Defining week in World Cup qualifying

DAILY SABAH WITH AFP
ISTANBUL
Published 03.10.2017 20:12
Updated 03.10.2017 20:14
Defining week in World Cup qualifying

As qualifying for the 2018 World Cup reaches its climax, Turkey, third in Group I with 14 points, will play two crucial matches against Iceland and Finland

As qualifying for the 2018 World Cup reaches its climax, The Turkish football leagues will go into an international break this week for the remaining qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup. Turkey, third in Group I with 14 points, will play two crucial matches during the international break. The Crescent-Stars will host second-placed Iceland in Eskişehir Friday, before traveling to lowly Finland for their last group stages match on Oct. 9. With just seven points, the Finns are already out of the contention.

Europe will provide 14 of the 32 competing teams in Russia, the hosts included. But so far only Belgium have punched their ticket to the finals going into the last two sets of fixtures. World champions Germany, who need just a draw in Northern Ireland on Thursday, lead a handful of other sides who can wrap up qualification this week. England are five points clear in Group F, while Serbia are in control of their section and 2010 champions Spain have the edge over Italy in their two-horse race. The nine group winners progress automatically, while all but one of the runners-up advances to the playoff round to determine the final four qualifiers. Portugal, while sure of at least making the playoffs, face a critical final match at home to Switzerland as Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates look to overturn a three-point deficit in Group B. France hold a tentative one-point cushion over Sweden in Group A and will be all too aware of the dangers posed by a trip to Bulgaria, the country responsible for their absence at the 1994 World Cup. Wales forward Gareth Bale has been ruled out of their crucial last two World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Ireland due to a calf injury.

Elsewhere, Brazil secured their place in next year's finals back in March, but three automatic berths remain up for grabs in South America ahead of the final two rounds of qualifying matches. Two-time World Cup champions Argentina haven't missed the tournament since 1970, but five-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi and his compatriots, runners-up in Brazil three years ago, are currently languishing in fifth place. While that would not spell the end of the road for Argentina, instead sending them into a two-legged playoff against New Zealand and even that is far from assured with Copa America holders Chile lurking just a point behind in sixth.

Five places are on offer in Africa, but none as yet have been claimed. Nigeria are closing in on a sixth World Cup appearance, with reigning continental champions Cameroon and Algeria out of the running in a challenging section, but Zambia could still deny the Super Eagles. Tunisia are well positioned to end a 12-year World Cup exile, leading nearest rivals the Democratic Republic of Congo by three points, while Egypt are in control of their destiny.

Iran, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia will represent Asia in Russia next year, but Syria and Australia will attempt to join them via the playoffs. Syria prolonged their fairytale World Cup campaign with a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer in their final group match to set up a double-header against Australia on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10. Mexico will compete at their seventh straight World Cup next summer, with Costa Rica also on the verge of direct qualification. But a third automatic berth is still in play, while the fourth-placed side can also qualify through the inter-continental playoffs. Panama, in third, leads the United States and Honduras by a single point with two rounds of games still to play.

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