UEFA World Cup Qualifying resumes this weekend with several nations looking for important results in their fight to stay alive. It’s been over two months since the last round of qualifiers, and each European side will face two fixtures over this international break.
Thursday’s premier fixture takes place in Paris as France hosts the Netherlands in a battle of second vs. third. France are coming off a 2-1 road loss in Sweden back in June, and know a victory would help them inch near the top spot of the group. The Netherlands sit three points behind France in Group A, and are coming off a 5-0 drubbing of Luxembourg in June. France have five players that have two goals or more in qualifying so far. Spartak Moscow midfielder Quincy Promes leads Holland with three goals. France have three players on the roster who have recorded goals so far. Olivier Giroud leads the team with three, while Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba each have two apiece.
Saturday’s Premier showdown comes from Madrid as Group G leaders Spain welcome second-place Italy to town. Both teams are deadlocked on 16 points apiece and are both unbeaten in qualifying. The sides played out a 1-1 draw back in October 2016, and know a victory on Saturday will put them in the driver’s seat for a first-place finish bearing any setbacks. Spain have rolled off four victories since the October draw in Italy, and will be favorites at home. Italy has a slew of attacking talent, with five different players getting on the scoresheet against Liechtenstein in June’s 5-0 victory.
Elsewhere, Group A leaders Sweden face a trip to Bulgaria on Thursday, while Germany travels to the Czech Republic on Friday in Group C action. Group F leaders England face a trip to Malta also on Friday, while Wales hosts Austria in Group D play.
Here’s a closer look at all of the UEFA World Cup Qualifiers:
Group A leaders Sweden face a tricky test on Thursday, facing off with Bulgaria in Sofia. The visitors have won their last two qualifiers, beating Belarus and France respectively. RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg leads the Swedes with three goals, while Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen each have two apiece. Bulgaria saw a two-match winning run snapped in Belarus back in June, and would love to knock off the group leaders. Ivelin Popov leads the Bulgarians with two goals in qualifying.
In a battle of fifth and sixth, Luxembourg hosts Belarus in Luxembourg City. The hosts have only one point to their name in qualifying, that being a 1-1 road draw in Belarus back in October 2016. Striker Aurelien Joachim leads Luxembourg with four goals in qualifying. Belarus defeated Bulgaria 2-1 back in June and will look to do the same to a lowly Luxembourg side. Striker Pavel Savitskiy leads Belarus with two goals.
- France vs. Netherlands – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Bulgaria vs. Sweden – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Luxembourg vs. Belarus – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
Group B leaders Switzerland will look to remain unbeaten in qualifying, as they host Andorra on Thursday. The Swiss are a perfect 6-0-0 so far are hold a three-point lead on second place Portugal. Striker Admir Mehmedi leads the Swiss with two goals, while Xherdan Shaqiri is the ‘X-Factor’ for the team. Andorra have shown some life recently, going unbeaten in their last two matches. A 1-0 win over Hungary is impressive, but the Andorrans will need more than their two goals scored to have a chance on Friday.
Second-place Portugal return home to face the Faroe Islands in what should be one-way traffic. Portugal hammered the Faroe Islands, 6-0, in the reverse fixture and will need to win to keep place with Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo leads the team with 11 goals in qualifying, and should add to that total on Friday. The Faroe Islands have failed to score in their last four fixtures.
In a battle of third vs. sixth, Hungary welcomes Latvia to Budapest. The hosts have lost their last two matches, failing to score in either one. Striker Adam Szalai leads the Hungarians with four goals, while Zoltan Steiber has two assists. Latvia is 0-5-0 since winning their qualifying opener, scoring only one goal in that span. Valerjis Sabala is the main striker for Latvia.
- Portugal vs. Faroe Islands– August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Switzerland vs. Andorra – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Hungary vs. Latvia – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
Group C leaders Germany are heavy favorites, ahead of their clash with the Czech Republic on Friday. Joachim Low’s men have not lost yet in qualifying, and have only conceded once. In the reverse fixture, Germany defeated the Czechs 3-0 in Marl. Thomas Muller leads the team with five goals. The Czechs are unbeaten since that loss to Germany, winning two and drawing two. Vladimir Darida has two goals in qualifying, and will be the main player to watch for the hosts.
Elsewhere, second place Northern Ireland travel to last place San Marino. Michael O’Neill’s side are 4-1-1 in qualifying which seems them comfortably in second. Three straight wins have Northern Ireland in good shape to advance, and will need to keep that momentum going. Striker Kyle Lafferty has three goals while Chris Brunt has two assists. San Marino lost 4-0 in the reverse fixture last year, and has only scored on goal so far in qualifying. Their only hope in earning a point is to defend in numbers against a tough Northern Ireland side.
