Over the next week the final four remining European places in next year’s World Cup will be confirmed as the top 8 runners Group runners all face each other over two legs with the winners progressing through to Russia next Summer.
Northern Ireland will be aiming for their 1st world cup finals since 1986 when they take on Switzerland in Belfast on Thursday 9th Nov, followed up with the return leg in Basel on Sunday the 12th. After finishing 2nd in their group behind World Champions Germany Northern Ireland boss Martian O’Neill is confident his team can back it back to back tournament appearances after his team reached the final 16 at Euro 2016. While Switzerland how are currently ranked 11th in the world only failed to qualify through goal difference after losing 2-0 to Portugal in their final group game.
Neighbour’s the Republic of Ireland who haven’t made the World cup finals since 2002, start their play offs in Copenhagen on Saturday against Denmark before hosting the Danish in Dublin on Tuesday 14th Nov. The Irish needed a 2nd half goal from James McClean against Wales to earned them the victory and the chance to leap frog the Welsh into a playoff position. The Danish missed the 2014 World Cup, but after missing out on automatic qualification to Poland, they will be confident they can secure one of the few remaining places left.
In the other two qualifying match’s four time former World Champions Italy will travel to Stockholm on Friday evening as they were handed a tough draw against Sweden as they look to maintain their record of attending every world cup finals since 1958. Italy hand a torrid time in reaching the play offs which included a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Spain along with a 1-1 home draw with minnows Macedonia. Sweden, finished second in their group behind the French, but despite losing 2-0 to the Netherlands in their final group match, Sweden claimed 2nd spot on goal difference.
The final play off pairing see’s Croatia host Greece in Zagreb on Thursday evening, with the return leg in Pireaus on Sunday. Croatia have plenty of experience in qualifying for major tournaments through the play offs having won all four of their pervious ties and would be considered strong favourites to progress through to Russia. Greece who at 47 in the world rankings are the lowest of all those involved in the play-offs, managed to secure their place coming 2nd to Belgium in group H and will be looking to qualify for their third straight World Cup finals after reaching the knock out stages for the first ever time at Brazil 2014.