The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have clinched berths from Europe for next year’s World Cup by winning their qualifying groups and four more spots will be decided Tuesday on the last day of group play. Sweden and Croatia are assured of spots in the playoffs, which feature eight of the nine second-place teams and will determine four more berths. Six more nations will earn berths in the Oct. 21 draw.
Five things to know about Tuesday’s European qualifiers:
ONE POINT ENOUGH FOR SPAIN
Barring a major upset, Spain will be defending its world title next summer in Brazil.
The Spanish (5-0-2), who also are the reigning European champions, need just a point from their home match against Georgia to secure the top spot in Group I ahead of France (4-1-2).
Les Bleus must beat Finland (2-2-3) at home and hope Georgia (1-4-2) can pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent qualifying history for Spain to drop into the playoffs.
“They will play very defensively. But the truth is that while we often have trouble in those types of games, very few times do they escape us,” said Spain striker Alvaro Negredo, whose team needed an 86th-minute goal from Roberto Soldado to edge Georgia 1-0 in their first meeting.
A REPEAT OF 1973?
It was and forever will be one of the most painful episodes in the history of England’s national team.
In 1973, England needed to beat Poland at Wembley Stadium in its final World Cup qualifier to advance to the following year’s tournament in West Germany, but could only draw 1-1 after an extraordinary goalkeeping performance from Poland’s Jan Tomaszewski.
The same scenario presents itself 40 years later.
With second-place Ukraine (5-1-3) expected to defeat San Marino in its last group game, England (5-0-4) likely will have to beat the already-eliminated Poles (3-2-4) to win Group H and avoid the playoffs.
A WORLD CUP WITHOUT CRISTIANO RONALDO?
Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo are still unsure of a World Cup berth.
Russia (7-2) leads Group F by three points over the Portuguese (5-1-3), so a Russian win or draw at Azerbaijan (1-3-5) would leave Portugal with a playoff berth no matter its result at home against Luxembourg (1-5-3).
“We have no feeling of euphoria because we have not qualified yet,” Russia defender Dmitry Kombarov said.
Ronaldo is suspended for Tuesday’s game for yellow-card accumulation after receiving a caution in the 90th minute Friday against Israel
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA ON VERGE OF FIRST MAJOR TOURNEY
Since gaining independence in 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina hasn’t qualified for a major tournament despite those near misses in the playoffs against Portugal.
That could change.
Bosnia and Greece are both 7-1-1 in Group G, but Bosnia has a plus-23 goal difference to Greece’s plus-6 and would clinch with a win at Lithuania (3-4-2). Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko has 10 goals in qualifying, one behind European leader Robin van Persie of the Netherlands.
BATTLE FOR SECOND
It’s likely Portugal, France and Ukraine will be joining Sweden and Croatia in the playoffs on Nov. 15 and 19.
In Group B, four teams could mathematically finish second, although Bulgaria (3-2-4) is favored if it beats the Czech Republic (3-3-3) at home. Third-place Denmark is even on points with Bulgaria, but trails by seven on goal difference going into its home match against Malta (1-8).
As of now, the Group B second-place team is the likely one to miss the playoffs.
In Group D, Turkey and Romania are both 5-3-1 and second to the Netherlands. Turkey is ahead by four in goal difference but finishes at home against the Dutch (8-0-1). Romania is home against Estonia (2-6-1).
In Group E, Iceland (5-3-1) has a one-point lead over Slovenia (5-4) for second behind Switzerland. Iceland is at Norway (3-4-2) and Slovenia travels to Switzerland.MORE IN Sports WireA grand jury will decide whether NASCAR driver Tony Stewart will be charged in the August death... Full Story
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