World Cup qualification preview, final UEFA zone matches
Posted 8th October 2009
Only three European teams have already booked their places in the draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. England, Netherlands and Spain have qualified with plenty of time to spare, but the rest of the UEFA qualification picture remains unclear.
Things are most settled in Group 4, where Germany and Russia are already guaranteed to be the top two. They face-off in Moscow on Saturday in a crucial match, as both teams should win their final encounters with Finland and Azerbaijan respectively. A draw would therefore suit Germany best, and this is the most likely outcome.
A point would also be a good result for another big gun trying to avoid the lottery of a play-off, Italy. They travel to Republic of Ireland, who can only top Group 8 by beating both Italy and Montenegro and relying on Marcello Lippi's outfit not beating Cyprus in their final match. A stalemate in Dublin is the result to follow here.
Group 1 promises the most interesting climax. Five points separates four teams, with leaders Denmark in the box seat with two home games against their qualification rivals. They will surely win one of these assignments against Sweden and Hungary to top the group, leaving these two teams and Portugal battling it out for the play-off berth.
Portugal should win their two home fixtures, meaning Sweden could be absent from the World Cup for just the second time in the last six tournaments, although both teams will be aware that second place might not be good enough, as only the top eight ranked runners-up reach the play-offs.
Switzerland will wrap up Group 2 by winning in Luxembourg on Saturday, leaving Greece, Latvia and Israel in the shake-up for second place. Greece should claim the decisive home win against Latvia to book their play-off spot.
Slovakia are another team who can qualify with a match to spare and they should avoid defeat against Slovenia to top Group 3. This would leave the door open for Northern Ireland and Czech Republic to nick second place and it might yet be the under-performing Czechs who sneak through to the second stage of World Cup qualification.
France face a nervous finish to their campaign, as Serbia appear to have already done enough to win Group 8. Raymond Domenech's men will claim second place with the formality of a home win against Faroe Islands on Saturday.