Friday 11 October 2013
A total of 195 players from the Barclays Premier League will be involved on international duty over the next four days with qualification for next year's FIFA World Cup reaching the critical stage.
The penultimate round of UEFA qualifying matches gets under way on Friday night with 155 players from the English top-flight hoping to be involved for their European countries. Although Italy and the Netherlands are already through, there remain 29 teams still chasing the seven automatic qualifying places and eight play-off slots.
Guaranteed at least UEFA play-off: Belgium, Germany
Guaranteed top-two finish: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Greece, Spain
Able to win group: England, Iceland, Israel, Montenegro, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine
Able to reach play-offs: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Turkey
Boasting 12 players from the Barclays Premier League - the third-most of any nation - Belgium are flying high in the section and leading second-placed Croatia by five points. Les Diables Rouges, featuring the likes of Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini, Tottenham Hotspur's Jan Vertonghen and Chelsea's Eden Hazaerd, need only a draw from the trip to Zagreb, while Croatia must beat Belgium and Scotland four days later, while also hoping Belgium lose at home to Wales on Tuesday if they are to avoid the play-offs.
Croatia v Belgium, 5pm
Wales v FYR Macedonia, 7.45pm
Italy's unassailable seven-point advantage has already sealed their appearance at the Brazil finals, so second-placed Bulgaria are hoping to keep Denmark, a point back and hosts to the Azzurri tonight, at arm's length. Nicklas Bendtner is likely to spearhead the Danes attack tonight, but his Arsenal team-mate Tomas Rosicky has been excused international duty by the Czech Republic, who like and Armenia are three points further back. Denmark will hope that wins against Italy and Malta can lift them into second and a possible play-off.
Germany lie five points clear of Sweden, who fought back to draw 4-4 in Berlin last October, but their superior goal difference means a draw at home to the Republic of Ireland should suffice even if Sweden beat Austria and then Germany in their closing fixtures. Austria are three points behind Sweden with a better goal difference, so a win for Stoke's Marko Arnautovic and compatriots, followed by a victory in the Faroe Islands, would leave them second. Ireland, three points further back, have it all to do, as they must beat both Germany and Kazakhstan, and hope Sweden lose both matches and that Austria are defeated in the Faroes, to steal second place.
Faroe Islands v Kazakhstan, 6pm
Germany v Republic of Ireland, 7.45pm
Sweden v Austria, 7.45pm
Eight points clear at the summit the Netherlands are comfortably through, with Hungary lying second in a tight group in which both Turkey and Romania lurk a point behind. Hungary travel to the low countries on Friday before playing Andorra, so there is still hope for Turkey, who have the best goal difference of the three contenders for second spot.
Netherlands v Hungary, 7.30pm
Andorra v Romania, 7.30pm
Estonia v Turkey, 7.30pm
Switzerland lead by five points a section from which only Cyprus have so far been eliminated. Gylfi Sigurdsson's Iceland are second, with Slovenia, Norway and Albania all positioned at further one-point intervals. A superior Swiss goal difference means they will qualify with two points from their matches in Albania and at home to Slovenia. Iceland know that wins against Cyprus and in Norway would mean, at worst, second place.
Iceland v Cyprus, 7.45pm
Albania v Switzerland, 7.30pm
Slovenia v Norway, 7.45pm
Russia lead Portugal by a point with Israel a five further behind leaving the leaders, who travel to Luxembourg before facing Azerbaijan, comfortably placed. Portugal host Israel and then second-bottom Luxembourg.
Luxembourg v Russia, 7.30pm
Portugal v Israel, 8.45pm
Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland, 5pm
Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece are neck and neck at the top of the section but Edin Dzeko's side boast a better goal difference of 15, and a first-ever qualification should be theirs provided they win at home to Liechtenstein and in Lithuania. Unless Greece can beat Slovakia and Liechtenstein by enough to overturn their goal difference deficit, they need Bosnia and Herzegovina to drop points to avoid the play-offs.
