat bottom team Belarus, basically. And handily. They are currently behind the Czechs on goal difference, with two goals in it – and Wales face Belgium in their final qualifier, while Czech Republic play Estonia. It’ll likely come down to who can outscore each other and whether Wales can avoid a beating against Roberto Martinez’s soon-to-be-group winners.
However, the stress is somewhat removed by the fact that if Wales come second, Czech Republic are third-in-line to take the play-off spot via their Nations League group win.
Denmark are top and already qualified with a perfect eight wins from eight games so far.
Scotland are second and after a remarkable comeback win over Israel and a late win over Faroe Islands in the last international break, they are four points clear with two to play – so a victory away to Moldova guarantees them second and a play-off place. Their last match is home to Denmark, so the onus is on getting the job done next time out.
Israel are third and need to beat Austria and Faroe Islands, and hope Scotland take no more than two points – and they’d need to improve their goal difference by three, as well.
Austria are fourth in the group and cannot get a top-two place but are in the same boat as Wales in that they will take a play-off spot thanks to their Nations League exertions, as long as no more than one of France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Wales fail to make the top two.
Either way it now looks like it will be Austria and Wales or Austria and Czech Republic who take those Nations League spots in the World Cup qualifying play-offs.
Netherlands are holding off Norway and Turkey heading into the final two rounds of fixtures
A more routine three teams for two spots here. Netherlands are top, Norway second, Turkey third, with two points between each nation.
Turkey look most likely to secure six points as they play Gibraltar (sixth) and Montenegro (fourth), while Netherlands host Norway on the final matchday after both have easier penultimate fixtures. If all the top three win their next game, it’ll be a simple case of Norway needing to win to go top, Netherlands needing to avoid defeat to come top and Turkey needing a win and Norway to lose to snatch second.
If any of the top three drop points to Montenegro, Latvia or Gibraltar beforehand then they probably don’t deserve to go to the finals anyway.
Russia and Croatia are well clear at the top and it’s just a case of who finishes first.
Assuming they beat bottom two Cyprus and Malta respectively next time out, as they should, then it’s a final-day shootout in Split. Croatia would need to win to finish first, as they trail Russia by two points. The reverse fixture in Moscow finished 0-0.
As we know, England are top by three points from Poland and still need four points from the last two games to guarantee automatic qualification. Those must come from games against Albania and San Marino – but matters are slightly complicated by the fact Albania are third and chasing the play-off spot.
Southgate’s side are aiming to better their semi-final appearance at the 2018 World Cup
Poland face Andorra and Hungary; they’ll stay ahead of Albania if they win both regardless of if they cause an upset against the Three Lions, but if Albania do win that encounter, then Poland can top the group with six points if they increase their goal difference enough. England could still rack up a big scoreline on the final day against the bottom nation, of course.
Albania’s last game is against Andorra but if England win on Friday and Poland take a point or more then Albania’s hopes are over anyway.
Germany are miles clear and have qualified for Qatar 2022 already.
Four teams can still technically claim second, but Iceland need both mathematical wizardry and a hitherto unseen ability to beat teams above them, so can probably be excluded from the conversation.
Romania are second on 13 points, then it’s North Macedonia on 12 and Armenia on 12 – each have two games to play.
Helpfully, the latter two play each other next so one candidate will fall by the wayside if there is a victor from the encounter in Yerevan. Their last meeting in North Macedonia finished goalless. While those two battle it out, Romania face Iceland; if they win and Armenia draw with North Macedonia then it’s all but over – Romania would only need a point away to bottom nation Liechtenstein on the final day. Two Romania wins of course leaves them second regardless of anything else.
As Armenia face Germany in their last match they are rank outsiders in the battle for second if the group goes the distance.
Source: Read Full Article