There are a further 89 World Cup qualifying games this month, and we will make positive progress in finding out who will join the hosts in Brazil in a years time. The only certainties are in Asia, where three rounds of fixtures complete the current group stage – that means four names will be confirmed as through to the finals, with Japan expecting to be the first to qualify. The Japanese would have made it in November, but had a minor set back by losing 2-1 in Jordan. They now need one point against Australia in the match at the Saitama Stadium on Tuesday. With two home games to come afterwards, I think the Australians will be more than happy to take a draw if they can. Currently, Australia, South Korea and Uzbekistan may be on their way to Brazil, but just about anyone except Lebanon still have live hopes.
No teams can qualify from Africa, despite 40 matches scheduled on the continent. Each group of four will move up to five games played. As the group winners have to face a knockout round to go through, they cannot qualify this month, or from the final series of group games in September. However, between 20 and 30 of the 40 teams currently in the competition will be knocked out. As the only pointless team so far, Cape Verde Islands are liable to be one of the first to be knocked out, as they need to win all three remaining games to be in with a chance. They do however have home games for the next two Saturdays.
North and Central America are playing a group of six – currently the teams are not spread out after three rounds with five of the nine games so far ending in draws. Another nine games should give some shape to the group even if no one either qualifies or goes out.
To the South, two rounds of fixtures will mean teams have played either 12 or 13 of their 16 game programme. Nearest to being knocked out will be Bolivia as they play twice, while Paraguay may be last in the group but take their match out on the second series. Argentina play Colombia at home, Ecuador away. If they win both their qualification is confirmed, and there will be other combinations that allow them to progress.
Finally, Europe. Some groups, such as Scotland’s Group A are not involved in June. Scotland are the only European team confirmed as non qualifiers, but they could gain some company. Not Malta from Group B – they cannot lose in Armenia and win the group, but they will still be able to make the play off for second. The Faroe Islands have two away games, in Ireland and Sweden. Should they lose both, and Sweden win both their games (they also travel to Austria), then not only are the Faroes out, but so are Kazakhstan who are not playing this month! No games in Group D, so Andorra survive into the Autumn. Everyone in group E plays once, but as everyone already has at least one win, no one can be knocked out this month. While Switzerland should improve their chances by beating Cyprus, the interesting game sees Albania (currently second) at home to Norway. A home win brings up the chances of Albania at least reaching the play offs, but three of their last four games are away. Azerbaijan play Luxembourg on Friday, two teams without a win between them so far – the important game will be Russia’s visit to Portugal. The Russians have four wins out of four, while Portugal have a point less from two more games. Group G is led by Bosnia, who travel to Latvia in their only game this month, Liechtenstein play Slovakia at home, with only one point on the board, (they drew with Latvia in their last game). Still even if they lose and Greece in second place win, Liechtenstein will be only 12 points behind the Greeks, with four games to play. Group I just sees the pair of games between Belarus and Finland. If the Finns win both games, then Belarus cannot qualify. Nothing can be settled in Group H, where San Marino and England do not play. Still the games being played, Moldova v Poland, Montenegro v Ukraine will be analysed with interest here. For both Poland and Ukraine, they are playing a game in hand which would leave them a point behind England if they win. For Montenegro, who like England have already played six, the five point lead a win would give them really puts the pressure on the rest of the group.
Meanwhile, I have been persauded to look closer at the conditions required for San Marino to get through. The best this small and most serene (one of its official titles) republic can achieve is to be level on points with England, and make up the goal difference (currently 47 in England’s favour). They also require that the other teams, except Montenegro who are already beyond their reach not to exceed 12 points. For Poland and Ukraine, this requires that both beat England (otherwise England would have 13 or more), and that they draw with each other – to give each 12 points themselves. So if either Poland or the Ukraine pick up a point on Friday night, this means the Sammarinese are knocked out.