Breaking Down Europe's 2014 World Cup Qualifying Standings After Friday's Action
Friday's World Cup qualifying action saw a spat of important and enthralling European matches.
As a result, the standings in UEFA's nine groups saw a few shake-ups that could influence the participants in next summer's tournament.
In an attempt to understand the meaning of Friday's results, let's analyze the latest standings in each of the groups and how each team stands in them.
As a quick reminder, the top team in each group automatically advances to the World Cup in Brazil, while the top eight second-place teams enter into a two-legged tie to determine the final four entrants.
Without further ado, here is a breakdown of Europe's 2014 World Cup qualifying standings after Friday's qualifiers.
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Croatia's shocking 1-0 loss to Scotland in Zagreb allowed Belgium to open up a lead at the top of the group.
Meanwhile, Belgium's victory over Serbia has all but destroyed any team's hope of breaking into the top two spots in the group.
As was previously the case, the way the group plays out will likely be decided by the October match between Croatia and Belgium in Split.
However, given the results of Friday's matches, Croatia will need a win.
Further, given the difference in goal differential between the two teams, Croatia will also need to pick up some goals over the next three matches if they hope to get the automatic qualifying spot.
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Italy's draw with the Czech Republic Friday didn't separate the Italians from the rest of the group as they hoped it would have.
Instead, it brought the Czechs a bit closer to the top two while cracking the door slightly for an Italian collapse.
One cannot forget the Danes, though, who are a match behind the top three teams and thus still in striking distance.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the table, Malta staved off elimination with a rare victory at Armenia.
While it is highly unlikely that the Maltans will make any challenge toward the top of the table, they have given themselves the opportunity to get out of the cellar with another good result.
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The race for second place behind Germany took quite a twist Friday, with Austria defeating Sweden 2-1 in Vienna.
The result has put Sweden behind the eight ball, as the Swedes now sit in fourth and in need of a win to climb back into contention.
Meanwhile, Ireland's 3-0 victory against the Faroe Islands was important to keep pace, but the Irish could have used a few more goals in order to catch up to Austria in goal differential.
There is still quite a bit left to happen in this race, with all three teams still left to play each of the others.
Hence, this one is just too close to call.
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There were no matches in Europe's Group D on Friday, but the group is still worth talking about.
The Netherlands has been perfect so far, winning every match and building a solid lead. Looking at the standings, there is little chance that the Dutch do not finish at the top of the group and automatically qualify for Brazil.
After that, though, the race gets a lot tighter.
Hungary and Romania sit within a point of each other for the second spot and the probable playoff bid that comes with it.
Meanwhile, a dangerous Turkish team lurks beneath those two, while an Estonia team that finished second in their group at Euro 2012 could still make some noise.
The top of the group may be all but decided, but the race for second is still very much up for grabs.
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In what is probably the weakest group in European qualifying, every spot seems up for grabs at this point.
Switzerland look the most likely to win this group, with a lead atop the group along with a match in hand on the teams around them.
Meanwhile, Friday's results have allowed Albania to shockingly move into the playoff spot, even though they gave up a late equalizer to Norway.
Further down, Slovenia's thrilling 4-2 victory at Iceland gave them hope of coming back from the cellar and qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup.
On the other side, Iceland fell out of the top two and are in need of a few good results to get back to where they were.
Even Cyprus, with its match in hand, is not out of this group just yet.
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Portugal's 1-0 victory over Russia Friday propelled them to the top of the table.
However, the Russians are still in prime position, sitting just two points back with two matches in hand.
Further, Israel is lurking behind Portugal, just three points back with a match in hand. In fact, due to their superior goal differential, if Israel should win their match in hand, they would pass Portugal.
Hence, the race for second probably hinges on the match between Portugal and Israel in October.
However, while the Russians are big favorites to qualify automatically, one shouldn't write off the tiny chance that they might miss out.
After all, their loss to Portugal on Friday put huge pressure on them, which has caused them quite a bit of trouble in the recent past.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina continued their dominance in the group Friday, defeating Latvia 5-0.
Meanwhile, a 1-0 win over Lithuania allowed Greece to keep within touching distance of their main rival.
Slovakia, on the other hand, was forced to fight for a draw with Liechtenstein, a result that put some distance between them and the top two.
Bosnia holds all the cards right now and will likely finish atop the group, while Greece now look likely to book a spot in the playoffs.
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When Montenegro drew England a few months ago, the feeling was that the Montenegrans were establishing themselves as a force in the group.
Friday's 4-0 loss at home to 10-man Ukraine, though, opened up the top of this group.
England now has the opportunity to pass Montenegro by winning their match in hand, while Ukraine is putting massive pressure on both teams.
Further down, Poland's draw with Moldova is an obvious disappointment, as the Polish team missed the opportunity to gain ground.
Both top spots are well and truly up for grabs in this group.
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While Spain and France are the obvious favorites to finish in the two top spots in this group, Finland has given themselves every chance at challenging them.
The Finns' 1-0 victory over Belarus has them just five points behind France with a match in hand.
While it seems highly unlikely that they will be able to catch either of the top two teams, Finland will take great pride from and hope to build upon their performances in this qualifying campaign, especially their 1-1 draw at Spain.
And who knows, maybe Finland can get to its final match at France with qualification still on the line.