• Denmark and Northern Ireland appearing in the play-offs for first time
  • Switzerland, Croatia and Italy all have 100-percent play-off records
  • Eight teams learned their play-off opponents on 17 October

The best eight second-placed sides in the European qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ now know who they have to beat if they are to make next year’s world finals. We take a look at the eight nations’ respective play-off records to see if they offer them any grounds for optimism.

NORTHERN IRELAND
Three previous World Cup appearances, the last of which came at Mexico 1986.
Reached the quarter-finals at Sweden 1958 and the second round at Spain 1982. 

• Previous play-offs (0/0)
Northern Ireland have never taken part in a play-off before.

SWITZERLAND
Ten previous World Cup appearances. 
Korea/Japan 2002 was the last world finals the Swiss failed to reach.
Best performances came in reaching the quarter-finals at Italy 1934, France 1938 and Switzerland 1954.

• Previous play-offs (2/2)
The Swiss beat Sweden 2-1 in a single play-off match en route to Chile 1962 and advanced to Germany 2006 on the away-goals rule after drawing 4-4 with Turkey over two legs.

CROATIA 
Four previous World Cup appearances: 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2014.
Best performance was at France 1998, where they finished third. 

• Previous play-offs (2/2) 
Croatia won both their two previous play-offs, beating Ukraine 3-1 on aggregate en route to France 1998 and Iceland 2-0 in reaching Brazil 2014.

GREECE
Three previous World Cup appearances: 1994, 2010 and 2014.
Best performance came at Brazil 2014, where they reached the Round of 16.

• Previous play-offs (2/3)
Greece lost the first of their three play-offs, to Hungary in the qualifiers for France 1938, but beat Ukraine 1-0 on aggregate on the road to South Africa 2010 and Romania 4-2 en route to Brazil 2014.

DENMARK 
Four previous World Cup appearances: 1986, 1998, 2002 and 2010.
Best performance came at France 1998, where they reached the quarter-finals.

• Previous play-offs (0/0)
Denmark have never taken part in a play-off before.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Three previous World Cup appearances: 1990, 1994 and 2002.
Best performance came at Italy 1990, where they reached the quarter-finals.

• Previous play-offs (1/4)
Republic of Ireland lost 1-0 to Spain in a play-off on neutral ground in the England 1966 qualifying competition. They also lost 3-2 on aggregate to Belgium in the qualifiers for France 1998 and 2-1 on aggregate to France (after extra time) in the South Africa 2010 preliminaries. Their one and only play-off win was a 2-1 aggregate defeat of Iran in an intercontinental tie in the Korea/Japan 2002 preliminaries.

SWEDEN
11 previous World Cup appearances, though they have missed the last two.
Best performance came on home soil in 1958, when they finished runners-up.

• Previous play-offs (1/3)
Sweden’s only play-off success was a 2-1 defeat of Austria in a tie held on neutral ground in the qualifiers for Germany 1974. They lost 2-1 to Switzerland in another one-off match in the Chile 1962 preliminaries and went down 4-2 on aggregate to Portugal in the play-offs for Brazil 2014.

ITALY
Four-time world champions: 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006
Absent from only two world finals competitions: Uruguay 1930 and Sweden 1958.

• Previous play-offs (1/1)
In their one and only play-off appearance, the Italians defeated Russia 2-1 on aggregate in the qualifiers for France 1998, with the great Gianluigi Buffon making his international debut in goal in the first leg in Moscow on 29 October 1997.