France can increase their lead to six points with a win in Sweden tonight. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden have less individual threat but a greater sense of teamwork. Still, their defence faces a stern test against a side boosted by a recent 5-0 win over Paraguay. Striker Olivier Giroud has five goals in his last three internationals.
If Sweden lose, Bulgaria can move up to second by beating Belarus. The Netherlands, in fourth place, host last-place Luxembourg.
Belarus v Bulgaria, Holland v Luxembourg, Sweden v France. Aug 31: France v Holland, Bulgaria v Sweden, Luxembourg v Belarus. Sep 3: Belarus v Sweden, Holland v Bulgaria, France v Luxembourg. Oct 7: Sweden v Luxembourg, Belarus v Holland, Bulgaria v France. Oct 10: France v Belarus, Luxembourg v Bulgaria, Holland v Sweden.
Switzerland will be looking for a sixth straight win and to keep ahead of Portugal when they play at the Faeroe Islands tonight.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe arrived late to Portugal’s squad following Real Madrid’s win in the Champions League final last weekend, but they should start at next-to-last Latvia.
Portugal, who trail Switzerland by three points, are coming off four straight wins since the opening 2-0 loss against the Swiss. Last-place Andorra host third-place Hungary, whoare five points behind Portugal.
Andorra v Hungary, Faroe Islands v Switzerland, Latvia v Portugal. Aug 31: Hungary v Latvia, Portugal v Faroe Islands, Switzerland v Andorra. Sep 3: Faroe Islands v Andorra, Hungary v Portugal, Latvia v Switzerland. Oct 7: Faroe Islands v Latvia, Andorra v Portugal, Switzerland v Hungary. Oct 10: Hungary v Faroe Islands, Latvia v Andorra, Portugal v Switzerland.
World champions Germany should have little difficulty making it six wins from six, even though an understrength team will host San Marino in Nuremberg tomorrow.
Germany coach Joachim Low has given nearly all of his regulars the summer off, but even an unfamiliar looking German line-up should be too much for a microstate with a population more than 100 times smaller than Berlin’s.
The Germans have already scored 20 goals in qualifying, conceding only one. Germany lead with 15 points.
Northern Ireland (10), the Czech Republic (8), and Azerbaijan (7) all maintain hopes of the runner-up spot and a possible play-off place.
Azerbaijan host Northern Ireland in Baku, and Norway hosts the Czechs in Oslo.
Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland, Germany v San Marino, Norway v Czech Republic. Sep 1: Czech Republic v Germany, Norway v Azerbaijan, San Marino v Northern Ireland. Sep 4: Azerbaijan v San Marino, Germany v Norway, Northern Ireland v Czech Republic. Oct 5: Azerbaijan v Czech Republic, Northern Ireland v Germany, San Marino v Norway. Oct 8: Czech Republic v San Marino, Germany v Azerbaijan, Norway v Northern Ireland.
The chances of Gareth Bale playing at the World Cup will reduce even further if Wales lose to Serbia on Sunday in the biggest game in the group.
The Welsh are in third place, four points behind Serbia and Ireland, after drawing four of their first five qualifiers and failing to reproduce their form from last year’s European Championship, where they reached the semi-finals. Ireland host Austria, while Moldova host Georgia in a game between two teams already out of contention.
Moldova v Georgia, Rep of Ireland v Austria, Serbia v Wales. Sep 2: Georgia v Rep of Ireland, Serbia v Moldova, Wales v Austria. Sep 5: Austria v Georgia, Moldova v Wales, Rep of Ireland v Serbia. Oct 6: Georgia v Wales, Austria v Serbia, Rep of Ireland v Moldova. Oct 9: Moldova v Austria, Serbia v Georgia, Wales v Rep of Ireland.
Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, who missed out on being the Bundesliga’s top scorer this season, will look to score in his 11th straight European qualifier in a match against Romania in Warsaw tomorrow. Poland, with 13 points, comfortably lead the group with the others jostling for the runner-up spot, led by Montenegro and Denmark (both with seven points). Romania and Armenia have six. Denmark, who drew with Germany in a friendly on Tuesday, travel to last-place Kazakhstan, and Montenegro host Armenia in Podgorica.
