After the thrills of two narrow 1-0 victories for Arsenal and Liverpool against Spurs and Manchester United this past weekend, and the mayhem of transfer deadline day, a crucial international break awaits. With World Cup qualifying winding down, countries can punch their tickets to the FIFA World Cup, or fall out of the running as we move closer to Brazil 2014. Here’s what’s at stake in Friday and Tuesday’s World Cup qualifiers (as well as TV listings for viewers in the United States).
All times Eastern.
Group A: Belgium and Croatia are flying, with the second-placed Croats nine points clear of third-placed Serbia, with Scotland and Wales further back. Belgium have won all their games apart from a 1-1 home draw with Croatia, and are already assured of at least a playoff spot. Despite that, Belgium are only three points ahead of Croatia, and the two play a massive qualifier in Zagreb on Tuesday. The winner should take the group. The loser should be in the playoffs. A draw works for Belgium.
Friday, Sept. 6
Czech Republic vs. Armenia, Noon, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN & ESPN3
Macedonia vs. Wales 2pm, ESPN3
Serbia vs. Croatia, 2:45pm, ESPN3
Scotland vs. Belgium 3pm, ESPN3
Tuesday, Sept. 10
Macedonia vs. Scotland, 2:30 p.m., ESPN3
Group B: Italy are large and in charge, four points clear at the top of the group. They play second-placed Bulgaria on Friday in a big game, Italy make direct qualification a formality with two wins, while Bulgaria need points to stay ahead of third-placed Czech Republic, who are a single point out of the playoff place. The Czech’s play Italy on Tuesday. Whoever can take a point off Italy could gain the upper-hand in the battle for second. Meanwhile, Armenia and Denmark are in serious peril, three points off second place. Denmark need to beat Malta, and beat Armenia on Tuesday to give themselves hope and take revenge for a 4-0 drubbing at home in the reverse fixture against the Armenians. If they don’t take six points, Denmark will be headed for the biggest disappointment of Morten Olsen’s 14 years in charge.
Group C: Germany are steamrolling their way towards Brazil, as Jogi Low’s side looks to build on a comfortable five point lead atop Group C. The battle for second is a quagmire, with three nations on 11 points. Sweden, Austria, and Ireland all missed out on South Africa, and all come into these qualifiers with intense pressure. Surprisingly, Austria have looked the most impressive of the three sides, with a far superior goal difference to Sweden and Ireland. But it’s Austria who get Germany in this round, while Sweden get Kazakhstan. All the other games involving these sides are against each other, and Ireland face a make or break week, with games against both Austria and Sweden. The Austrians have the easiest path to the playoffs, but it’s six to five and pick ’em when predicting who will have a chance to go back to the World Cup.