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World 2018 Qualifying: Who can still qualify and who might miss out?

Will Strachan lead Scotland into the World Cup?
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Scotland have given themselves a chance of reaching the play-offs and Northern Ireland should be there too. Meanwhile, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are set for a humdinger as they battle to finish second in their group. Max Liu reports on the teams who are still in contention to reach Russia 2018...

"In Group D, securing a play-off place will be tricky for Wales who must play their final two qualifying matches, away to Georgia on Friday and at home to Republic of Ireland on Monday, without talisman Gareth Bale."

Strachan's men have hope


Scotland are [5.0] to qualify for next summer's World Cup in Russia after their dramatic 1-0 win over Slovakia on Thursday. Martin Skrtel's late own goal gave Gordon Strachan's men victory at Hampden Park in a match that will have shredded the nerves of Scotland fans, as they watched their team flirt with defeat before finally securing a crucial win against ten men. Scotland now go to Slovenia on Sunday knowing that victory will secure them second place in Group F and the chance of reaching a qualifying play-off.

Strachan's men beat Slovenia 1-0 when the teams met at Hampden in March and they go into the return fixture with the momentum behind them. The hosts will have nothing to play for, although they proved in their 1-0 defeat to England on Thursday that they can be stubborn opponents to break down. Scotland are [2.8] to win the match and give themselves the chance of reaching their first World Cup since Craig Brown took them to France in 1998.


Home nations already planning for play-offs


At the moment, only four sides will definitely be at the World Cup next summer. Along with hosts Russia, Belgium, England and Germany will all be there. But from the European qualifying zone there are still ten places to be decided. Six of those will be automatic qualifiers while eight teams - the eight best runners-up - will go into the play-offs from which four teams will reach the Finals. Complicated? Yes, so the best thing the teams can do is concentrate on winning their matches letting the maths take care of themselves.

Northern Ireland are second to Germany in Group C but they have such a healthy amount of points that a draw [3.15] away to Norway on Sunday will see them through to the play-offs.

In Group D, securing a play-off place will be trickier for Wales who must play their final two qualifying matches, away to Georgia on Friday and at home to Republic of Ireland on Monday, without talisman Gareth Bale. Serbia are likely to win the Group with the battle for second-place coming down to a battle between Wales and the Republic. It could be a ferocious contest when Chris Coleman's team host Martin O'Neill's men in Cardiff on Monday.


Elsewhere in Europe


France could be the big casualty if they don't win both their remaining fixtures. Les Bleus have a ridiculously talented squad but, although they're [1.15] to win their group, they recently drew 0-0 at home to Luxembourg, so are capable of slipping up. Sweden should finish second and reach the play-offs but the Netherlands look set to finish third and miss out.

Italy could also have to qualify via a play-off while Euro 2016 champions Portugal are locked in a battle with Switzerland to emerge from Group B.

Once we know who's through, the play-offs will take place over two legs. The first are played from 9 to 11 November while the second legs take place 12-14 of the same month.


Messi and co. on verge of missing out


Argentina could be set to fail to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1970. Lionel Messi and his team-mates were runners-up in Brazil four years ago but their 0-0 draw with Peru on Thursday leaves them in sixth place in the South American qualifying section.

A World Cup without Argentina? It's unthinkable, but fans of the White and Sky Blue needn't despair just yet. Only the top four qualify from the group but, if Argentina beat Ecuador in their final match on Wednesday, they would claim the fifth-place spot which would put them into a play-off against New Zealand.


Syria on verge of astonishing achievement


As international giants and plucky pretenders battle to keep their World Cup hopes alive in the European qualifying section, let's take a moment to salute the achievements of Syria - the team from the war-torn country in the Middle East who are already through to a play-off.

Syrians have been through everything in the past half-decade and their country has become a byword for tragedy and destruction. It will be amazing if their football team can give them something to celebrate and run out in Russia next summer.

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