Kazakhstan v Denmark, Montenegro v Armenia, Poland v Romania. Sep 1: Kazakhstan v Montenegro, Denmark v Poland, Romania v Armenia. Sep 4: Armenia v Denmark, Montenegro v Romania, Poland v Kazakhstan. Oct 5: Armenia v Poland, Montenegro v Denmark, Romania v Kazakhstan. Oct 8: Denmark v Romania, Kazakhstan v Armenia, Poland v Montenegro.
England takes a four-point lead to Scotland for the latest edition of the world’s oldest international rivalry, 145 years after their first meeting. Now under coach Gareth Southgate, England has dropped only two points in five games and would pile the pressure on under-fire Scotland coach Gordon Strachan with a fifth win in qualifying. Second-place Slovakia visit Lithuania and Slovenia, a further point back in third, host Malta.
Scotland v England, Slovenia v Malta, Lithuania v Slovakia. Sep 1: Lithuania v Scotland, Malta v England, Slovakia v Slovenia. Sep 4: England v Slovakia, Scotland v Malta, Slovenia v Lithuania. Oct 5: England v Slovenia, Malta v Lithuania, Scotland v Slovakia. Oct 8: Lithuania v England, Slovakia v Malta, Slovenia v Scotland.
Italy host last-place Liechtenstein on Sunday with a chance to improve their goal difference and move closer to leader Spain, who play at Macedonia. Liechtenstein have conceded 19 goals in five matches, including eight against Spain. Italy and Spain have 13 points each from five matches. Italy are coming off a 3-0 win over Uruguay in a friendly on Wednesday, while Spain were held by Colombia to a 2-2 draw. Third-place Israel host Albania.
FYR Macedonia v Spain, Israel v Albania, Italy v Liechtenstein. Sep 2: Albania v Liechtenstein, Israel v FYR Macedonia, Spain v Italy. Sep 5: FYR Macedonia v Albania, Italy v Israel, Liechtenstein v Spain. Oct 6: Italy v FYR Macedonia, Liechtenstein v Israel, Spain v Albania. Oct 9: Albania v Italy, FYR Macedonia v Liechtenstein, Israel v Spain.
Tonight could be a big day for Belgium on the road to Russia. Following a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in a friendly this week, Belgium are exppected to beat 98th-ranked Estonia and reinforce first place. They currently have a two-point lead. At the same time as the game in Tallinn, Belgium’s closest challenger, Greece, will be in Bosnia- Herzegovina in a game that could be vital in the race for second place and a play-off spot.
The third game, Gibraltar against Cyprus, has no impact on the group. Belgium have such a wealth of talent winger Eden Hazard’s absence because of a broken ankle should have no impact on its creative play. If anything, it should allow Yuri Tielemans, recently picked up from Anderlecht by Monaco, to flaunt his skills.
Bosnia-Herzegovina v Greece, Estonia v Belgium, Gibraltar v Cyprus. Aug 31: Cyprus v Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece v Estonia, Belgium v Gibraltar. Sep 3: Estonia v Cyprus, Greece v Belgium. Oct 7: Bosnia-Herzegovina v Belgium, Cyprus v Greece, Gibraltar v Estonia. Oct 10: Belgium v Cyprus, Estonia v Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece v Gibraltar.
It looks to be a straight fight between Croatia and Iceland for top spot and the countries meet in Reykjavik on Sunday. Croatia lead Iceland by three points with five games left. Ukraine and Turkey are two points further back and face away games against Finland and Kosovo, respectively.
Finland v Ukraine, Iceland v Croatia, Kosovo v Turkey. Sep 2: Finland v Iceland, Ukraine v Turkey, Croatia v Kosovo. Sep 5: Iceland v Ukraine, Turkey v Croatia, Kosovo v Finland. Oct 6: Croatia v Finland, Turkey v Iceland, Kosovo v Ukraine. Oct 9: Finland v Turkey, Ukraine v Croatia, Iceland v Kosovo.