Scotland’s huge encounter with Israel headlines weekend of crucial World Cup qualifiers
Scotland are one win from an almost certain play-off spot
After midweek Nations League action, it’s the Fifa World Cup qualifiers which take centre-stage again from Friday night onwards.
In Europe it’s a key weekend, with several groups already looking set in terms of the group winners – but some huge matches taking place among the teams behind them, battling it out for second place and a play-off spot.
Here are all the big matches to watch out for, starting with Steve Clarke’s men and their enormous opportunity.
Win and almost-in for Scotland
It cannot be understated just how big the win over Austria was in the last international break.
The Tartan Army still have four qualifying matches to play in the group, but they are effectively one win – this win – from a play-off spot.
If they beat third-place Israel, they’ll have a four-point buffer with three to play, with the first two of those againt Faroe Islands and Moldova. Surely, surely, they’d win both of those and in so doing, secure a play-off place in second.
Another major tournament beckons after so long without one prior to Euro 2020, but the Hampden Park clash on Saturday with Israel is as big a must-win match as any.
Finland or Ukraine?
Over in Group D, it’s looking very much like one out of two, which makes Saturday evening’s encounter between Finland and Ukraine a winner-takes-all event.
They are both on five points, Finland having played a game fewer, Ukraine unbeaten after bizarrely drawing all five so far. The positive for the eastern European nation is that they have already played the group’s top side, France, twice.
Finland can rightly feel confident after drawing the reverse game, and a win takes them three points clear with a game in hand – but lose and they’ll quickly find themselves out of the running with only eight matches apiece in this group.
Two from three in tight Group G
Netherlands, Norway and Turkey are all separated by just two points here, so top spot as well as the play-off place is very much up for grabs.
Friday night should see some of that cluster separated a little, with the Dutch having a big chance to break clear – they are away to Latvia, fifth in the group – while the other two nations face each other in Istanbul.
Earlier in the group, Turkey beat Norway 3-0 away from home – but since then they’ve drawn with Netherlands, who hammered Turkey 6-1, so…your guess is as good as ours which way this will all turn out.
In the footsteps of Lions
In Group I, England are well clear and all but there to Qatar 2022, but Albania, Poland and Hungary are all in the hunt for second.
The latter are the hosts against Albania this weekend and the loser there will almost certainly be out of the running, given Poland face whipping boys San Marino.
Hungary impressed with their determination and capacity to match the big nations at Euro 2020, but were rather less admirable – abhorrent, in fact, and rightly punished – with their in-stadium behaviour during the match against England.
Must-not-lose for Wales
We finish with another of the home nations and Wales’ big match, as they face Czech Republic on Friday night.
It’s less of a must-win encounter for them because they are away, already beat the Czechs at home and have played one match fewer, but they certainly don’t want to lose it.
The two nations are level on seven points, well adrift of Belgium and basically fighting it out for second. A draw serves a purpose for Wales, regardless of how it is achieved on this occasion – anything more and they’ll be a huge step closer to a play-off place.
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