It’s the final round of group matches in qualifying, meaning it’s a key night for many of our lads – some vying to secure first place in their respective groups to secure a spot on the plane next year, with others competing for second spot and a place in the play-offs.
England know victory over Poland at Wembley will see them win Group H and guarantee their place at next summer’s tournament finals – but anything less could see Ukraine, who visit basement side San Marino tonight, leap into pole position. That would mean the Three Lions would be forced to settle for second place, which would see them forced to try and qualify through the lottery of the play-offs.
Andros Townsend, who took the headlines following his man of the match display in Friday’s 4-1 win over Montenegro, is once again at Roy Hodgson’s disposal, as is striker Jermain Defoe, although right-back Kyle Walker misses out through suspension after collecting a yellow card – his second in qualifying – on Friday.
Hugo Lloris’ France could still theoretically top Group I if they beat Finland at home this evening, but they’re relying on group leaders Spain – currently three points ahead – to slip up when they host Georgia.
Hugo, who captains the French side, will no doubt be confident his team has enough in the locker to qualify through the play-offs, but they’ll be aiming for the best case scenario this evening.
Some of our other stars have it all to play for tonight. Knowing first place in their respective groups is now out of reach, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s Iceland, Vlad Chiriches’ Romania and Christian Eriksen’s Denmark are all looking to secure second place, in a bid to make the play-offs.
Gylfi and Iceland are in the best position to achieve that, sitting second in Group E heading into tonight’s visit to Norway, meaning their fate is in their own hands.
Vlad and Christian will be hoping their respective nations can claim victories and others slip up, although Vlad misses tonight’s game against Estonia through suspension. Both are level with the second placed teams in their groups, but are perched in third on goal difference only.
As mentioned, Romania host Estonia in Group D, and will be hoping to better the result of second placed Turkey, who host group winners the Netherlands. If both Romania and Turkey slip up, a win for fourth placed Hungary could be enough for them to steal in and claim the runners-up spot.
Christian’s Denmark face a similar predicament in Group B. They’ve currently got 13 points, the same as second placed Bulgaria, with Christian’s side hosting basement side Malta tonight, while Bulgaria have a tricky home match against fourth placed Czech Republic, who are just a point behind second and third with 12 points. Fifth placed Armenia are behind Czech Republic on goal difference only, meaning they also could qualify for the play-offs if results go their way.
Away from the race to qualify, the pressure is off for Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli and Mousa Dembele as Belgium – already qualified as winners of Group A after Friday’s victory over Croatia – host Wales. Neither side has anything to play for, but no doubt Jan, Nacer and Mousa will be keen to put on a show in front of their nation’s home fans.
It’s a similar story for Erik Lamela, whose Argentina side cannot be caught at the top of the South American qualifying group. They visit Uruguay tonight and will be looking to round off their qualifying campaign in style, as they prepare for next summer’s finals.
Brazil, of course, automatically qualify for next summer’s finals as the host nation, but they’re also in action today, with Paulinho in their squad for a friendly match against Zambia.
Elsewhere, some of our younger stars are involved in important European qualifiers at Under-21 and Under-19 levels this week.
Harry Kane, who bagged a hat-trick in England Under-21s’ 4-0 win over San Marino last week, remains in Gareth Southgate’s squad alongside midfielder Tom Carroll, currently on loan at Queens Park Rangers, as Lithuania oppose the Three Lions.
Goalkeeper Jordan Archer, meanwhile, was in action for Scotland Under-21s on Monday, saving a penalty in his side’s visit to Georgia in 2015 European Championship qualifying. Unfortunately for Jordan, that save didn’t impact on the overall result, as the hosts won 2-1.
Young midfielder Aaron McEneff has had a busy week with Northern Ireland’s Under-19 squad. They face the third of three European Under-19 qualifiers in quick succession today as they oppose Iceland, having drawn 1-1 with France on Saturday, and lost 2-0 to Belgium last Thursday. They’re currently fourth in their group, but are only a point behind a qualifying spot in second.
Attacking midfielder Will Miller, a shining light in our Under-18s side, has enjoyed a successful week with England Under-18s, as they beat Hungary 4-0 in a friendly at St George’s Park. Will anchored the midfield superbly in Monday’s win, playing the first hour before being withdrawn.
As always, we wish all our lads the best of luck for their respective matches tonight.