Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland will all be looking to become the first European sides to reach the promised land of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Tuesday.
With just three rounds of games now remaining, no fewer than 24 matches will get under way across the continent, including a number of crunch games in the race for qualification berths. While Russia will look to return to the Group F summit against Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina are targeting revenge against Group G rivals Slovakia, and England are steeling themselves for a high-stakes trip to Ukraine in Group H.
The big game
Ukraine-England, Group H, Olympic Stadium, Kiev
England will go into their decisive encounter in Kiev with a much-weakened forward line, Danny Welbeck having picked up a suspension against Moldova on Friday to rule him out along with injured duo Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge. The visitors will nonetheless be encouraged by Ukraine's shaky home form, despite their rivals' recent 9-0 success against San Marino, in which eight different players scored. The eastern Europeans, who drew 1-1 at Wembley, suffered a 1-0 home loss to Montenegro but beat the same opponents 4-0 in Podgorica, leaving England hopeful of at least a draw, which would keep them a point clear of Ukraine with two home fixtures left to negotiate. Once again, Roy Hodgson's side will be counting on the experience of veterans Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, both impressive in the 4-0 defeat of Moldova.
The other matches
Top two sides Belgium and Croatia stand well clear of the pack and will not be in action on Tuesday, meaning the two scheduled matches in this section will have no impact on the qualification tussle.
A win for Italy against the Czech Republic at Juventus Stadium would not only send the hosts through to Brazil 2014, but it would also represent a historic first, La Nazionale having never previously booked a FIFA World Cup spot with two games to spare. Aiding their task, coach Cesare Prandelli will be able to welcome gifted forward Mario Balotelli back into his line-up, along with Pablo Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo, and the trio ought to offer Italy's attack fresh energy. Behind the leaders, four teams stand within a point of each other in the quest for a play-off place.
Austria-Republic of Ireland
Germany have led the dance since the very start thanks to their record of six wins and a draw, and they will be confident of posting another victory in the Faroe Islands. That would be sufficient to guarantee their progress providing Sweden fail to overcome Kazakhstan. Any slip by the Swedes would also benefit Austria and the Republic of Ireland, who both lie three points shy of the Blågult and still have designs on a play-off berth.
The Netherlands just about avoided their first setback of the campaign when they drew 2-2 with Estonia on Friday, and they can sew up top spot if they win in Andorra and Romania are unable to defeat Turkey. The Oranje could also advance with a draw as long as Romania lose and Hungary do not take all three points against Estonia.
Held by second-placed Norway on home soil, Switzerland travel to Scandinavia with a chance of stamping their ticket to Brazil from a very open group, with Iceland and Albania – who meet in Reykjavik – also still capable of finishing first. Four points out in front, Die Nati will go through if they win and the match in Iceland ends in a stalemate.
Russia ended a run of two consecutive losses by sweeping aside Luxembourg 4-1 on Friday, and they will be desperate to regain control of the group at home against Israel, whose hopes of a play-off spot took a dent in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan. A win for Fabio Capello's troops would take them a point ahead of current leaders Portugal – and facing the prospect of away ties with Luxembourg and Azerbaijan to round off their bid.
Bosnia-Herzegovina's unexpected 1-0 loss at home to Slovakia on Friday sent shockwaves through this section, with Greece able to pull level at the summit on points. The Greeks now face a trio of matches at home, kicking off with the visit of Latvia on Tuesday, but they still need Bosnia-Herzegovina to slip up given their vastly inferior goal difference. Safet Susic's charges have no intention of letting their fate slip out of their own hands, however, and will be eager for revenge in Slovakia, who also face a journey to Greece next month and still harbour hopes of their own.
Poland need to motivate themselves to collect maximum points in San Marino, despite knowing that their chances are slim ahead of away games against Ukraine and England.
Without a single goal in their last five outings, France can tie up second place at the very least if they find a way past Belarus. Spain, who are not in action on Tuesday, enjoy a three-point cushion at the head of the class and are due to sign off with a pair of home games.
Player to watch
England forward Rickie Lambert must feel like he is living his own fairy tale at the moment. A peripheral figure at the start of the summer, he has since become something of a revelation for the Three Lions, marking his debut at the age of 31 with an unforgettable contribution in the derby with Scotland on 14 August. Coming on for Wayne Rooney 67 minutes into the game, the Southampton forward headed the decisive goal in a 3-2 victory with his first touch just moments later. He then added another headed effort against Moldova on Friday and, with a whole raft of England strikers currently sidelined, he is now set for the most important match of his career in Ukraine.
0 – The number of penalties taken by the two highest scorers in European qualifying so far: Bosnia forward Edin Dzeko, who has struck eight goals in seven games, and Israel's Tomer Hemed, who has six from four.
What they said
"It's not a taboo but, for me, [Karim] Benzema isn't a problem. I have decisions to make about the team that will start on Tuesday and I have 11 problems," France coach Didier Deschamps.
Have your say
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