By KEVIN KOCZWARA
World Cup qualifying does not get much more intense than UEFA’s Group H.
A lot of eyes around the world will be on that group on Friday as four teams will be fighting for the top spot and the automatic World Cup berth that comes with it. Group leaders England host a very good Montenegro side, which is only one point behind the Three Lions in the standings, while Poland and Ukraine, who have 13 and 15 points, respectively, face off in Kharkov.
A loss to Montenegro would be a huge blow to England as they try to qualify and Wayne Rooney believes the players would have to take the blame if Roy Hodgson’s side didn’t navigate qualification and get to Brazil.
“For a country like ours, with the talent we have, it would be a failure not to qualify,” Rooney told reporters during a press conference this week. “As players, we will all take the responsibility if we don’t get there.”
Elsewhere in Europe, three teams can secure their tickets to Brazil with wins. Belgium will top Group A if they beat Croatia, Germany would assure qualification in Group C with a triumph over Ireland, and Switzerland can qualify by knocking off Albania in Group E.
If Iceland can’t get past Cyprus then the Swiss would will get their ticket stamped regardless of their result while Germany would still manage to secure qualification even without a victory of their own if Sweden cannot beat Austria.
In Group G, both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece, who are tied with 19 points atop the group, have a chance to separate themselves and take control with home games. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s game is a bit easier as they host last-placed Liechtenstein, while Greece has to host Slovakia, which qualified for the 2010 World Cup but has seen its chances of making it to Brazil dashed.
The Netherlands may have group D all wrapped-up already, but Hungary, Turkey and Romania are all playing for second place and a chance at a playoff. Hungary leads Turkey and Romania coming into Friday by a single point, but they have the toughest game of the bunch as they have to travel to Amsterdam to take on the group leaders. Romania looks to have the easiest game on paper as they get winless Andorra, who has yet to score a goal in qualifying. Turkey, meanwhile, will go to Estonia with the hopes of being able to keep pace with Romania.
Here is the full list of Friday’s qualifiers in UEFA, sorted by group:
Croatia vs. Belgium
Wales vs. Macedonia
Malta vs. Czech Republic
Armenia vs. Bulgaria
Denmark vs. Italy
Faroe Islands vs. Kazakhstan
Germany vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Austria
Netherlands vs. Hungary
Estonia vs. Turkey
Andorra vs. Romania
Iceland vs. Cyprus
Albania vs. Switzerland
Slovenia vs. Norway
Luxembourg vs. Russia
Portugal vs. Israel
Azerbaijan vs. Northern Ireland
Lithuania vs. Latvia
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Liechtenstein
Greece vs. Slovakia
Moldova vs. San Marino
England vs. Montenegro
Ukraine vs. Poland
Spain vs. Belarus
Which of these matches are you most looking forward to? Think England will avoid the unthinkable of missing out on the World Cup? Which European teams do you see qualifying for Brazil on Friday?
Share your thoughts below.