|1||B||Portugal (X)||7||6||0||1||22||4||+18||18||Advance to second round (play-offs)|
|5||C||Northern Ireland (Y, Z)||7||4||1||2||10||5||+5||13|
We are into the final round of qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The European section sees the nine group winners qualify automatically while leaving the nine group runners up in the lottery known as the play-offs, although unfortunately it is not that simple as nine into eight does not go.
This means that one nation will finish second in their respective group and not even be afforded the chance to contest a play-off next month. At present going into this evening and the start of the next three nights of action it is Scotland who sit bottom.
It however is not all doom and gloom though for Gordon Strachan‘s side, they know that they need a win over Slovenia to finish second in the group behind England. Therefore that same result will see them leapfrog Greece who have already played all of their eight qualifying matches (not counting the record against the bottom team Gibraltar).
The only nightmare for Scotland would be a draw for them and Slovakia losing to Malta. That would mean Scotland finishing second but not then getting the required points to overtake Greece. Quite simply it becomes win or bust on both counts for The Tartan Army.
Northern Ireland need to pick up a point tonight in Norway to secure their play-off slot. They are above Greece at the moment but a 2-0 defeat would then see them slip below them. If you were to couple that with wins for Croatia, Wales and Scotland then they would then be the worst of the nine runners up.
So a draw for Michael O’Neill’s men would get them over the line. But the same might not be able to be said for Wales. A draw would see them finish second in the group when they go head to head with the Republic Of Ireland but that would only mean that they would be on 12 points.
Therefore they will be keeping a very keen eye on Scotland’s fixture. If Scotland win tonight then it becomes a must win fixture for Chris Coleman’s men in Cardiff. In effect it would then become a winner takes all play-off on Monday night and negating the possibility of a draw.
Should Scotland fail to win then it would then depend on which team actually finishes second in the group to see whether a draw would be enough for Wales. It is fair to say that the Welsh will be hoping their Celtic cousins do not end their campaign with a win.
Italy finished second in their group and have enough points to be safe in terms of any drop out and the same can be said for Portugal if they fail to beat Switzerland at home on Tuesday night. If Switzerland lose they will also be safe from not finishing 9th.
Sweden and Denmark will just need a point from their last fixtures due to their very favourable goal differences. The fact that the Swedes recorded a 8-0 win over Luxembourg last night did them a huge favour, while Denmark look unlikely to supersede Poland tonight.
Admittedly there are problem even more permutations but I am looking at it if the nine teams in the table stay second in the group, there are many layers to consider should other teams manage to come into the equations over the next three nights. It may well mean we have to get the Abacus out.