The European qualifying phase for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa comes to a close over the next week with six group winners and the identities of several play-off contenders still to be decided.
Spain and England will approach their final two fixtures safe in the knowledge that their place in next summer’s finals is secure, as is the Netherlands’ after they completed their campaign last month, several of the continent’s leading nations still have work to do.
Two of those, Russia and Germany, meet in Moscow on Saturday where a victory for Germany, who lead Russia by a point, would secure qualification from Group 4. Should the spoils be shared or Russia emerge victorious, the section will be resolved on Wednesday when Germany host Finland and Russia are in Azerbaijan.
The top two also meet in Group 1 on Saturday with pacesetters Denmark, who lead the way by three points, playing host to Sweden knowing victory would ensure their progress. A draw or a Swedish success could also open the door for one of Portugal or Hungary, both five points behind Denmark, who play each other in Lisbon the same evening.
In Group 2, Switzerland will qualify if they win in Luxembourg and Greece and Latvia, both three points adrift, cannot be separated in Athens.
Meanwhile, Slovakia will reach their first final tournament since becoming an independent state if they avoid defeat when they play nearest challengers Slovenia in Group 3, while holders Italy also require a point from their match in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland, led by former Azzurri coach Giovanni Trapattoni, to qualify at their opponents’ expense.
France has struggled the whole campaign and they will be left to compete for second spot if they cannot better Serbia’s result in Group 7. France trail Radomir Antić’s squad by four points ahead of their home encounter with the Faroe Islands and Serbia’s meeting with Romania.
Elsewhere, Bosnia-Herzegovina will confirm second place should they match Turkey’s result in Group 5, while Ukraine can move into a play-off spot themselves, above Croatia, if they become the first nation to take three points off Group 6 winners England.
The eight best second-placed teams will contest the play-offs to determine the final four countries who will join the group winners in South Africa. Those matches are scheduled for November 14 and 18. The draw will be conducted at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on October 19.