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World Cup Qualifying: What to look out for

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With all the craziness of transfer deadline day and the focus being very much on club football, it's easy to forget that there are some international matches coming up that will go a long way to deciding the identities of the European representatives at next year's World Cup in Brazil.

There are some huge matches to play before the Premier League resumes on September 14th, and while international football has often been put on the back-burner for some players in favour of club commitments, these fixtures are absolutely unmissable for players or fans.

Group A

The identity of the top-two positions looks to be all but decided as World Cup dark horses Belgium and the Igor Stimac coached Croatians are well ahead of the chasing pack on 19 and 16 points respectively. Belgium face an away match with a Scotland side that were unlucky to lose to England at Wembley in their recent friendly, and the Belgians will know that a win could very well secure them qualification if Croatia fail to beat Serbia in a tricky looking away tie.

Elsewhere, Wales face what are essentially two dead rubbers when they take on Macedonia and Serbia, trying to find some confidence looking towards Euro 2016 qualifying instead.

Group B

Clear favourites Italy have not had it all their own way in this group, and have faced stiff opposition for the top spot from Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, mainly.

In fact, the Italians face both their nearest challengers as they welcome Bulgaria to Palermo before the Czechs come calling just four days later, in a pair of clashes that will be pivotal in deciding the fate of the group.

Cesare Prandelli's men have a lot of work still to do after only managing to draw against these two sides in the reverse fixtures.

Group C

Five points clear at the top, Germany look like overwhelming favourites to go on and secure qualification with home matches against Austria and the Republic of Ireland to come.

The battle for second place is where Group C really heats up, however. Austria, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland are all locked on 11 points with each side still to play one of the other two in what will be a fierce battle to secure a play-off spot behind the Germans.

Group D

Runaway leaders the Netherlands are a sure bet to qualify from the group at a canter as they travel to bottom sides Estonia and Andorra, comfortably leading second placed Hungary by seven points.

The Hungarians are battling Romania for the coveted second spot and the two go head-to-head on Friday in Bucharest in a game that is arguably more important for the Romanians, who then host dangerous Turkey four days later.

Group E

It's all to play for in Group E, however Switzerland can almost cement their place at next year's finals with two good results this weekend as they already lead the group by four points from Albania. 

Ottmar Hitzfeld's side host Iceland before going to Norway in two tough games against sides looking for late pushes towards qualification.

The Albanians are the surprise package of the group and face journeys to Slovenia and Iceland as they look to prove their play-off credentials. 

Group F

The top-three in this group, Portugal, Russia and Israel are well ahead of the chasing pack but are only separated by three points as the race for top spot hots up.

Crucially, Portugal lead the group but have only one game remaining, an away trip at a rejuvenated Northern Ireland who secured a shock 1-0 win over Fabio Capello's Russia two weeks ago.

Elsewhere Russia will aim to get back to winning ways when they take on Israel in another huge match in terms of deciding qualification in one of the most exciting groups in Europe.

Group G

Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece are the front-runners for qualification on 16 and 13 points respectively, with the Bosnians in incredible goalscoring form, having netted 23 times in six matches.

This was undoubtedly helped by an 8-1 drubbing of Liechtenstein, who Greece now face in the hope of clawing back the deficit on the Bosnians.

Best of the rest, Slovakia, have two daunting matches against Edin Dzeko & Co in their attempt to overhaul the Greeks into second place.

Group H

Roy Hodgson's England quite simply cannot afford any more mistakes when they take on Moldova and Ukraine in the next week.

The Ukrainians are a real threat to England and would have beaten them at Wembley if not for a late Frank Lampard penalty, and Hodgson's men now know that they must get a result in Kiev to keep the pressure up on Montenegro.

The group leaders do have a tough task away at Poland however, with England looking for the Poles to do them a favour before the huge clash in October between the current top two.

Group I

A group that Spain were expected to walk hasn't quite been as straightforward as first thought, with France providing a stern test to the reigning world champions and Finland observing proceedings from slightly further back.

Spain will be looking to end any lingering Finnish hopes of qualifying on Friday night with a win in Helsinki, while France can capitalise on any potential Spanish slip-up when they take on Georgia in a match they really should win if they harbour any thoughts of challenging for the World Cup next year in Brazil.

Only one point separates the two leaders, and whoever finishes as runners-up in this group will certainly be one to avoid in a potential play-off clash.

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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