After last week's pulsating qualifying action in the European Zone, the qualifying scenario for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is only marginally clearer. Three teams are now through to the finals, 22 out of the running, and no fewer than 28 still in with a shout, all of which sets the stage perfectly for two final matchdays of drama and emotion on 10 and 14 October. FIFA.com is on hand to take you through the permutations ahead of next month's action.
Which teams are already through?
The Netherlands, England and Spain are the only European sides to have confirmed their places in South Africa. All three have been at their scintillating best during the current campaign, recording eight wins from eight games.
Which teams are out?
For 22 teams it is now mathematically impossible to qualify, even via the play-offs. They are Albania, Malta, Luxembourg, Moldova, Finland, Wales, Liechtenstein, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Estonia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands, Cyprus, Montenegro, Georgia, Scotland, FYR Macedonia, Iceland, Andorra and San Marino (the latter two failing to earn a single point between them).
Group 1: Only a win against Sweden will see Denmark qualify automatically after a surprising draw against Albania. Success for the Swedes would leave both teams on 18 points and complicate matters for Portugal and Hungary, who meet the same day. A draw in that fixture would rule out both teams, as would a defeat for either side.
Group 2: Switzerland can seal their place if they overcome Luxembourg, and Greece and Latvia draw, a combination of results would leave three teams on 15 points fighting for a play-off spot on the final day.
Group 3: The tightest group of the lot with five teams still in the hunt. Slovakia are in the box seat and just a point short of automatic qualification, whereas Czech Republic will bow out if they fail to take maximum points against Poland, and Slovenia manage a win. If Slovakia win however, the Czechs can secure themselves a play-off berth with victories in their final two games, regardless of other results. Defeat for Poland would mean the end of their campaign. Beyond this there are so many possible permutations that it is best for us to move on...
Group 4: The top two, Germany and Russia, go head to head on 10 October, with the former guaranteed top spot with a win. Any other result will prolong the drama until the final matchday, when Germany host Finland and Russia travel to Azerbaijan.
Group 5: With Spain already through as section winners, Bosnia-Herzegovina are favourites to take the play-off spot and need either a win against Estonia or a defeat for Turkey away to Belgium. A draw with Estonia would leave them requiring Turkey not to win in Brussels to secure second place.
Group 6: England's safe passage to South Africa leaves Ukraine and Croatia vying for second place. Two wins for Ukraine will see them through while Croatia will be relying on other results to go their way.
Group 7: Serbia can book their place in South Africa with a win at home to Romania, or even a draw in the event of France doing likewise. Defeat for France against the Faroe Islands would also send the Serbs through. Les Bleus can guarantee at least a play-off spot with a win, while for Austria, Lithuania and Romania, their very slim hopes depend on France slipping up.
Group 8: Italy are just one step away from a place next year's showpiece event, needing a solitary point to guarantee automatic qualification. For their part, Bulgaria need to win in Cyprus and hope the Azzurri avoid defeat to the Republic of Ireland to stay in contention for the play-offs.
Group 9: The action has already concluded in this section, in which the Netherlands finished as runaway leaders. There remains a very slim possibility of Norway reaching the play-offs as one of the eight best group runners-up, but an almost miraculous series of results in the other eight sections would be required. In Group 1 alone, for example, they would need Sweden to lose their two remaining fixtures, Portugal and Hungary to draw and both of these teams to lose their final fixtures.
The play-offs explained
The winners of each group qualify automatically for South Africa 2010, while the best eight second-placed teams will fight it out for the four remaining places in two-legged play-offs scheduled for the 14 and 18 November. The draw for this will be held on Monday 19 October at the Home of FIFA in Zurich.
Group 9 consists of five teams, one less than the other pools. When calculating the best runners-up, therefore, matches played against the sixth-placed finishers in Groups 1 to 8 will not be taken into consideration. The criteria will be as follows: total points, goal difference, goals scored, goals scored away from home, disciplinary record and drawing of lots.
Have your say
With the situation so delicately poised it is even more difficult than ever to predict. That said, we would like to know who you think will not be making the trip to South Africa next summer. Click on 'Add your comment' to make your views known.