6 Things to Look out for During the Upcoming 2014 World Cup Qualifiers
Many fans bemoan international football breaking up their club's rhythm, but the upcoming round of qualifiers has got just about everyone nervous, excited or worried in some way.
Simply put, it's crunch time: If you want to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil next summer, you need to perform over the next seven days.
We preview the European, African, Central American and South American zones and pick out key factors in each area.
The Belgium-Benteke Debacle
Belgium can secure qualification to the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a draw against Croatia at the Stadion Maksimir on Friday, October 11.
That will render their second match of the international break—against Wales—a non-factor, and would allow Marc Wilmots to experiment a little with his lineup and avoid playing ailed players.
Villa manager Paul Lambert has told the Red Devils he won't be happy if his star man is returned broken, after relaxing his stance of blocking him from flying out, per The Birmingham Mail.
Group H: Wide Open
England face a difficult, nervy week as they host Montenegro and Poland at home in a bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
On the night the Three Lions take on Montenegro, Ukraine host Poland. If Mykhaylo Fomenko's troops claim victory over Robert Lewandowski and company, Roy Hodgson's men must beat the White Eagles four days later to make it to Brazil.
Essentially, each of England, Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro enter the final round of qualifying knowing two wins could well see them hit the playoffs—at a minimum. Tense stuff.
The Upper Hand
October 15 will see the first leg of Ghana vs. Egypt played—a playoff tie that represents the creme de la creme of African nations football.
Both teams will be vying for an early upper hand, as usual, but there's added spice in the form of a dispute over the venue for the second leg the following month.
According to Gulf News, the Black Stars are uncomfortable with the political tensions in and around Cairo and Alexandria, and have asked for the second match to be played at a "neutral" venue.
That's hardly delighted the Egyptian Football Association, and this gargantuan tie just got even feistier.
The U.S. national team, Costa Rica and Honduras look set to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup automatically, but just beneath them in the table, a dogfight ensues between Mexico and Panama for a playoff spot.
Both teams have accrued eight points so far and play each other in Mexico City on October 11.
Mexico then travel to San Jose to take on a stubborn Costa Rica side, while Panama host the USMNT in the final round of group games.
It's a competitive setup, and the game between the two rivals will go a long way to deciding who clinches that all-important fourth spot. The winner could qualify with only a draw in their final game.
South American Variables
Perhaps the most exciting viewing will be found in the western southern hemisphere, as the CONMEBOL round-robin phase reaches a thrilling conclusion.
Argentina are without Lionel Messi, but that won't matter, as they've already qualified automatically for the 2014 World Cup after losing just one competitive game in the past two years.
Ecuador play Uruguay, both level on 22 points and vying for the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot in the table. The winner will enjoy a similar advantage to that of the Panamanian-Mexican situation, as a final-day draw will be all that's required to advance this month.
Barring a miracle, Venezuela cannot reach Brazil next year, which essentially makes it a straight shootout. Intriguing.
Can Bosnia & Herzegovina Stay Perfect?
Bosnia & Herzegovina have to remain perfect and win their final two remaining games if they wish to stave off the threat of Greece in Group G, with both sides locked at the top on 19 points.
Fernando Santos' side aren't going to outscore anyone given the fact they've only netted nine in eight games, and Edin Dzeko and company must keep their focus.
You can forgive the players for feeling a little giddy—BIH have never been to a World Cup before—and Santos' seasoned veterans will be waiting to pounce on any mistakes.