World Cup Qualifiers to Watch This Week
Domestic action takes a break in the football world this week as the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup take a front seat once more.
With places up for grabs next year in Brazil and the qualifiers winding down to a finish within the next couple of months, matches will be tighter and as tense as ever for those who expect to reach the finals.
Here are all the most interesting games you should be looking out for around the world, regardless of which qualifying zone you follow.
Asia Round 5 Qualifier Playoff: Jordan vs. Uzbekistan
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We start in Asia, where just two matches remain to decide who has a shot at the final qualifying spot. As per the official FIFA website:
Jordan and Uzbekistan, the two third-placed teams from the two groups in Round 4, will square off for a place in the intercontinental play-off. Jordan will host the first leg on 6 September 2013, with the return leg in Uzbekistan four days later.
These two sides will fight it out over two legs for the right to meet the fifth-placed team from South America's qualifying group, with the winners of that match taking their place in the main event in Brazil.
Uzbekistan, in particular, will be feeling like the victims of hard luck with all this, after missing out on an automatic qualification place in Round 4 by the slimmest of margins. They finished level on points—and games won, drawn and lost—with Korea Republic, only to have an inferior goal difference by a single goal.
UEFA Group C: Ireland vs. Sweden; Germany vs. Austria
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Into Europe and Group C in the UEFA zone, one of the tightest around at this point for the coveted second-place spot, which will yield a playoff opportunity to reach the World Cup next year.
Germany have all but sewn up the automatic spot after winning five of their six games, but Austria, Sweden and Ireland are all level on 11 points with four matches left to play.
The big clash of the week is therefore Ireland vs. Sweden, with the Swedes currently enjoying a better goal difference and the Irish having home-field advantage for this fixture. The game is likely to have a massive outcome on the final standings, and both teams will probably be boosted by a defeat for their other rivals, Austria.
Austria visit Germany and take with them the best defensive record in the group, but it will take an almighty effort to keep out the second-highest scorers in all of Europe during these qualifiers.
UEFA Group H: England vs. Moldova; Ukraine vs. San Marino
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Still in Europe and into Group H, this is the round of fixtures for fans of high-scoring international matches to watch.
England and Ukraine are both hoping to reach the finals next year one way or another, but for this bout of games, they don't have too much to worry about in terms of high-quality opposition.
England face a home game against Moldova, whom they beat 5-0 in the return fixture, while Ukraine host San Marino, who have so far shipped 29 goals in six games and are without a point or a goal scored themselves.
Sit back and enjoy the entertainment—unless you're Moldovan or from San Marino, of course.
Africa Group D: Ghana vs. Zambia; Group F: Nigeria vs. Malawi
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Over to Africa now, where the most important games are ready to be played, as the CAF region moves into its final round of matches in the last group stage.
The 10 winners of the 10 groups will progress to a final playoff round, with the winners going to the World Cup, so there's everything to play for over the next few days.
Some of the biggest footballing nations have still not sealed their path to the playoff round, meaning positive results are vital.
In Group D, Ghana play at home to Zambia, needing to avoid defeat to finish top of the group. Zambia have no option but to win away from home if they want a shot at reaching Brazil next summer. The away team are boosted by being the only unbeaten side in Group D, but it will be a tough ask to win in Ghana.
Group F provides a similar scenario with Nigeria playing at home to Malawi, needing just a point to ensure top spot. Both teams are unbeaten throughout this group phase, but Malawi have struggled to score goals to win games. They've won one and drawn four of their five matches so far and will be considered underdogs to steal first place.
Africa Group I: Cameroon vs. Libya; Group J: Senegal vs. Uganda
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Staying in Africa for the other two all-important games, Group I sees Cameroon play at home to Libya.
Libya are another undefeated nation in this group stage, but they need to go even better and win the match in Yaounde if they are to finish top, while Cameroon need just a point to secure their passage to the playoffs.
Finally, Group J offers up Senegal vs. Uganda as the big game to watch, once more with the home side only needing a draw. They will be favourites to finish top of the group, having scored more and conceded fewer goals than any other side in Group J—and they have home advantage.
CONCACAF: Costa Rica vs. USA; Mexico vs. Honduras
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Over into CONCACAF now, where first plays second in the Hexagonal. Costa Rica and USA will do battle in San Jose, probably in slightly better conditions than they had for the reverse fixture in March (pictured).
Just two points separate the two nations at this point, with the United States having risen to the top of the group following three wins in as many fixtures. Costa Rica have won three of their last four games, though, so it should be a fascinating clash between two in-form sides.
Three automatic spots for the World Cup are up for grabs in this section, with fourth place having to face a playoff, so the race for third is equally intriguing.
Mexico and Honduras are the teams occupying those places at present. The two will meet in Mexico City, where the home side will have to finally start turning their draws into victories to cement their place in the top three spots.
CONMEBOL: Peru vs. Uruguay; Colombia vs. Ecuador
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We finish up our roundup of games to watch this week in South America, where the finals themselves will be held next summer.
The two biggest games of intrigue are Peru vs. Uruguay and Colombia vs. Ecuador.
While the latter match is merely a battle to see who is likely to end up in second place in the group—the top four qualify automatically—it will also give us a chance to match up two of CONMEBOL's participants at next year's event against each other.
With Argentina not playing, a big-score victory for Colombia could also put them top for a time.
The other game is far more pertinent, in that Uruguay currently occupy fifth place. The team that finishes in that spot must compete in a playoff against the final side from the Asia zone.
Venezuela sit level on points with Uruguay, and Peru are just two points further back, so this will be a game of paramount importance in deciding whether Uruguay take a big step toward that playoff match, or if Peru are serious contenders.
Just three rounds of games remain after this one, making it a must-win for Peru and, at worst, a must-avoid-defeat for Uruguay.