Spain and Sweden will head into a winner-takes-all clash in Seville on Sunday as the business end of the European Qualifiers continue to heat up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The final sequence of fixtures will take place over the next few days, with the 10 direct qualifiers and 12 playoff contenders set to be confirmed. Group winners will automatically qualify for the 2022 finals in Qatar while the runners-up face a playoff.
Notably, Spain took a considerable step towards next year’s World Cup in Qatar after claiming a 1-0 win in Greece, which coupled with Sweden’s shock 2-0 defeat to Georgia on Thursday, has seen the 2010 World Cup winners move one point ahead in Group B.
It means Spain will just need a draw to secure first place and the automatic berth.
“We won’t make the mistake of playing for the draw,” Spain coach Luis Enrique insisted, though. “Sweden is a complicated rival. We know them well.”
Spain has qualified for every World Cup since 1978, winning its lone title in 2010 in South Africa. However, they were eliminated by host Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
Meanwhile, Portugal edged closer to automatic World Cup qualification on Thursday despite a disappointing 0-0 draw with Ireland, and they will now need to bank another point in their final game at home to Group A rivals Serbia to secure their spot in Qatar.
Two months ago Portugal required two last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo goals to avoid defeat against Ireland, but Thursday’s draw was enough to keep them level on 17 log points with Serbia, and most importantly still top of Group A based on a superior goal difference.
However, Portugal will head into the all-important clash against Serbia on Sunday without the services of central defender Pepe, who was sent off late on for a second bookable offence.
In another set of games to look out for in the coming days, England will take on Albania on Friday looking to consolidate their handy position at the top of Group I where they are three points ahead of Poland, with Albania in third (15 points)
It’s an opportunity for England to all but secure their automatic qualification before one final match-up against San Marino on Monday.
In the build-up to these games, there have been plenty of challenges for manager Gareth Southgate to contend with due to illness, injuries and players pulling out of the squad.
Declan Rice, James Ward-Prowse and Marcus Rashford withdrew from the England squad, while Mason Mount and Luke Shaw will miss Friday’s World Cup Qualifier.
Albania also present a potential “banana-peel” fixture considering they have been in impressive form recently, beating Hungary home and away.
Nevertheless, there really should be no dramas for England to book their place at the highly-anticipated World Cup showpiece, which will kick off on Monday, 21 November next year at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor.
The final will be played at the Lusail Stadium in Doha on 18 December.