With the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil now just nine months away, competing nations now find themselves at the business end of their respective qualifying campaigns that are beginning to take real shape following the early season international break.
Holland, Italy, Argentina, Costa Rica and the USA all clinched their places at next summer’s tournament over the past week whilst many more moved ever closer to securing their fate.
England indeed kept their destiny in their own hands on Tuesday evening with a hard fought 0-0 draw in Ukraine which followed a 4-0 drubbing of Moldova at Wembley last Friday.
Although the Three Lions were far from impressive at times, they essentially came away with the result that was needed ahead of their remaining two qualifications matches against Montenegro and Poland, which are both at home next month.
Victories in both of those ties will see Roy Hodgson’s side top Group H and qualify for the finals however a slip up is likely to mean a nail biting play-off as Ukraine are still waiting to pounce in second – and they have the luxury of a final game against rags San Marino to come.
Germany, fancied by many to go all the way at next year’s championship, all but booked their spot in the finals with 3-0 wins over Austria and Faroe Islands – leaving them needing just one point from their last two matches to make absolutely certain of their inclusion, whilst Sweden look set for the runners up berth in Group C following close successes against Republic of Ireland and Kazakhstan.
Russia’s tussle with Portugal continues at the top of Group F and it’s Fabio Capello’s outfit who lead the way by one point with two games remaining after victories against Luxembourg and Israel.
Portugal will be fancied to win their final two matches against the teams which Russia beat over the last week; however it will be a tall order for them to overhaul their rivals who have easy looking fixtures themselves against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan to come.
Elsewhere in Europe, potential World Cup dark horses Belgium put themselves within touching distance of Brazil 2014 with a superb 0-2 triumph in Scotland, leaving Marc Wilmot’s men just one point shy of definite qualification for what will be the nation’s first major competition in twelve years.
And Spain stayed on course to be able to defend their title with success in Finland however France, who have now played one game extra, applied some real pressure to their Iberian adversaries with a comeback win in Belarus.
Meanwhile in South America, Chile thrashed Venezuela 3-0 to stay firmly in contention for automatic qualification ahead of fifth placed team Uruguay who boosted their prospects with wins over Peru and Colombia.
However, should the inaugural World Cup champions remain where they are, they will face a two-legged play-off for the finals against Jordan, who surprisingly ousted Uzbekistan on penalties in the AFC play-off clash.