LONDON: Thus far five nations are certain of appearing at the World Cup finals in Brazil next year: Brazil (automatically as hosts) plus initial qualifiers Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea. That total might hit 11 tonight if results around the world go the right way.
Poised to celebrate are Argentina and Colombia from South America plus up to four from Europe: Italy, Germany, Holland and Switzerland.
In South America most of the nine nations still have three games to play and mathematically only Bolivia are out of it. Colombia need a draw away to Uruguay to be sure in which case a draw would be enough for Leo Messi’s Argentina in Paraguay. Venezuela play Peru and the losers will be eliminated.
The advantages are with Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador. The fifth-placed team – probably Uruguay or Venezuela – must play Jordan or Uzbekistan for a place in the finals.
Europe can celebrate its first qualifiers tonight with Italy likely to lead the way from group B since victory over Czech Republic in Turin would send the Azzurri through with two games to spare. Mario Balotelli is fit and ready.
In Group C Germany will qualify yet again if they add to a record of six wins by winning in the Faroe Islands. That will be enough if Sweden fail to beat Kazakhstan.
In Group D Holland will be through if they win in Andorra and Romania are unable to defeat Turkey. The Dutch could also advance with a draw as long as Romania lose and Hungary do not take all three points against Estonia.
In Group E Switzerland will be qualifiers too if they win in Norway – who held them 2-2 at home last Friday – and Iceland draw with Albania.
Oceania winners New Zealand are two matches away. They won their regional section and must play off against the fourth team in the Central and North America section. That could be Mexico after their shock home defeat at the weekend by Honduras.
El Tri go away to the United States who are on a recovery mission of their own after a surprise defeat by Costa Rica. All to play for: at the moment it looks like Costa Rica, the US and Honduras for certain qualifying slots and Mexico for the play-offs.
In Africa 10 nations are still alive heading into the final qualifying round. They will be drawn into five direct knockout ties with the winners going to Brazil.