With two rounds of World Cup qualifiers to go – with nations having a maximum of four games to play – it’s effectively a done deal in terms of group winners for most of the 10 groups in the UEFA section.
The likes of Portugal (1/14 to win Group A), Spain (1/7 – B), Italy (1/7 – C), France (1/33 – D), Belgium (1/200 – E), Denmark (1/50 – F), England (1/50 – I) and Germany (1/33 – J) all hold comfortable leads at the top of their tables and, as the Sportsbook odds suggest, are extremely unlikely to relinquish their positions.
Even in the two groups that aren’t mentioned above, Netherlands in Group G and Croatia in Group H are available to back at just 2/5 and 4/6 respectively to qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup.
That means that finishing second in the group, thus securing a play-off game, is the main focus for many nations during the remaining rounds of qualifiers, none more so than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Group F – Scotland in the driving seat
Denmark are seven points clear at the top of Group F but after winning just one of their first four games Scotland have turned their qualifying campaign around with back-to-back wins, including an excellent win against main Top 2 Finish rivals Austria last time.
Steve Clarke‘s men currently sit second in the group on 11 points, one point ahead of Israel and four ahead of Austria.
Scotland’s crunch game comes on Saturday when they host Israel at Hampden Park – Clarke’s men are 10/11 to take the victory – and should they win that then they’ll be in an excellent position, four points ahead of the nations below them with games against group minnows Faroe Islands and Moldova to come.
With Israel also having to face Austria away from home, and Austria having a game at Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark, it’s likely that Scotland’s main group rivals will drop enough points to allow Scotland to have the runner-up position sealed before they host Denmark in their final qualifying game on 15 November.
Group E – Pivotal game upcoming for Wales
Following an opening game defeat to Belgium, Wales won back-to-back games to put them in an excellent position in Group E, though a home draw with Estonia last time enabled main group rivals Czech Republic to perhaps seize the initiative.
Wales and Czech Republic both currently have seven points and it looks a straight fight between the pair for the runner-up position behind Belgium. Rob Page‘s men can be backed at 5/4 in the Group E Top 2 Finish market though it’s the Czechs who are the favourites at 8/15.
Like Scotland, the crunch game for Wales is next up when they have a tough match away to the Czech Republic. The hosts are 7/10 for victory with Wales at 9/2 and the Draw at 13/5.
Avoiding defeat on Friday appears key to Wales’ chances of finishing runner-up. Should they do so they’ll have three game remaining to the Czech Republic’s two, with two of those games coming against the group’s bottom clubs, Belarus and Estonia.
Group C – Northern Ireland still have a shout
It’s going to be tough for Norther Ireland to finish second in the group behind European champions Italy but they at least have a chance.
Five points from their opening four games have Ian Baraclough‘s men third in the table, three points behind Switzerland. The Swiss are 1/7 to record a Group C Top 2 Finish with Northern Ireland at 4/1.
And just like Scotland and Wales, Norther Ireland’s crunch game comes up next when the face Switzerland away from home on Saturday.
But should Northern Ireland spring an upset at the weekend, or even avoid defeat, they then have winnable games against the nations below them in the group, Bulgaria and Lithuania, before a home game against an Italy team likely to have nothing to play for, to end their qualifying campaign.