The qualifying process for the 2018 World Cup that began on March 12, 2015, is reaching its climax with several of the biggest names in world football, are far from certain of their seat on the plane to Russia. Turkey is out of contention after it lost against Iceland 3-0 on Friday, but many nations have everything to play for in their last games. It seems unthinkable, but there is very real chance Lionel Messi will not be at next summer's World Cup in Russia. In South America, the top-four countries in the 10-team round robin league qualify for Russia automatically, with the fifth-place team entering the intercontinental playoffs to play New Zealand. Following Argentina's 0-0 draw against Peru in their penultimate qualifier, Jorge Sampaoli's side currently sits sixth with just one game to play. That means they face missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970. Tonight, Messi and his compatriots travel to Ecuador, with only a win likely to be enough. Peru and Colombia sit fifth and fourth and face off on the final day, with a draw potentially sending both through - depending on how Argentina get on and Chile's result in Brazil. Brazil have already qualified for Russia on 38 points, while Uruguay (28) need just a draw from their final game against Bolivia to advance. Chile are third with Colombia fourth, both with 26 points. Fifth-placed Peru have 25 points, with Argentina one place behind on the same tally. That means a draw will be good enough for Messi's side if Colombia beat Peru and Paraguay fail to win (at home, against last-placed Venezuela). A single point could also see them move above Chile and Colombia as long as both those teams lose by a two-goal margin.
As for the other powerhouse Netherlands, Dick Advocaat's side need to beat Sweden by seven goals in their final qualifier to ensure a playoff berth. A brutally honest Arjen Robben admits Netherlands have no chance of securing the miracle seven-goal victory over Sweden required to book a World Cup playoff berth. However, Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat is refusing to give up the fight.
"The reality is that it will be very difficult, but it's not over yet," Advocaat said. "We have to play another game. It is possible."
The Oranje narrowly avoided elimination with a late 3-1 win in Belarus on Saturday, but the result means they remain little more than a mathematical chance of finishing second in Group A. Sweden earlier romped to an 8-0 rout of Luxembourg to effectively kill off those chances, with Janne Andersson's side boasting a three-point buffer and vastly superior goal difference ahead of their trip to Amsterdam on Tuesday.Elsewhere, Australia will face Syria in the second leg of their Asian World Cup qualifying playoff today. Last week's 1-1 draw in Malaysia, Syria's ‘home' for the qualifiers, means a goalless stalemate at Sydney's Olympic Stadium would be enough to keep alive Australia's hopes of a fourth straight World Cup finals appearance. A 0-0 draw would secure an away goals triumph and an intercontinental playoff against a team from North and Central America in November.