As the qualification process for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia reaches its conclusion, Eight teams have already booked their places in Russia, including the hosts, who qualify automatically.
Five-time winners Brazil have joined the already qualified Mexico, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Japan and South Korea. That leaves 24 of the 32 places still open.No team from Africa qualified yet, but Nigeria is just a match away from qualifying.
In Europe, Belgium became the first European nation to qualify (apart from hosts Russia) when they defeated Greece 2-1 in the last round of games, giving them an unassailable lead at the top of Group H with two matches to spare with eight spots as group winners still up for grabs, as well as the playoff places for the eight best runners-up.
France lead the way in Group A – where they sit top on 16 points, one ahead of Sweden in second and four ahead of the Netherlands in third.
Switzerland are top on of Group B with 24 points ahead of European champions Portugal who are three points behind.
The Swiss take on Hungary at home on Saturday and Portugal play Andorra away the same day, before the pair meet in Portugal in a crunch final game match-up
World champions and Confederations Cup winners Germany are are five points clear at the top of Group C. Germany are widely expected to seal top spot with a challenge from Northern Ireland.
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In Group D, Serbia are clear in first on 18 points, ahead of Wales who are a point ahead of Republic of Ireland in third. Serbia face Austria and Georgia in their last group games, on Friday and Monday respectively.
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In Group E, Poland sit top on 19 points from their eight matches played, ahead of Montenegro and Denmark, who are three points behind in second and third respectively. The pair meet on Thursday in Podgorica in a crucial game.
England are clear favorites in Group F and need just one win from their final two group games to ensure automatic qualification.
Former World Cup winners Spain and Italy are battling for top spot in Group G, although the Spaniards are in the ascendency after their recent win over their rivals and lead the group on 22 points, three clear of Italy.
Belgium have already wrapped up Group H, but the battle for second spot is very much on between Bosnia-Herzegovina, currently in second on 14 points, and Greece, who are a point behind.
The Group I finale could be the most intriguing of all. Croatia and Euro 2016 heroes Iceland are level-pegging at the top on 16 points, two ahead of Turkey and Ukraine.
In Asia, the group stage has already concluded in Asia, where Iran and Japan have booked their places in Russia as winners of their respective groups, while South Korea and Saudi Arabia claimed automatic spots as runners-up.
Qualifying in Africa doesn’t wrap up until November, although a round of games on October 6-8 could see current group leaders Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Egypt claim spots in Russia.
Plucky Cape Verde are also in with a chance, and lie second on goal difference behind Burkina Faso in their group. The Cape Verdeans could become the smallest team to reach the World Cup. They face a showdown at home against Senegal on Saturday, before wrapping up their qualifying campaign away against Burkina Faso in what could be a qualification decider on November 6.
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In South America
Brazil have already qualified for Russia 2018 as winners of the South American qualifying group, but continental giants Argentina and Chile are under major pressure to secure one of the remaining three automatic spots for Russia 2018.
The final group games on October 5 and 10 will determine who secures the three automatic spots behind Brazil, and who has to settle for fifth place and face an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. Uruguay, Colombia, and Peru currently occupy second to fourth spots respectively, with Argentina in fifth and Chile in sixth.
North America, Central America and the Caribbean
Mexico have already qualified, thanks to their 1-0 win over Panama in the last round. However, the remaining two automatic berths are open, as is fourth spot, which books a place in an intercontinental playoff against the winners of the Syria-Australia clash.
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