The FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Europe are back after four months of absence which wil represent a necessary pause of club football across the continent except for club friendlies and this weekend a full slate of crucial matches will be played as the qualifiers are now approacing the middle.For some this round of the qualifiers will be the last chance to turn around and have a decent shot to still make to the World Cup which will be held next year in Russia.So let’s go with the group by group analysis how the current situation is and what to watch.
France is leading Group A with 10 points and the European vice-champion is going to have an easy match against Luxembourg which the last time defeated the French in 1914 in a friendly and which is one of the Lilliputians of national teams of Europe.So the French will score easy three points.However a critical match awaits Bulgaria against the Netherlands and it is one of the matches to watch,since the team led by Peter Hubchev is still in the hunt for the 2nd place which will lead them to the playoffs and that place is currently held by the Dutch which they plan not to make the same mistakes which they have done like the last qualifiers for the Euros in France which they missed.On paper the Dutch have by far a more superior squad unlike Bulgaria which last time was featured in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.Last but not least Sweden faces a tricky qualifying match against Belarus and it is counting on the Bulgaria to stop the Dutch since both Sweden and the Netherlands have the same number of points which is 7,but the Dutch have a better goal difference.
In Group B,there are three teams in play for the World Cup:Switzerland,Portugal and Hungary.While the Swiss suprisingly lead the group with 12 points and are playing a tricky match against Latvia,all eyes will be in Lisabon at the match between Portugal and Hungary.Last time the two sides met in the Euros in France,they played an exciting 3-3 match where both countries went to the next round with Portugal later winning the tournament,however the qualifiers weren’t good for both sides.Christiano Ronaldo and co suffered a 2-0 defeat at the beginning of the qualifiers and are trailing the Swiss by 3 points,while Bernd Storck’s side had suffered a setback when they managed only a 0-0 draw against the Faroe Islands and a 2-3 defeat against Swiss which means the match in Lisabon against the current European champions is the last chance for Hungary to turn things around and compete for the 2nd place which will give them a shot in the playoffs.
Germany,the current World Cup champion is leading Group C without problems with 12 points and they are going to Baku where the face Azerbaijan led by former Croatian international Robert Prosinecki and the Azeris are competing for the 2nd place which would see them to make the World Cup through the playoffs.By far the biggest surprise in Group C is Northern Ireland which is holding the 2nd place,which everyone expected to be a clash between Norway and the Czech Republic but both teams are far behind the Northern Irish.Michael O’Neill’s men are playing against Norway in a match which could see them to detach themselves from the Azeris for the 2nd place which will lead them to the playoffs which will give them a chance to qualify for their first World Cup since 1986.
In Group D there is far from over and this weekend some of the things might be answered.There is the big match between Ireland and Wales.After the surprising run in the last years Euros in France,the Red Dragons have slumped in the qualifiers for the World Cup which the last time they participated in 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden and the match in Dublin has to be a game changer for the Red Dragons if they want to see the World Cup after six long decades.Meanwhile Serbia is going to Tbilisi for a tricky qualifying match against Georgia which always represents a potential landmine,so Group D will be very interesting to watch.
Group E which is one of the weaker qualifying groups will offer two head-to-head mathces this weekend and like Group D,nothing is solved and everything is opened.Group leader Poland is going to Podgorica for a match against Montenegro which is surprisingly in 2nd place and are trying to fend off Denmark which is travelling to Bucharest for a match against Romania which will try to turn things around in front of their own fans,so plenty of action to see in this group since isn’t over yet,but for Romania it might be all but over they can’t manage to win against Denmark and keep somehow their hopes alive.
England is leading the group with 10 points and they can put out Lithuania in the race for the 2nd place which the Lithuania is trying to catch up.With England cruising the group only remains the battle for 2nd place between Slovenia and Slovakia which both have participated in World Cups and have a bit of history between each other.Both have easy away games this weekend,with Slovenia going to Glasgow to face Scotland and Slovakia going to Valletta to face Malta which is dead last in the group.
Group G is interesting because it features two European football powers from the southern part of the continent:Italy and Spain and both are trying to avoid to go to the playoffs which one of those two will be forced to play.Both have the same number of points which is ten but the La Furia Roja has a much better goal difference and this weekend both teams are playing at home,the Azzurri in Palermo are playing against Albania and the La Furia Roja is playing against Israel which trailing both teams by a point and it is waiting for its chance for a potential surprise which would see one of the powers out of the contention for the World Cup.
This Group features very familiar teams which have a lot of history between each other and they are Belgium,Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece.While the Red Devils are leading the group with 12 points,Greece is just two points behind and their match in Brussles can be a game changer for the whole group,if the Red Devils win they are detaching themselves from the rest of the group leaving Greece and Bosnia in the fight for 2nd place,if the Greeks win then it is a complete different story,while Bosnia has a pretty easy match against Gibraltar in which they will collect all three points which are necessary for them to continue their journey to the World Cup in Russia,all eyes will be on Brussels.
The final qualifying group features four teams with a lot of history between each other:Croatia,Iceland,Ukraine and Turkey.And it is still all open with the Vatreni leading the group and Ukraine,Iceland and Turkey trailing between 2 and 5 points.All eyes will be on Zagreb and the match between Croatia and Ukraine which both have a history,while the Vikings are going to Pristina to face Kosovo which it should be pretty easy three points to keep the World Cup hopes alive for the sensation from the 2016 Euros.So the group is still open and nothing is still decided yet.
So there you have it,a quick group by group analysis how currently stands in the qualifying groups for the World Cup which next summer will be held in Russia,so still there is to play since we are in the middle of the qualifiers but for some team it might represent a last chance for a game changer which would get them back on track to the Road to Moscow.