In a battle of fourth vs. fifth, Azerbaijan faces off with Norway. Norway drew 1-1 against the Czechs their last time out, and are strong at home than on the road. Martin Samuelson and Alexander Soderlund each have a goal for the Norwegians. Azerbaijan have lost three in a row, including two to Northern Ireland. They were 1-0 winners in the reverse fixture at home, and will look for similar success. Afran Ismayilov is the top man to watch for Azerbaijan, adding two assists so far.
- Czech Republic vs. Germany – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
- Norway vs. Azerbaijan – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
- San Marino vs. Northern Ireland – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
The top match from Group D this weekend takes place from Cardiff, as Wales welcome Austria to town. Both sides have eight points in qualifying, and would like a win to get back into the face for a top-two finish. Wales have five draws so far, and haven’t tasted victory since September 2016. Joe Allen has two goals for the Welsh. Austria are unbeaten in their last two matches, and would like to earn all three against Wales this time around. These sides played out a 2-2 draw back in October 2016, and Austria will look towards Marko Arnautovic who has three goals in qualifying.
Group D leaders Serbia will look to remain atop of the group, as they hosts Moldova on Saturday. The Serbs are unbeaten in qualifying, posting a 3-0-3 record so far. Midfielder Dusan Tadic has been key, scoring four goals and adding seven assists. Aleksandar Mitrovic leads the team with five goals. Moldova have two points from six matches, and fell 3-0 in the reverse fixture last year. Aleksandru Gatkan will be the main attacker for Moldova.
In a battle of second vs. fifth, the Republic of Ireland face a road test in Georgia. The Republic are 3-0-3 so far, and in second due to goal difference. After three straight wins to end 2016, Ireland have drawn their last two against Wales and Austria respectively. Midfielder James McClean leads the team with three goals and is a lively attacker for Martin O’Neill’s side. Georgia have not tasted victory yet in qualifying and will find it difficult with their final matches coming against teams above them in the standings. San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Valeri Kazaishvili leads the Georgians with two goals.
- Serbia vs. Moldova – September 2nd, 12:00 P.M.
- Georgia vs. Republic of Ireland – September 2nd, 12:00 P.M.
- Wales vs. Austria – September 2nd, 2:45 P.M.
The early match in Group E sees Kazakhstan welcome Montengero to Almaty. The hosts are the bottom of the table with two points but will look to pull the upset at home. Montengero are in second, six points behind leaders Poland. The visitors will look to leading scorer Stevan Jovetic who has six goals so far.
In the match of the group, leaders Poland travel to third-place Denmark. Poland have not suffered defeat yet, posting a 5-0-1 record so far. Striker Robert Lewandowski has 11 goals so far, and has tallied in every qualifying match so far for Poland. Denmark are in third on goal difference, and will look to inch up the table. The Danes are unbeaten in their last three matches, including a pair of wins over Kazakhstan. Christian Eriksen leads the team with four goals.
In a battle of fourth vs. fifth, Romania welcome Armenia to town. Romania have not won since October 2016, a 5-0 thrashing of Armenia away from home. Striker Bogdan Stancu leads the team with two goals so far. Armenia have won two qualifiers so far, one against Montenegro and one against Kazakhstan. The visitors will look to Manchester United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan to show his class on the road.
- Kazakhstan vs. Montenegro – September 1st, 12:00 P.M.
- Romania vs. Armenia – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
- Denmark vs. Poland – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
Friday’s intriguing match from Group F sees Slovakia host Slovenia. The hosts are a point clear of their opponents, and are hanging onto that playoff spot. Slovakia fell to Slovenia back in October 2016 by a 1-0 scoreline, and will look to exact revenge. After four straight victories, the hosts will be favorites to win. Marek Hamsik, Vladimir Weiss, and Robert Mak all have two goals apiece. Slovenia has only lost once in qualifying, but has drawn twice. Midfielder Josip Ilicic is the playmaker for Slovenia, totaling four assists so far.
In a battle of fifth vs. sixth, Lithuania welcomes Scotland to Vilnius. The hosts have lost three straight qualifiers, after an unbeaten start. These sides played out a 1-1 draw in Glasgow back in October 2016, and both will hope for three points this time around. Fedor Chernykh leads Lithuania with three goals, and will be tough for Scotland to stop. Scotland drew 2-2 against England back in June, keeping their current unbeaten run going. Robert Snodgrass has three goals for the Scots, while Leigh Griffiths has two.