Lithuania v Latvia, 4.30pm
Bosnia-Herzegovina v Liechtenstein, 7pm
Greece v Slovakia, 7.45pm
England's draw in leaves them them a point above Ukraine and Montenegro, with Poland two further points back. Home successes against Montenegro and Poland would be enough for Roy Hodgson's charges to win the group. Ukraine, whose goal difference is eight better than Montenegro's but seven short of England's, welcome Poland and visit San Marino. On the concluding day, Montenegro face Moldova knowing that if they have won in England, another victory would at least ensure a top-two finish.
Moldova v San Marino, 5pm
England v Montenegro, 8pm
Ukraine v Poland, 7pm
It's tight at the top in a group led by Spain from France on goal difference, although the world and European champions, for whom Swansea City's Michu earned a recent call-up, have two matches left to play, compared to France's one. With no other side in the five-team group in contention, Vicente del Bosque's charges will qualify with four points at home to Belarus and Georgia.
Spain v Belarus, 9pm
With Argentina having already booked their short trip to Brazil, it is left to the chasing pack to battle it out for the top-four qualifying berths in this penultimate qualifying round. Colombia, who lie three points off the top, can join Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Fabriocio Coloccini's side by avoiding defeat against a third-placed Chile side boasting Manchester United's Angelo Henriquez in attack and Cardiff City's Gary Medel in midfield. In the event of a Chile victory, Jorge Sampaoli's charges and Colombia could both qualify on Friday if the Ecuador-Uruguay match does not end in a draw.
Perhaps the most intriguing tie of the section, however, finds Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Gaston Ramirez bound for the high altitude of Quito, where Uruguay are hoping to leapfrog an Ecuador side unbeaten at home this campaign. The two nations are level on 22 points and though Ecuador are four points better off on goal difference they are four qualifiers without a win and not beaten Uruguay at home since 1998.
Elsewhere, the only other side harbouring hopes of finishing fith to earn a play-off against Jordan are Venezuela, who must beat Paraguay at home next week and hope that either Ecuador or Uruguay lose their last two matches.
Colombia v Chile, 10pm
Ecuador v Uruguay, 10pm
Venezuela v Paraguay, 10pm
Argentina v Peru, midnight
United States and Costa Rica are already through and Honduras can join them for what would be their third World Cup if they beat Costa Rica and Panama manage a draw against fifth-placed Mexico. Should Honduras succumb to a side captained by Fulham's Bryan Ruiz then Mexico, for whom Manchester United's Javier Hernandez leads the line, can still qualify by overcoming Panama and Costa Rica and hoping Honduras lose their final match to Jamaica.
Honduras v Costa Rica, 10pm
USA v Jamaica, 11.36pm
Mexico v Panama, 2.30am
African World Cup qualifying has reached the play-off stage already with 10 teams vying for five places over the course of two legs, the first of which takes place on Saturday. Premier League stars to watch out for include Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and club-mate Victor Moses, who is on a season-long loan at Liverpool, representing Nigeria against Ethiopia, while the Londoners' August signing Samuel Eto'o has returned from international retirement to play for Cameroon against Tunisia.
Perhaps the stand-out tie pits Ivory Coast against Senegal. The Ivorians have called up Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, his brother and Liverpool defender Kolo, Newcastle United's Chieck Tiote and Wilfried Bony, of Swansea, while the Lions of Hospitality welcome back Magpies striker Papiss Cisse and West Ham United's Mohamed Diame to the fold.
Play-off first legs
Burkina Faso v Algeria, 5pm
Ivory Coast v Senegal, 6pm
Ethipia v Nigeria, 2pm
Tunisia v Cameroon, 6pm
Ghana v Egypt, 5pm
There are three friendly matches taking place over the next three days with Newcastle's quartet of Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko, Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy among 11 Barclays Premier League players to have earned call-ups to the France side who host Australia at Parc des Princes. Also on Friday Serbia take on Japan, while on Saturday five more players from the English top-flight will represent Brazil against South Korea. The include Chelsea trio Oscar, David Luiz and Ramires.
Serbia v Japan, 4.30pm
France v Australia, 8pm
South Korea v Brazil