The UEFA European U21 Championship qualifying picture will become clearer by mid-October, with Italy's trip to Belgium the pick of a number of crucial matches.
Article top media content
Things should become clearer in 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying after the forthcoming matches as a number of early pacesetters tussle for supremacy. Leading teams are going head-to-head in Groups 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, with October's victors set to gain an advantage in the race to reach the Czech finals.
Holders Spain prevailed in their opening two Group 4 games, as did Hungary, and the sides meet in Cartagena on Monday 14 October. Antal Róth's men must overcome Austria this Thursday, the same day the defending champions host Bosnia and Herzegovina, if they are to enter the contest with a still-perfect record.
Two more teams who have made winning starts are Germany and Montenegro in Group 6, with the pair coming together on Friday in Wiesbaden. Montenegro beat the Faroe Islands before seeing off Romania, while Germany will enjoy a first home outing after making light work of the Republic of Ireland and the Faroese, whom they play again on 15 October.
Belgium have imposed an electric pace in Group 9 with three victories from three securing a six-point advantage over Italy, who will hope to claw back some points in Genk on 14 October. Johan Walem's Belgians triumphed 3-1 in Italy in September and will seek to repeat the trick once they have negotiated a trip to point-less Northern Ireland, three days before Luigi Di Biagio's men come calling.
France sit six points behind Iceland in Group 10, but have played two fewer matches than the leaders and will want to have wiped out that deficit by the final whistle in Reykjavik on 14 October. Les Bleus first go to Armenia, where the Icelanders won 2-1 in June, before heading north to tackle Eyjólfur Sverrisson's men.
Two points above Denmark in Group 2, Russia will welcome the second-placed Scandinavians after a visit to Bulgaria, while the Danes warm up by receiving Slovenia. Croatia can take the Group 5 initiative, hosting Liechtenstein before travelling to Switzerland, with whom they are currently locked on six points.
With a game in hand on Group 7's Polish frontrunners, second-ranked Sweden intend to close the two-point gap when they run out in Krakow on Saturday. Israel's Group 8 credentials will be tested away to Portugal and then Norway, with all three sides presently level on three points.