Group F leaders England should have no problem on Friday, traveling to bottom place Malta. Gareth Southgate’s side have yet been beaten in qualifying, winning three and drawing three. Daniel Sturridge leads the Three Lions with two goals in qualifying, while six others have one apiece. Malta have lost all six of their qualifiers so far, and will need a miracle to avoid a seventh. They have been outscored 15-2, including 9-2 at home. Alfred Effiong and Jean-Paul Farrugia each have a goal apiece.
- Slovakia vs. Slovenia – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
- Lithuania vs. Scotland – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
- Malta vs. England – September 1st, 2:45 P.M.
Saturday’s early match in Group G comes from Elbasan as Albania hosts Liechtenstein. The hosts are in third place, while the visitors are winless and bottom of the group. Albania’s 3-0 victory over Israel back in June was impressive, which gives them some life in catching one of the two heavyweights. Armando Sadiku leads the Albanians with three qualifying goals. Liechtenstein has only scored once in qualifying, that in a 2-1 road loss in Israel. Maximilian Goppel is the player to watch for the visitors, scoring their only goal so far.
Israel will look to bounce back from consecutive qualifying defeats, as they welcome Macedonia to town. Israel currently sit in fourth on goal difference, and need a win to save any chance of making it to the next round. Striker Tomer Hemed leads the Israelis with the three goals so far. Macedonia’s only qualifying win came back in March, a 3-0 triumph over Liechtenstein. Ilija Nesterovski leads the team with four goals so far, and is a clinical finisher.
- Albania vs. Liechtenstein – September 2nd, 12:00 P.M.
- Spain vs. Italy – September 2nd, 2:45 P.M.
- Israel vs. Macedonia – September 2nd, 2:45 P.M.
In Group H, Cyprus face a tough test at home with the arrival of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Thursday. The hosts are unbeaten in their last three fixtures, including two wins over Gibraltar. Striker Pieros Soteriou leads the bunch with two goals, while Kostas Laifis has one. Bosnia sit in third place, and are unbeaten in their last four matches. Back-to-back draws against Greece have bumped them out of the playoff spot, but will be expected to make a strong push back. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic each have three goals apiece.
Group leaders Belgium will look to keep their undefeated run going, hosting group minnows Gibraltar on Thursday. Roberto Martinez’s side are unbeaten in qualifying and have been consistent both offensively and defensively. Belgium crushed Gibraltar 6-0 back in October 2016, and will be expected to do so again. Romelu Lukaku has six goals in qualifying, while Dries Mertens has three goals and three assists. Gibraltar will look to midfielder Liam Walker who is the playmaker of the bunch.
In a battle of second vs. fifth, Greece hosts Estonia in Athens. The Greeks surprisingly are in second, a point above Bosnia and have not lost yet in qualifying. After three consecutive draws, Greece will look to get back to winning ways. Konstantinos Mitroglou leads the team with three goals and two assists. Estonia has been outscored 12-1 in their past four results, with three of them being defeats. Mattias Kait leads the team with two goals.
- Greece vs. Estonia – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Cyprus vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
- Hungary vs. Latvia – August 31st, 2:45 P.M.
The top fixture in Group I this weekend takes place in Kiev as Ukraine hosts Turkey. The hosts are in fourth based on goal-difference and know a win over third-place Turkey would boost their chances of a playoff spot. Ukraine’s only defeat in qualifying came back in March, and these sides played out a 2-2 draw back in October 2016. Andriy Yarlomenko leads Ukraine with three goals so far in WCQ. Turkey have won three in a row since losing in Iceland back in October 2016. Five Turkish players are tied for the team lead in goals, with two apiece.
Group I’s early fixtures comes from Tampere as Finland welcome Iceland to town. The Fins are 0-5-1 in qualifying and fell 3-2 in Reykjavik back in October 2016. Striker Teemu Pukki is the man to watch for Finland, with a goal so far in qualifying. Iceland are currently in second place, an expected to either win the group or earn a playoff spot. after a 2-0 loss in Croatia back in November 2016, Iceland have won their last two qualifiers. Striker Alfred Finnbogason leads Iceland with three goals, while Gylfi Sigurdsson has a goal and two assists.
In what could be the most lopsided result in qualifying this weekend, Group I leaders Croatia welcome bottom place Kosovo to Zagreb. The hosts are 4-1-1 in qualifying and show no sign of giving up their top spot in the group. Croatia pounded Kosovo 6-0 in the last meeting between these sides in October 2016. Mario Mandzukic leads the Croats with four goals so far. Kosovo have lost their last five qualifiers since a 1-1 road draw in Finland back in September 2016. Valon Berisha leads Kosovo with a goal and an assist so far.
- Finland vs. Iceland – September 2nd, 12:00 P.M.
- Ukraine vs. Turkey – September 2nd, 2:45 P.M.
- Croatia vs. Kosovo – September 2nd, 2:45 P.M.