2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers UEFA: Netherlands on brink of elimination while Poland on the cusp of their first World Cup since 2006
We are only a few hours away before the first stage of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers of the UEFA zone enters its final stage with each team needing to play only two matches. So far, only one team has assured its berth in the tournament and that is last edition’s quarter-finalists, Belgium, who confirmed their qualification with a 2-1 win over Greece at Piraeus.
A total of 24 teams have been eliminated from the tournament including Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania who were in Pot 1. With only hours to go before the qualifiers begin, let’s take a look at the chances of the remaining 29 teams and the teams that could qualify for the tournament from each group.
#1. Group A
At one stage, it looked like France could easily take the top spot in this group, but their 2-1 loss against Sweden at Solna in June has resulted in both teams being separated by just one point. France are currently at top spot and provided they win their next two matches, they are through to Russia. With France’s next two opponents being Bulgaria and Belarus, France have booked their place in Russia on paper.
However, if France are not able to register a win in any one game and if Sweden win both their matches, then Sweden would take top spot and France would be pushed to second place provided they do not lose both their matches. In the unlikely event of France losing both their games and Sweden/Netherlands and Bulgaria win both their games, then France could also be ending the group below second place.
A lot of Group A’s fate will depend on the match between Sweden and Netherlands at Amsterdam. Netherlands, who are currently staring at a second successive failed qualification for a major tournament, are in third position, three points behind Sweden.
If the Dutch are to stand a chance of ending the group in first place then they will have to hope that they win both their matches against Sweden and Belarus by a huge margin and France or Bulgaria not being able to register a victory in both their games.
However, if the Oranje are not able to register a win in even one game, then it’s game over for them as their goal difference is quite low compared to France and Sweden. Sweden are almost assured of a play-off spot and there is no doubting that they will thrash Luxembourg at Solna. This should be enough to guarantee them of a play-off due to their superior goal difference.
However, if, in an unlikely event, Sweden lose both their games, France don't lose both their games, and Netherlands win both their games, then the Swedes will be eliminated.
Bulgaria, surprisingly, still have a teeny-tiny possibility of qualifying if they win both their matches against France and Luxembourg and Netherlands and Sweden do not win their final two games.
#2. Group B
The top two spots of Group B have already been taken by Switzerland and Portugal with Hungary, Latvia, Andorra, and Faroe Islands already out. However, there is no certainty that what will be the final positions of Switzerland and Portugal. Portugal’s 2-0 defeat to the Swiss in their opening match has so far been the difference as both teams have gone on to win all their remaining matches.
Portugal may have three points less than Switzerland but they do have a much superior goal difference compared to the Swiss. Switzerland and Portugal play Hungary and Andorra respectively and both sides will be expected to win.
The fate of the group will most likely be decided when Switzerland and Portugal lock horns at Lisbon. The Swiss won at home but given the fact that Portugal will be playing at their home ground and Ronaldo being in top form, they have a pretty good chance of losing. In this event, Portugal will qualify for the World Cup by virtue of a superior goal difference and Switzerland will have to play the play-offs.
Hence, Switzerland will have to win both their matches or hope that Andorra somehow manage to pull off the impossible task of beating Portugal in order to win the group.