We’re getting right down to it. We’re under two months away from the FIFA World Cup draw in Brazil, and during these next two months, the field for the greatest sporting spectacle on the planet will be finalized. For some countries, these last World Cup qualifying group games will be blissfully academic. For some, the World Cup starts now.
Here’s a preview of what’s at stake for Friday and Tuesday’s upcoming games, as well as TV listings for those games shown in the United States.
All times Eastern.
EUROPE – UEFA
At this late point in the game, the goings on in Group A are just formalities. Belgium are on the cusp of their first World Cup trip since 2002, five points clear at the top of the group. While Belgium just need to secure one win to punch their ticket, they’ll be going for victories in both of their games. Belgium are currently in line to be seeded for the World Cup draw, a major achievement for a country that hasn’t seen major tournament action in over a decade. Belgium have become such hot dark-horses for Brazil, they can barely be considered dark-horses at all anymore. Croatia will finish second and go into the playoffs, most likely, unless Belgium slip spectacularly. The other four teams in the group have been eliminated, including Serbia, Scotland and Wales.
Friday, October 11
Croatia vs Belgium, Noon, ESPN Deportes, WatchESPN.com, ESPN3.com
Tuesday, October 15
Serbia vs Macedonia, 2:30pm, ESPN3.com
Scotland vs Croatia, 3pm, ESPN3.com
Belgium vs Wales, 3pm, ESPN3.com
Italy have won the group, and the Azzurri are almost assured of a seed for the draw. Most of the commotion in the camp has been around the uncertain future of transformative manager Cesare Prandelli and that of bad-boy striker Mario Balotelli. The race is for second, and three teams are still in it. Bulgaria lead the pack on 12 points, and two wins would render the chase dead. However, Denmark lurk on 11 points, and by the skin of their teeth Morton Olsen’s team has revived a once dead qualifying campaign. Czech Republic are three points off the pace, but that deficit could be erased with a victory over Bulgaria in Sofia on Tuesday. Denmark has two home games, but it’s Italy in Copenhagen on Friday, while Bulgaria play Armenia before the Czechs. There’s everything to play for, and it’s impossible to pick a winner at this stage.