World Cup Update
While England and their fans continue to suffer the pain of qualification, supporters of other nations are already putting their feet up and dreaming of the World Cup Finals in Brazil next summer.
As hosts, Brazil qualified automatically and Coral’s 3/1 favourites have been joined by their big rivals, Argentina (5/1), who lead the South American group with two rounds to play and are already guaranteed an all-important top-four place.
The other three spots are being fought out by Colombia (28/1), Uruguay (33/1), Chile (50/1) and Ecuador (125/1) and there will be fireworks tomorrow when Colombia play Chile and Ecuador host Uruguay, although whoever loses out from this quartet will still qualify for Brazil if they can beat Jordan in a play-off.
In Europe Italy (14/1) and Holland (20/1) are already safely through and will surely be joined by powerhouses Spain and Germany (both 5/1) and Switzerland (125/1), who are basically there bar the shouting.
It will be a shock, too, if Belgium (18/1) don’t make it. The emerging force in European football will ensure they go through as winners of Group A if they avoid defeat in Croatia tomorrow or win their final match at home against Wales on Tuesday.
But France and Portugal (both 33/1) have work to do – not for the first time – and are in some danger of not going to the party in Rio. France had the misfortune of being drawn alongside Spain in Group I and not surprisingly will almost certainly end up playing second fiddle to the European and World champions before taking their chances in a play-off.
Portugal will expect to win their last two games in Group F against Israel and Luxembourg, both at home, but even then will be relying on Russia to to drop points in one of their matches away at Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates will take heart from Northern Ireland’s win over Fabio Capello’s side in August, but another slip up seems unlikely against the bottom two teams in the group and Portugal are another top nation facing the uncertainties of the play-offs.
As for the rest, USA and Costa Rica have already qualified from the CONCACAF group, while Japan, South Korea, Australia and Iran have made it from the Asian group.
The five African qualifiers will be known after two-game play-offs featuring familiar names like the Ivory Coast and Senegal and also the holiday island of Cape Verde, who, at the moment, are as close as England to qualifying for Brazil.