Qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is now in its final phase with European qualifying coming to a conclusion over the next week. The UEFA qualifying groups are always among the toughest in the world and with just two match days left, there are a number of nations still sweating on whether they’ll be heading to South America next June.
A World Cup in Brazil is a mouth-watering prospect for any nation and there are still a number of heavyweights of the European game with work to do to secure their automatic qualification for the World Cup and that even include the current World champions!
Spain have swept all before them over the past five years with success in Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 to their name. They have simply been too good in recent years but their qualification for Brazil has been far from straight-forward to the surprise of most experts. They have been mired in a group long rivalry with France with the two nations locked together on 14 points, with just the final two matches to play. Spain are certainly in pole position with a game in hand at home to Belarus but any slip up from the World Champions could see France spoil the party, that seems unlikely with Georgia their final opponents and it is the French who is most likely reach Brazil via the dreaded play-offs, which take place in November.
Perhaps the next biggest nation yet to secure their World Cup berth is England who go into their final two games with plenty of work still to do. Roy Hodgson’s men remain unbeaten in Group H but four draws so far ensures that they need to win their last two games to be certain of a place in Brazil. The fate of the Three Lions however is in their own hands with games against Montenegro and Poland at Wembley and six points will see them top the group. Any slip up though would open the door to allow either the Ukraine or Montenegro to steal top spot with all three teams still in the hunt.
England do have a far superior goal difference though and given the strength of their squad you would expect them to have enough to top the group; just don’t mention Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren to England fans!
Elsewhere, Portgual and Russia are locked in a fierce battle for top spot in Group F with one point separating the teams with just two games remaining. Russia are currently in pole position and two wins in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan will be enough to see Fabio Capello’s side secure their place in Rio next summer. Portugal look likely to be heading for a play-off at this stage but they do have two home games to look forward to which ensures that any slip up from Russia could see them take advantage at the top of the group.
There is another two-way tussle taking place in Group G with Bosnia and Greece currently stuck together at the top of the table on 19 points. Bosnia have the advantage given their goal difference and two wins for them against Liechtenstein and Lithuania will be enough for them to take top spot. Greece are still in with a chance though and they will know that if they can pick up six points on with victories over Slovakia and also Lichtenstein, they will be right there to take advantage of any slip up from the Bosnians, otherwise they too will have to settle for a two leg play-off eliminator.
It is certainly worth taking note of the teams who have already secured top spot in their groups and with it, automatic qualification for the World Cup next year. Italy have made short work of Group B to qualify and you can be sure that the Azzuri will be right in the mix come summer and the same can be said for the Netherlands who have impressed over the last 12 months with seven wins and just one draw from their eight matches so far in Group D. Germany, Belgium and Switzerland are not mathematically qualified just yet but all three are on the brink of Brazil and should secure their places on Friday night.
It is shaping up to be a thrilling few days across Europe with massive games taking place across the continent on Friday night and Tuesday and with the heat certainly on the likes of England, Spain and Portugal, it would be no shock if there was a few surprises between now and next week.