With one round of World Cup qualifying group matches in Europe left – tomorrow – the play-off picture is taking shape. Russia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, France and the Republic of Ireland (respectively in Groups 4, 5, 7 and 8) are already certain to finish second in their sections, and have thus booked play-off berths.
If results run according to form and expectation this week, they will be joined by Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Ukraine, although some outsiders still hope to crash the party.
In Group 1, Portugal need to beat Malta at home to guarantee second place. If they slip up, Sweden can usurp them by winning at home to Albania.
In Group 2, Switzerland currently lead on 20 points from Greece (17) and Israel (15). The Swiss play at home to Israel while Greece have a home banker against Luxembourg. If Switzerland avoid defeat, they will finish top, and Greece will surely win to bag 20 points and at least second place.
In Group 3, Slovakia currently sit top (on 19 points) ahead of Slovenia (17), but the Slovaks play tomorrow in Poland (who are unbeaten at home), while Slovenia play at San Marino, who have lost nine of nine, scoring once, conceding 44. The Czech Republic and Northern Ireland have only theoretical chances of muscling in. Slovenia should win, leaving the Slovaks' performance, and possible goal difference, splitting that pair.
In Group 6, Ukraine need to win at Andorra to guaranteed second place, behind England and ahead of Croatia, who play in Kazakhstan.
The eight second-placed teams will be split for the play-off draw into two pots of four, seeded according to October's world rankings – released this Friday. The four "top" seeds will probably be Russia (currently No 6 in the world), France (No 10), Greece (No 12) and Portugal (No 17), and the four "bottom" seeds will probably be Ukraine (No 25), Republic of Ireland (No 38), Bosnia-Herzogovina (No 46) and Slovenia (No 54) or Slovakia (No 45).
Each of the four top seeds will face one of the bottom seeds over two legs, home and away, to be played on 14 and 18 November. The draw will be next Monday, and there will be a separate draw to ascertain which country plays at home in the second leg.