Compiled by MARY HANNIGAN
HAVING ALREADY qualified, tonight’s final group games will be stress-free for Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and England. Sixteen other nations are still battling it out either for direct qualification for the finals or a place in the play-offs.
All nine group winners automatically qualify, plus the second-placed team with the highest points tally.
If teams finish level on points in a group the first criteria used to separate them are the head-to-head results between the teams. After that it goes to the goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question, followed by goals scored in those games, and then goals scored away from home.
Because some groups contain six teams and others five, only results against the top five in each group will count for the purpose of ranking the runners-up.
Just five teams – Russia (but only if they lose to Andorra and fail to win Ireland’s group), Portugal, Denmark, Sweden and Croatia – could now end up as the runners-up with the highest points tally. Ireland can only reach a total of 15 points, which is topped by Portugal and Denmark in Group H.
It’s all in Sweden’s hands – if they beat group winners the Netherlands at home tonight they qualify as the best runners-up.
If Sweden don’t beat the Dutch, and if you leave Russia out of the equation, then Croatia, Portugal and Denmark (who play each other) could take the automatic qualifying spot.
SEEDINGS: If Ireland can claim a play-off spot, they will hope France can beat Bosnia so they can hold on to one of the top four seedings ahead of Thursday’s draw.
At present Ireland are ranked 15th in the interim rankings, which will be updated after the final round of fixtures. Looking through the other groups, that places them in a likely fifth position, but one of the higher ranked teams (Portugal, Sweden, Denmark or Croatia) will earn automatic qualification as best runner-up, pushing Ireland into the top seedings and ensuring the second leg will be played at home on November 15th.
At this stage the four likely bottom seeds are Bosnia, Czech Republic, Turkey and Montenegro.
GROUP A: Already qualified: Germany. Play-off contenders: Belgium and Turkey.
Belgium and Turkey must fight it out for the runners-up spot. Belgium are a point ahead, but they’re away to Germany, while Turkey are at home to Azerbaijan. Belgium must match Turkey’s result – Turkey have a superior head-to-head record.
GROUP B:Already qualified: None. Can win group: Russia and Ireland. Play-off contenders: Russia, Ireland and Armenia.
If Andorra produce a massive shock by depriving Russia of the point they need, Ireland could win the group if they beat Armenia. A draw would put Ireland in the play-offs, a defeat would see Armenia beat them to second.
GROUP C:Already qualified: Italy. Play-off contenders: Estonia and Serbia.
Italy are through and Estonia, in second, have finished their campaign. The Serbs need to beat Slovenia away tonight to take second place, a draw not enough because Estonia bettered them in their head-to-head games.
GROUP D:Already qualified: None. Can win group/play-off contenders: France and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Only France and Bosnia and Herzegovina can qualify from the group – and they meet in Paris tonight. A draw will do the French, putting BH in the play-offs.
GROUP E: Already qualified: The Netherlands. Runners-up: Sweden.
The Dutch are through and the Swedes are certain of a play-off place because, even if they lose at home to the Netherlands, they have a better head-to-head record against Hungary. A win would secure Sweden automatic qualification as the runners-up with the highest points tally.
GROUP F:Already qualified: None. Can win group/play-off contenders: Greece and Croatia.
Greece are two points clear of Croatia so a draw away to Georgia would seal qualification. Croatia must win at home to Latvia and hope the Greeks slip up. If they finish level on points Greece, with the better head-head record, top the group. Croatia have a chance of automatic qualification as best runners-up, but would need other results to go their way.
GROUP G: Qualified: England.
Nothing to play for in this group.
GROUP H: Qualified: None.
Can win group:Portugal and Denmark. Play-off contenders: Portugal, Denmark and Norway.
Portugal and Denmark, who meet in Copenhagen, are three points clear of Norway, who play Cyprus in Oslo. With the better head-to-head record against Norway, Denmark are guaranteed at least a play-off spot, but they must beat the Portuguese to win the group. The Norwegians’ only hope of a play-off place is if Portugal lose and they trounce Cyprus . If Sweden fail to beat the Netherlands, there’s a good chance the runners-up in this group will qualify automatically.
GROUP I:Qualified: Spain.
Play-off contenders: Scotland and the Czech Republic.
The runners-up spot is between Scotland and the Czech Republic. Scotland are a point ahead, but are away to Spain. The Czechs – who have a superior head-to-head with Scotland – are away to Lithuania. If Scotland lose to Spain, a point would be enough for the Czechs to take second place.