A total of 18 European teams still have the opportunity to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Five of the UEFA spots have already been filled. Who will join Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland at the sporting world’s grandest carnival?
Keeping up with which teams are in and which teams are out is particularly difficult at this stage in the competition, so let’s break it down.
How it Works
A total of 13 teams progress from nine groups in European qualifying. Once group winners have been decided, the four victors from a total of eight play-off competitors will land themselves a ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
Eight groups are made up of six teams, while one is made up of five. Due to this inconsistency, matches against teams who finish sixth do not count when choosing play-off contenders.
Teams are prioritised for the play-offs in this order: highest number of points, goal difference, goals scored. The worst team in a play-off position is subsequently knocked out. Consider the following table as a mini group, with last place in the worst qualifiers spot, eliminating them from the competition.
Points include deductions for results against current sixth-placed teams.
What Does it All Mean?
Nothing can change in this group. Belgium are already through to the Finals and Croatia confirmed their spot in the play-offs with their 1-0 win over Macedonia. Done and dusted.
Italy comfortably notched up a group win with an unbeaten run heading into the last game. Although the play-off spot can go to Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic or Armenia, it’s likely the team that finishes below Italy will miss out on the play-offs as the second-placed side with the worst record.
Bulgaria currently rank as the worst qualifiers and are three points away from catching Turkey for the eighth play-off place. Although they can beat Czech Republic—and Turkey can certainly lose to the Netherlands—a four goal swing is also needed.
Similar to the Italians, Germany are unbeaten in the competition so far and qualified rather easily. Sweden have confirmed their spot in the play-offs, ensuring there’s little to play for in this section.
There’s plenty to work out in Group D, as Turkey, Romania and Hungary aim to settle behind the Netherlands.
Turkey face the Dutch at home and will be extremely wary of losing. Should this happen, Romania must draw with Estonia to clinch the play-off spot. If both teams fail to win, Hungary can sneak in.
Switzerland can begin preparing for Brazil with a group-topping performance. Second place will be contested between Iceland and Slovenia.
The former just need to beat Norway or match Slovenia’s result in order to guarantee a place in the play-offs. Slovenia must better Iceland's score to advance.
Russia and Portugal are to set to do battle for automatic qualification here, although the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the Russians.
Fabio Capello’s side just need a point in Azerbaijan to top the group. If they lose, Portugal must beat Luxembourg and initiate a seven-goal swing to go through in first.
Both cannot be caught for the top two places in the group.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece can both win this group, with the other gaining a play-off place.
All the Bosnians need to do is equal Greece’s result during their tie with Lithuania. The Euro 2004 winners face Liechtenstein and, should Bosnia-Herzegovina win, must beat their opponents by at least 18 goals to go through in first.
A simple equation for Roy Hodgson: if England beat Poland, they top the group.
Should they fail to do so, all Ukraine need to do is beat San Marino to condemn the Three Lions towards a play-off place. While Montenegro can still go through in second with a win against Moldova, Ukraine would need to lose and a 12-goal swing must happen.
Spain will top the group with a draw against Georgia, while France can win the group if the current world champions lose.
Both teams are guaranteed to be in the top two.
Who will make it through to Brazil? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.