The European World Cup Qualifying campaign overlaps the halfway stage this weekend and there are some crucial fixtures lying ahead for the biggest nations on the continent.
England travel to San Marino on Friday evening, all but guaranteed three soft points against FIFA’s lowest ranked team who have only won one international tie in their history, beating Liechtenstein 1-0 in a friendly encounter nine years ago.
Nevertheless, the standard of performance will be important for the Three Lions and their momentum levels going into their main assignment on Tuesday, against a Montenegro side who are flying at the top of Group H.
Assuming that England and Montenegro (away vs. Moldova) are successful on Friday as anticipated, Roy Hodgson’s men will be seeking to overturn a two point deficit in Podgorica and consequently leapfrog their opponents at the head of affairs going into the final four qualifying games.
Six points from six should effectively book England’s flight to Brazil 2014 and they will be fancied to take that haul after beating next year’s World Cup hosts impressively at Wembley last month.
Poland and Ukraine are tracking in behind the Group H leaders and face each other in Warsaw on Friday night, with the losers almost certain to be out of contention for a qualifying berth.
After their draw at the Vicente Calderon in October, both Spain and France are on course to ease through to the World Cup together from Group I and can put further distance between themselves and the rest on Friday with home fixtures against Finland and Georgia respectively.
The pair clash once again however in Paris on Tuesday evening and Les Bleus may fancy their chances of stealing a march on the current World and European Champions – although a point apiece would not surprise considering what both teams are likely to require with further victories expected against Group I’s weaker opposition.
Belgium and Croatia are equally as dominant at the summit of Group A after establishing a six point cushion over the chasing pack after just four fixtures.
Croatia could potentially kill of Serbia’s slim chances of qualification in Zagreb on Friday with Belgium looking to do the same to Macedonia who they also host on Tuesday night in Brussels.
Following a disappointing start to the campaign, both Scotland and Wales appear to be merely making up the numbers now in Group A however a win for Wales when the two sides meet on Friday can get them back in the hunt with a home tie against the Croat’s upcoming on Tuesday.
Germany and Holland will be amongst the market leaders for World Cup glory next year and the two nations should comfortably affirm their qualification prospects against Kazakhstan and Estonia on Friday, whilst Russia look to maintain their 100% Group F record in an intriguing clash with Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Other fixtures of interest on Friday include Israel vs. Portugal, Czech Republic vs. Denmark and Bosnia vs. Greece, as the European Qualifying campaign gathers pace with Brazil 2014 now less than fifteen months away.