After Thursday’s qualifiers, we are yet another step closer to knowing who will represent the UEFA section of qualification t next summer’s World Cup in Russia. There are still many more balls to be kicked, goals to be scored and hearts to be broken between now and Tuesday evening however, when the dust will settle on the campaign, and there is still money to be made in outright markets by erstwhile punters.
Here, perhaps, is how:
France have a one-point advantage over Sweden in second, although they must travel to Bulgaria on Saturday to take on a side that has won 4/4 home qualifiers. If the French don’t win in Bulgaria then the Swedes will go top – assuming they beat Luxembourg tomorrow – by two points.
If Sweden hammer Luxembourg – and the visitors have conceded four and five against the Netherlands and Bulgaria away from home, then theoretically they would only need a point in Holland on Tuesday to top the group and condemn France to the play-offs.
Of course, if France win in Bulgaria tomorrow then everything in Group A is fairly rudimentary, with the Swedes expected to take second place ahead of the Dutch.
But Les Bleus lost in Sweden and could only manage a 0-0 draw in Belarus, suggesting they are not comfortable playing away from home. A small wager on Sweden to top the group at 5/1 is certainly an interesting angle as a result.
Group B is rather more open-and-shut, with Switzerland and Portugal guaranteed to take the top two spots in the table.
But which order they do so in is hugely important of course, and it will surely come down to their head-to-head meeting in Portugal next Tuesday to determine who will automatically qualify for Russia and who will have to make use of the play-offs.
Here’s the fun part though: the Swiss are three points clear, and assuming they don’t lose to Hungary tomorrow they will only need a point in Portugal to top the pile.
Intrigued? You should be: Switzerland are priced at 11/10 to finish first, with Portugal 11/13 to do likewise.
There’s nothing much to say here: Germany’s 3-1 win in Northern Ireland on Thursday evening ensures they top the group, while the Irish can be satisfied with confirming a play-off place.
What a titanic conclusion to matters in Group D is likely over the next few days, with connotations for two of the home nations.
It’s advantage Serbia, as they top the group on 18 points with Wales on 14 and the Republic of Ireland on 13. The Serbians must travel to Austria tonight before welcoming Georgia on Monday. It’s not the ideal set of fixtures via which to secure glory, but they should just about do enough to finish in the top two.
Which leaves Wales and Ireland battling it out for the other spot. The Irish should enjoy themselves at home against Moldova tonight – the visitors have lost 6/8 qualifiers and have a goal difference of -16, although Wales’ trip to Georgia is rather more tricky.
Then, on Monday night in Cardiff, the two home nations collide in what will probably be a winner-takes-all contest. That makes Wales a healthy favourite, but never write off the Irish.
The equation in Group E is simple: if Poland beat or draw with Montenegro on Sunday, they go through as group winners and Denmark finish runner up.
If Poland lose to Montenegro, then their opponent’s will be looking to see how Denmark get on. The Danes host Romania, and a draw will guarantee them a play-off place while a win – and Poland defeat – will see them top the pile.
Despite yet another limp showing, England booked their spot in Russia with a 1-0 win over Slovenia on Thursday.
They could be joined there by Scotland, who will ensure a play-off place if they beat the Slovenians on Sunday. A point will likely not be enough, with Slovakia – already on a better goal difference – taking on hapless Malta.
Group G has descended into a two-horse race between Spain and Italy, as we might have expected, with the Spaniards currently holding a three-point lead at the top.
They should see the job through with matches against Albania and Israel to come, and the benefit of a better head-to-head record against Italy should they be level on points after ten games.
Belgium have well and truly sewn up Group H, but there is certainly value to be had in backing Greece to finish runners-up at 7/4.
They are a point behind Bosnia at present but have a much easier fixture list: Gibraltar (h) and Cyprus (a), while the Bosnians host Belgium on Saturday before travelling to Estonia.
It was labelled the Group of Death prior to the start, and Group I has certainly lived up to expectations with four teams still able to take the top spot!
Here’s how things stand right now:
- Croatia – 16 points (+9 GD)
- Iceland – 16 points (+4)
- Turkey – 14 points (+4)
- Ukraine – 14 points (+4)
On Friday, Croatia host Finland, the Ukraine play Kosovo and Turkey host Iceland in a crucial encounter. If Croatia and Ukraine win as expected, and Turkey/Iceland ends in a draw, the points tallies will be: Croatia (19), Ukraine (17), Iceland (17), Turkey (15).
In the last round of fixtures on Monday, Croatia travel to the Ukraine, Iceland host Kosovo and Turkey head to Finland. If the expected results occur – Croatia and Ukraine draw, Iceland win and Turkey draw – the final table will look as follows:
- Croatia – 20 points
- Iceland – 19 points
- Ukraine – 18 points
- Turkey – 16 points
It is arguably one for punters to avoid, although the 9/4 available on an Iceland top two finish seems fair enough value.