World Cup worries
As the nation waits to see whether England will qualify for next summer's World Cup, David Bowers takes a look at some of the other countries in real danger of missing out on the fun in Brazil in 2014...
By David Bowers - Follow on Twitter @davidalexbowers
Last Updated: 10/10/13 1:41pm
When the qualifying groups were announced, it was always likely that Portugal and Russia would be the leaders of Group F. Cristiano Ronaldo & Co are currently a point behind Russia and it looks likely that Fabio Capello's team will top the group as they are highly expected to win their final two games against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, who both sit at the bottom of the table.
Despite the quality in the Russian side, Portugal will be disappointed that they aren't topping the table after dropping points at home to Northern Ireland and away in Israel. Either way, Portugal will at least be in the play-offs but they will be warned that competition is strong. The seedings for the playoffs are organised by FIFA ranking, so the top four seeds will be the highest ranked teams out of all eight runners-up. With fellow second-placed side France currently ranked 25th, there is a possibility of a playoff against Les Bleus...
The last time Spain lost a competitive international was against Switzerland in 2010, meaning that anyone drawn alongside them would see automatic qualification as near-impossible. Unfortunately for their group rivals France, that's how it seems likely to play out with Vicente Del Bosque's side expected to qualify with relative ease in their final two games are at home to Belarus and Georgia.
The problem for France is their descending FIFA ranking, as previously mentioned. It's likely that they will face a top-seeded team in the playoffs, which could be anyone from Euro 2004 winners Greece to Roy Hodgson's England. France are not the force they were with no Thierry Henry or Zinedine Zidane in the ranks and striker Karim Benzema currently enduring a goal drought. The harsh reality for Didier Deschamps and his players is that failing to qualify is a very real possibility and that the playoffs will present a very tough challenge.
Group D has been a highly competitive and entertaining group, with reputable sides like Romania, Hungary and Turkey fighting to be in the reckoning for a runners-up spot behind runaway leaders Netherlands. However, with talented midfielders like Arda Turan and Nuri Sahin supporting an attack led by a devastating finisher in Galatasaray's Burak Yilmaz, the odds of a playoff spot seemed to be in favour of the Crescent-Stars.
However, a poor October 2012 saw a home loss to rivals Romania followed by a 3-1 defeat in Hungary and left those playoff aspirations hanging in the balance. Their two remaining fixtures are a tricky trip to Estonia and a tough encounter in Istanbul against table-topping Netherlands. Currently in third place and a point behind Hungary, there's a strong possibility that Turkey may not even make the playoffs.
Denmark have qualified for four of the last six World Cups, and were widely expected to pose a challenge to Group B favourites Italy. But they have had a bizarre campaign - a shock 4-0 defeat in Copenhagen against Armenia, yet a brilliant 3-0 away win at Czech Republic. The Danes have failed to show any consistency despite household names like Daniel Agger, Christian Eriksen and Nicklas Bendtner forming the spine of the team.
Morten Olsen's side haven't gelled as a unit and they currently trail second-place Bulgaria by one point. As they attempt to salvage a rollercoaster campaign in their final two games at home to Italy and Malta, the best outcome they can hope for is a shot at the playoffs.
Although they are in a more comfortable position than their Scandinavian counterparts, there's a chance that Sweden's final two games could go pear-shaped. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will no doubt be unhappy if the Swedes fail to capitalise on their chance of finishing runners-up of Group C behind Germany, and an unhappy Zlatan always provides entertainment.
Austria trail second-placed Sweden by three points and will be arriving into Solna on Friday night in confident mood, knowing they beat Sweden 2-1 in Vienna back in June. If Austria win in Sweden, their final fixture is against Faroe Islands whilst Sweden play group leaders Germany. A couple of poor performances and the unthinkable may happen - England (if they qualify) won't play Sweden in a major tournament.
