As we take a break from the busy schedule of club football to welcome international football back, the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers take center stage, and have reached the business end of things. So, at Aclsports.com, we preview the European zone, where there are a number of crunchy ties coming up, starting from Thursday’s encounter between France and the Netherlands.
However, the peak of these matches sees two giants of the game, in former champions, Spain and Italy, who meet each other in Madrid on Saturday. So, take a trip with us, let’s get into it already…
In one of the clashes of the qualifiers taking place in Europe this weekend, France host the Netherlands on Thursday, with the visitors three points behind and needing a win to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
For the hosts, France, who sit second in the group on same points as leaders, Sweden, it’s an opportunity to reclaim top spot with Sweden away at Bulgaria, who can throw the group wide open with a home win.
On Sunday, France will take on minnows, Luxembourg at home, while Sweden are away (again) to Belarus, with the Dutch battling Bulgaria.
It’s a straight fight between Switzerland, who lead the group and have a perfect record in the qualifiers and second placed team, Portugal, who have only lost once- to the Swiss.
While both sides don’t meet again until October 10, they face Andorra and Faroe Island, two relatively easy matches, respectively on Thursday, with both sides expected to continue from where they left off.
But it gets interesting three days later when Portugal visit Budapest to face Hungary, knowing a defeat could hand initiative to the Swiss, who face Latvia.
The Czech Republic host world champions, Germany , another side with a perfect record in the qualifiers so far, and must beat the Germans on Thursday to keep their chances of coming second alive.
It’s really a difficult situation for the Czechs, who face second placed Northern Ireland, who are surely going to pick all three points against San Marino, three days later.
But a win for Die Mannschaft means they will host Norway on Monday with an opportunity to book their place in next year’s event with a win in front of their own fans, as long as Northern Ireland fail to win against the Czechs.
Before the top of the table clash next week Tuesday between Serbia and Iceland, there is this little business Austria and Wales must take care of on Saturday- neither side must lose that game, as it does their chances no favours.
Group leaders, Poland travel to Denmark knowing the have a chance to wrap things as group winners in their next match against Kazakhstan at home on Monday with a win against the Danes.
Montenegro must win against Kazakhstan to keep their hopes of a first ever appearance in the World Cup alive, and are locked in a battle for second with Denmark, with both sides on same points, but the Danes are currently third given their inferior goal difference.
England lead this group, and when it comes down to qualifying matches, they really are an untouchable proposition.
The Three Lions are currently on a run of 35 matches unbeaten, and this run looks set to continue as the travel to take on Malta, who are comfortably sitting bottom of the group with 0points.
In second place is Slovakia, who host Slovenia, just a point behind, in what represents the match of the group.
Thereafter, England will host Slovakia at Wembley on Monday, while Slovenia trade tackles with Lithuania.
This is where it gets tastier and feistier, as this group houses the MATCH OF THE QUALIFIERS IN EUROPE, with two former world champions, Spain and Italy set to make the grass suffer.
It promises to be pulsating, as the battle for who top group H reaches fever pitch when Spain hosts Italy in Madrid on Saturday.
La Roja have not lost a match since 2014, a run of 14 matches, and remain undefeated since Julen Lopetegui took over as manager, a run of ten matches.
For the Azzurris, they are also on a 56-match unbeaten run in both European and World qualifiers, setting up a potential winner-takes-all battle in Madrid, Spain.
Belgium, who remain unbeaten and lead this group host bottom and pointless team, Gibraltar, who are the whipping boys of Group H, having shipped 24 goals in just six matches.
The only drama in this match is that surrounding the omission of Roma midfielder, Radja Nainggolan from the Belgian squad.
But the race for the second spot is actually where it gets dramatic and interesting, as Greece and Bosnia go toe to toe with each other.
Greece host Estonia this weekend, while Bosnia visit Cyprus, with both sides separated by a point and we don’t expect that to change, at least not this weekend.
This happens to be the most open of the groups, after six round of matches, with as many as four teams still within a chance of sealing the automatic spot.
Two points separate Croatia, who sit atop the table, from Ukraine in fourth.
Iceland, bidding for a first ever appearance in the World Cup, after achieving similar feat at the 2016 European Championship, visit Finland, and shouldn’t have a problem improving their chances of at least making the playoffs with a win in that tie.
Leaders, Croatia host bottom nation, Kosovo, while Turkey are away in Ukraine in the clash of the weekend in this particular group.
Then, three days later, it is all to play for when Croatia travel to Turkey, while Iceland host Ukraine.
There you have it, all the matches in Europe this weekend, and next week, but before we go, a reminder of how things work in the European qualifiers.
– Winners of the groups will seal automatic qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia, while the best eight second placed nations progress engage each other a two-leg playoffs to determine the final four teams.
-Results earned against bottom placed teams in the groups will be ignored when selecting the top eight second placed sides.
Which match (es) are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments section below.
Images from @DFB_Team and Selecoes de Portugal/FPF