[WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING] Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup moves into the homestretch. Just two of the 14 European berths have been decided, but Belgium will join Italy and the Netherlands as group winners with a win or tie and Germany and Switzerland will clinch with wins on Friday.
GROUP A. Belgium holds
a five-point lead over Croatia and will clinch with a win over tie against Croatia in Brussels.
Captain Vincent Kompany and striker Christian Benteke are out, and Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen is doubtful, but Belgium is loaded.
Romelu Lukaku, who is starting for Everton are moving on loan from Chelsea, start start up front with the Chelsea pair Kevin De
Bruyne and Eden Hazard on the wings.
Second place: Croatia will take second if it doesn't overtake
GROUP B. Italy clinched.
Second place: Four teams -- Bulgaria (13 points), Denmark (12) and
Czech Republic and Armenia (9 apiece) -- still have a chance to take second place.
GROUP C. Germany also carries
a five-point lead into its final two games and can clinch with a win over Ireland in Cologne. It could also qualify on Friday with a win or loss, depending on the result of second-place Sweden's game
against Austria in Stockholm.
Germany will be heavily favored against the Irish, whom it beat in Dublin, 6-1.
"Everyone who is here is fit and I have a good feeling," said
Germany coach Joachim Loew. "Our aim is to qualify here at home against Ireland in a stadium we have always had good memories in."
Germany will be
without injured Lukas Podolski, Marco Reus and Ilkay Guendogan but will have
Mario Goetze even though he only recently recovered from injury and Bayern Munich objected to his call-up.
place: Sweden leads Austria by three points and will clinch second with a win.
GROUP D. Netherlands clinched.
Second place: Hungary (14 points), Turkey and Romania (13 apiece) all remain alive.
GROUP E. Switzerland leads Iceland by five points
heading into its match at Albania. It will clinch with a win but could also advance with a tie if Iceland doesn't win against Cyprus at home or with a loss if Iceland and Slovenia, which hosts Norway,
Second place: Iceland (13), Slovenia (12), Norway (11) and Albania (10) are all still alive.
GROUP F. Fabio Capello's Russia (18 points) leads Portugal (17) by one point and
plays its final two games at Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. The Portuguese host Israel and Luxembourg. Russia will clinch Friday but to so it will need to beat Luxembourg and have Portugal lose at home to
Second place: Portugal will clinch no worse than second place with a win or tie against Israel on
GROUP G. Bosnia-Herzegovina's loss at home to Slovakia dropped it into a tie with Greece (19 points apiece), though it has the edge in goal
difference (25-5 vs. 9-4). Both teams host Liechtenstein. Greece opens at home against Slovakia, BiH closes at Lithuania.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece both can finish no lower than second.
GROUP H. England (16 points) holds a one-point lead over Ukraine and
Montenegro (15 apiece) and closes at Wembley against Montenegro and Poland (which is still alive with 13 points). Ukraine hosts Poland on Friday. FIFA has banned Ukraine from staging World Cup
qualifiers the Lvov Arena stadium until 2018 and ordered the Poland game to be played behind closed doors in Kharkov but that ban was lifted while Ukraine appeals.
Second place: England, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland all are alive.
Five countries will emerge from the two-legged playoffs in the African zone, which begin on Saturday
and conclude next month, while Iran, Japan and South Korea and Australia have progressed in Asian qualifying.
GROUP I. Spain, the defending World Cup
champion, and France are tied with 14 points, but France has played an extra game in the only group with five teams. Spain will clinch with wins over Belarus and Georgia.
Second place: France has clinched second place.
NOTE: Only eight of the nine second-place teams advance to the
November playoffs, where Europe's four remaining berths will be determined. To determine the eight best second-place teams, the results against the sixth-place teams in the eight six-team groups are