Italy, Germany and the Netherlands could all clinch a place in Brazil as full sets of qualifiers are played on Friday and Tuesday with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina eyeing debuts.
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With 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying having now resumed with Russia's loss in Northern Ireland, UEFA.com sees how the groups are shaping up ahead of decisive fixtures in September and October with the next full set of games on Friday.
The nine section winners qualify directly for the finals in Brazil. The eight runners-up with the best records against the teams finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their pool go into November's play-offs.
Belgium became the first team to clinch a top-two place (though not necessarily a play-off) with a 2-1 victory against Serbia in June and secured a three-point lead to boot as Croatia lost 1-0 at home to Scotland, who are nevertheless mathematically out. To catch Croatia in second, Serbia must win all three remaining fixtures and hope their neighbours lose theirs, starting with their home Friday encounter. On the same day, Belgium are in Scotland and two other sides with merely mathematical hopes, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Wales, meet. Whatever happens, the 11 October visit of Belgium to Croatia should effectively settle top spot.
Italy's advantage increased to four points over Bulgaria as they drew their game in hand in the Czech Republic, who are a further point adrift. Armenia lie fourth, level with Denmark, following a stunning 4-0 away triumph in Copenhagen. All teams have four matches remaining and Italy can clinch top spot by beating Bulgaria on Friday and the Czech Republic on Tuesday. Also on Friday, the Czechs welcome Armenia and Denmark visit Malta.
Germany, who sat out the June fixtures, have come unstuck only in their extraordinary 4-4 home draw with Sweden. They are five points clear, not just of that country but also of Austria and the Republic of Ireland, after each of those three nations recorded a single victory this month. The three-time world champions could potentially qualify by beating Austria on Friday and then the Faroe Islands, especially if Ireland and Sweden draw in Dublin.
The Netherlands have made short work of qualifying for recent tournaments and that trend has continued with six straight victories, the sole remaining perfect record. They hold a seven-point cushion over Hungary, with Romania a further point back but three ahead of Turkey – all with four fixtures left. On Friday the Oranje can move to the verge of qualification by prevailing in Estonia; Romania tackle Hungary and Turkey, under Fatih Terim, face Andorra. Should the Netherlands win the first game they will qualify four days later by prevailing in Andorra.
Switzerland, who beat Brazil in an August friendly, are four points clear of surprise package Albania. Switzerland will bid to extend their advantage on Friday when they welcome Iceland, Albania visit Slovenia and Norway – two points off second – play Cyprus. Four days later it is Norway v Switzerland, Iceland v Albania and Cyprus v Slovenia in a group where all six sides can still dream of at least a play-off.
Russia won their first four games but in June lost 1-0 in Portugal and then fell by the same scoreline in Northern Ireland in a postponed game played on 14 August. Portugal are two points clear, though Russia have a game in hand, with Israel just a point further back. On Friday Russia host Luxembourg, Portugal go to Northern Ireland and Israel entertain Azerbaijan hoping to stay in contention before they journey to St Petersburg four days later.
This group looks a two-horse race after third-placed Slovakia were held in Liechtenstein in June. Bosnia and Herzegovina, after play-off heartbreak in their last two campaigns, are three points superior to Greece. Slovakia sit four points behind Greece and cannot really afford anything other than success in Bosnia and Herzegovina both on Friday and in the home return four days later. Greece, meanwhile, will play in Liechtenstein before receiving Latvia.
Montenegro remain top but their hopes were hit by a 4-0 June home defeat by Ukraine in third, who are within three points of the summit and one of England, with both sides having a game in hand on the Montenegrins. Poland are two points shy of Ukraine and need to beat Montenegro at home on Friday The same day England take on Moldova and Ukraine meet San Marino, before the chasing pair are matched in Kyiv four days later. Perhaps crucially, England then have only home games left, against Montenegro and Poland.
Spain, having been frustrated at home by France and Finland, won 1-0 away to Les Bleus in March so the holders stand a point clear of the two-time word champions, each with three fixtures to go in the only five-team section. On Friday, France make the trip to fourth-placed Georgia and Spain head to Finland for their final away match, with Belarus and Georgia to come at home in October.