One team looking almost certain to miss out on next year's carnival are the Czech Republic. Despite being quarter finalists at Euro 2012, the Czechs are not the force they were prior to the retirement of inspirational playmaker Pavel Nedved in 2006, when they were as high as second in the FIFA rankings. They failed to get out of the group stage at Euro 2008 and were absent in South Africa in 2010.
Many had tipped the Czechs to form a genuine challenge in the 2006 World Cup, however seven years on they are four points adrift of a playoff place with two games remaining, both difficult away encounters in Malta and Bulgaria. Barring a miracle, it looks like more disappointment ahead.
Possibly the most surprising entry on the list, El Tricolor have competed in 14 World Cups and in every one since 1990, where they were banned for fielding four overage players in an U20 match.
They have, however, struggled in this year's campaign and currently sit in fifth place, level on points with fourth-placed Panama.
Fourth place means a playoff spot and many are touting Mexico's clash with Panama on Friday night in Mexico City as one of the biggest games in their history. If they fail to win, their chances of reaching the playoffs will be very slim with the Mexicans travelling to Costa Rica on Tuesday night. Even if Javier Hernandez & Co do sneak a spot in the playoffs, it's been an underwhelming qualifying campaign which has seen them win one game in 2013 against bottom side Jamaica.
Despite topping their group and remaining unbeaten, all African group winners must enter the playoffs and while the Super Eagles will be confident that they'll be involved in Brazil, they must first overcome an Ethiopia team that proved a revelation during this year's qualifying campaign.
Expected to just make up the numbers, Ethiopia were drawn alongside 2010 hosts South Africa in Group A and have performed exceptionally, taking a point from Bafana Bafana in Rustenburg and all three points in the return fixture in Addis Ababa, winning 2-1.
Having won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) earlier this year and with players like Victor Moses and Dynamo Kiev's Brown Ideye, Nigeria will fancy their chances. But as South Africa have discovered, Ethiopia cannot be underestimated.
Ghana or Egypt
Ghana vs Egypt sees the 2010 World Cup quarter finalists battle against the most successful team in AFCON history. The Egyptians won all of their games during their campaign with striker Mohamed Salah leading the African scoring charts, with an impressive six goals in six games.
Ghana ended up on the losing side just once in their campaign, however they have finished the group stages with the highest goal difference of all teams in the group stage, averaging three goals a game whilst only conceding three in six games. Unfortunately for the Black Stars and the Pharaohs, the nature of the format means one of Africa's biggest footballing representatives is certain of missing out.
With Brazil missing from the qualifying groups, Uruguay were seen as hot contenders for automatic qualification. However, they have dropped valuable points at home, drawing 1-1 to Paraguay and Venezuela, whilst being completely outplayed by qualification rivals Columbia succumbing to a 4-0 defeat in Barranquilla.
Fingers have been pointed at head coach Oscar Tabarez as to why a team led by Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan have failed to find any consistency throughout the campaign. Their poor performances mean that Friday's huge clash with Ecuador in Quito will have South America glued to their screens.
Uruguay are currently in fifth, level on 22 points with Ecuador. Only the top four will qualify automatically and with Uruguay's fixture next Tuesday with Argentina beckoning, the playoffs loom large for Suarez and his compatriots.
Senegal are used to causing a surprise in the World Cup. Their maiden World Cup in 2002 saw them lose just one game and they will be in defiant mood on Friday when their playoff first-leg with Ivory Coast kicks off. Senegal are a very young team marshalled in midfield by West Ham's highly rated Mo Diame, while a strike force led by Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse will always cause defenders trouble.
Ivory Coast are the highest ranked team in Africa and are highly expected to compete in Brazil. Winning four and drawing two of their six games, ex-France midfielder Sabri Lamouchi is in charge of ensuring the likes of Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony and the Toure brothers achieve their minimum requirement, to qualify for the World Cup. In short, the Ivorians cannot afford to underestimate Senegal's quality as elimination is not an option.