With several of Dortmund’s players taking part in the UEFA World Cup Qualifying as well as possibly making the trip to the World Cup next July, this week will serve as perhaps the final chance for many European teams to make a final push at reaching Russia next summer.
Several groups remain in a logjam while others are pretty much already decided. Heading into the weekend, here are some predictions and other things to watch in the final legs of the UEFA WCQ Group Stages.
Even without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden looks like they should be able to finish second in the group and once again heading to the UEFA Second Round. The Swedes host Luxembourg before travelling to Amsterdam to take on the Netherlands.
The Dutch squad is vying for that second place position in the group, but even with a win over Sweden, they would have to make up some serious ground in the goal differential category. Now it’s a different story, however, if the Netherlands grab a big win over Belarus while Sweden passes Luxembourg by a slim margin.
That makes the game in Amsterdam next Tuesday a straight-up elimination contest. This is likely to happen, but it still feels as if the six-goal and three-point margin to make up might be too lofty a task for an aging Netherlands side.
France, meanwhile, may struggle against Bulgaria. The fourth place team is also in a position to make the Second Round but would likely need to beat France at home in order to do so. This would make France’s match in Sofia a competitive fixture, but at the very least, France should come away with a draw before knocking off Belarus to clinch Group A.
This time around, Cristiano Ronaldo could directly qualify for the World Cup. Heading into the weekend trailing Switzerland by three points, Portugal will host the Swiss on the final match-day to decide who wins the group. Both teams are already assured of at least a spot in the Second Round.
Both teams should win their match-day 9 fixtures when Portugal travels to Andorra and Switzerland hosts Hungary; setting up the crucial, deciding match in Lisbon. Should Portugal win, which they should at home, they will go atop Group B on goal differential. But if Switzerland wins or draws, then they will win the group.
Runner-Up: Northern Ireland
Not much predicting here. Germany leads Northern Ireland by five points with two matches left and both teams assured of at least second place. Germany travels to Belfast Thursday in a game that should decide the group. N.I. will then close out group play at Norway in what could be a must-win to secure a spot in the Second Round as their point total may not be enough to qualify.
In the Group with the least amount of flair in UEFA WCQ, Serbia should lock up the group with a win over Austria on Friday. The group’s runner-up, which could potentially miss out on a Second Round spot, is a battle between Ireland and Wales. The teams meet on match-day 10 in Cardiff with it all on the line, but the meeting could be all for nothing if the two sides’ point totals aren’t enough. Wales has some firepower up front and should round out Group D play with a pair of victories.
Both Denmark and Montenegro sit tied for second place in the group and meet on match-day 9. The Danes will have to battle on the road in that one, but should come out on top. Even if the two teams draw, which is a more likely result, Montenegro meets Poland in the final game as the White Eagles will look to lock up the group at home. It’s bad luck for Montenegro as its two toughest matches come successively in the final legs of group stage play. Denmark should put a bow on second place with a final match-up at home against Romania.
This group presents an interesting scenario heading into the final matches. England have all but secured a spot in the World Cup and could do so with a home win over Slovenia on Thursday. But second place is far from clinched.
Slovakia currently hold sole possession of second place with 15 points, leading both Slovenia and Scotland by a single point. Slovakia plays at Scotland on Thursday while Slovenia is at England. If Slovakia wins, they can secure second place.
But if Scotland wins, then the Scots match in Slovenia the following Sunday will be a must-win as Slovakia has a home match against lowly Malta. It doesn’t seem as if there’s any way for Slovenia to make it this year while Slovakia holds the best chance out of the three teams.
With a three-point lead atop Group G, Spain heads into the weekend with matches against Albania (H) and Israel (A) with a chance to close out group play unbeaten. Their massive goal differential will be enough to send them through even if a tie happens.
In second place, Italy can clinch with an Albania loss to Spain and/or a win over Macedonia. The Italians would head to the Second Round where they should prevail.
Belgium has already clinched the group with a commanding eight-point lead over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Bosnia will face a Belgian side that doesn’t appear ready to take it easy despite already securing a spot in the World Cup. Greece will travel to face Cyprus on Saturday before hosting Gibraltar on Tuesday.
For Bosnia to advance to the Second Round, they’ll need Greece to lose at Cyprus while hoping for a pleasant result themselves at home against Belgium. Bosnia would also have to beat Estonia on the road as well. The odds are better for the Greeks as Bosnia would need some serious help to qualify.
Easily my favorite group to watch in UEFA with four teams still in contention to win the Group. Croatia seems a lock to qualify as a home win over Finland and a road win over Ukraine should be in order.
In a battle for second place, Iceland, Ukraine, and Turkey are all up for a spot in the Second Round and all hold +4 goal differentials. Turkey is the least threatening of the trio as their defense is simply not strong enough to hold back Iceland, even at home. Ukraine faces Kosovo on the road in what should be a meaningful win for that offense led by Dortmund’s own Andriy Yarmolenko.
However, should Iceland beat Turkey on Friday, they would then host Kosovo Monday in what could be a historic day. Ukraine would host Croatia in a match that could mean everything, but the Croatian side would only need a draw to reach a Second Round spot.
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