France - Portugal struggling to finalize qualifying for World Cup 2018

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

By Andrew Ryan
BETCRIS soccer Betting qualifying for World Cup 2018

There's still four matches left to be played in World Cup qualifying in Europe, but there are already some teams that have to be wondering if they're ultimately actually going to get to Russia or not.

Hugo Lloris probably made the dumbest play of the entire World Cup qualifying campaign for France while playing at Sweden a few weeks ago. The French had battled the Swedes to a 1-1 tie over the course of 93 minutes. In the 94th minute, Lloris tried clearing a ball well up the field to give Les Bleus one more chance to break the tie. Instead, the ball was cleared to Ola Toivonen, who ultimately blasted one from long range to given Sweden all three points.

The moment might prove crucial. Both of these teams are now on 13 points at the top of Group A, and Sweden has the advance with a +8 goal differential, two goals ahead of France. The French should sweep through their last four matches at home against the Netherlands, Belarus and Luxembourg and away to Bulgaria, but Sweden could plausibly finish things up with 12 straight points, too. The Swedes are home to Luxembourg and away to the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Belarus.

The road is going to be tough for Sweden to stay at the top of this group, but at least for the time being, the French have to be sweating that they might be cast into a home-and-home series against another second place team to get into the World Cup.

Portugal is another team that could be in some trouble. A Seleccao have 15 points in six fixtures, three fewer than perfect Switzerland, a team that has swept through all six of its matches with just three goals allowed. The Swiss still have to travel to Portugal on October 10, but that's the last qualifying match. Before them, Switzerland is home to Andorra, away to Latvia and home to Hungary, and there shouldn't be a drop in that group. If Portugal gives up anything against the Faroe Islands at home, Hungary away or Andorra at home (and it probably won't), it will be off to the home-and-home series.

Germany, Poland and Belgium are all right on the cusp of wrapping up their World Cup berths, but there are still some really good battles that are ensuing across the rest of the continent.

Serbia and Ireland are both sitting on 12 points with three wins and three draws in their matches in Group D. This group is still wide open, particularly with Wales and Austria sitting there with eight points and still within striking distance. Any of these four teams could win or finish second in this group.

Montenegro and Denmark appear to be headed towards a decisive clash on October 5 in Podgorica that could determine who will finish second to Poland in Group E. Both teams are on 10 points through six fixtures.

England will probably be alright, but the fact that the Three Lions can't put away Slovakia and Slovenia might be telling for its future next year in Russia. England still plays both teams at home, Slovakia in September and Slovenia in October, and if these matches end up being tricky, things could get interesting. Slovenia and Slovakia have a big match against each other on September 1 that could separate these two teams for second place.

But the biggest match of all will be in Spain on September 2. Spain and Italy are both legitimate World Cup contenders, and they're both on 16 points. Neither figure to drop a match along the way to get to this point, and if that remains the case, Italy will have to go for broke against Spain to try to get three points. Anything less, and La Roja will be off to Russia, while Italy will be cast into one of the home-and-home playoffs.

The most competitive group is at the bottom of the table in Group I. Croatia and Iceland each have 13 points, while Turkey and Ukraine both have 11. The Croats figure to have the easiest route, knowing that they still have home matches against both Finland and Kosovo, both of whom have been eliminated from the World Cup already. But anything can still happen in this group, including the possibility of the second place team ultimately not having enough points to reach the second round of qualifying.

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