Europe's big guns aim to seal Cup spots

LONDON • While a select quartet of Europe's heavyweights battle for the Nations League crown this week, Germany, England, Portugal and Denmark will train their sights on locking down a place at next year's World Cup in Qatar.

Five of the 10 automatic World Cup European qualifying spots could be secured by next Tuesday and the Danes appear the most likely to complete the job, knowing wins over Moldova and Austria will secure top spot in Group F.

Kasper Hjulmand's Euro 2020 semi-finalists are the only country with a 100 per cent record and they have scored 22 goals in six games without reply.

Four-time world champions Germany have also bounced back after their shock 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in March, surging four points clear in Group J after Hansi Flick began his reign last month with three wins from as many qualifiers.

"The games I've seen have been super. I was in Stuttgart for the game against Armenia, and the game (a 6-0 win), the goals and the atmosphere were all top tier," said Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller. "We've got some good momentum going into these games, so we want to keep that going."

Germany can avenge their defeat by the Macedonians on Monday in Skopje, three days after the visit of Romania - one of four teams realistically still in contention.

Home and away victories for Die Mannschaft would effectively seal their place at the 2022 World Cup unless second-placed Armenia secure maximum points from games in Iceland and Romania.

England, semi-finalists and runners-up at the past two major tournaments, could clinch qualification by beating Andorra and Hungary if other results in Group I go their way.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns from suspension as Portugal attempt to keep Serbia at bay in Group A.

The team's captain, the all-time top scorer in men's international football with 111 goals, will lead his side against Luxembourg on Tuesday after they host Qatar in a friendly tomorrow.

The inaugural Nations League winners could theoretically qualify for the World Cup with two games to spare, but only if Serbia slip up against both Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

Belgium's attention will be on a Nations League semi-final clash with France, although the world's top-ranked team and Group E leaders could also punch their ticket to Qatar, depending on the fortunes of Czech Republic and Wales.

Sweden can leapfrog Spain with victories over Greece and Kosovo in Group B, while the Swiss could move level on points with Italy in Group C if they overcome Northern Ireland and Lithuania.

Finland stand the best chance of catching France in Group D. They trail the world champions by seven points but have games in hand against Ukraine and Kazakhstan before hosting Les Bleus in the final round of matches on Nov 16.

Norway are tied with the Netherlands atop Group G on 13 points as they target a first World Cup appearance since 1998, but Stale Solbakken's side must do without injured star Erling Haaland against Turkey and Montenegro.

In Group H, Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, and Russia are the pacesetters, but Slovakia, just four points behind the joint-leaders (13), cannot be discounted either.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2021, with the headline 'Europe's big guns aim to seal Cup spots'. Subscribe