With yet another round of international matches being played on Tuesday, the qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup is slowly reaching crunch time.
In Europe, traditional powerhouses such as Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Spain are all well on their way to making it to next year's showpiece. Nevertheless, others like England, France and Portugal find themselves in serious trouble with only a few games left, and could be forced to go through the playoffs.
Elsewhere, Argentina is among the South American teams that have reasons for optimism, but 2010 World Cup semifinalist Uruguay is in danger of missing out on qualification.
In Africa and the CONCACAF zone, there is still everything left to play for for the majority of the contenders, while Japan is just one point away from becoming the first Asian team to seal its route to Brazil.
In Group A, Croatia and Belgium are the two teams fighting for top spot, and thus automatic qualification for next year's tournament. They each have 16 points from six encounters and the match between both sides in Zagreb on October 11 will most likely be decisive as to which side will be condemned to the playoffs. Scotland, meanwhile, became the first European team to be eliminated following its loss against Serbia on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Italy is sitting in pole position to win Group B. The team holds a three-point lead over second-placed Bulgaria, while having a game in hand, too. The Bulgarians face a difficult task to hold off Czech Republic and Denmark in the fight for second place.
Germany will fancy its chances of winning Group C, following its double win over Kazakhstan, but Sweden is not out of the race for top spot just yet, as it can close the gap with the Mannschaft to two points if it wins its two games in hand. First place seems to be out of reach for Austria and Republic of Ireland, but they could still lay their hands on the playoff spot if they win their remaining games.
Group D is basically decided in Netherlands' favor after Tuesday's results as Louis van Gaal's men need to win only two of its remaining four games. Hungary and Romania will have to fight it out for second spot, while Turkey still has an outside chance of making it to Brazil.
Switzerland will be hopeful of topping Group E come the end of the qualification campaign, but it has a tough task on its hands as Albania and Iceland are trailing the Swiss by only two points. Norway cannot be written off completely, with seven points from five games, but it cannot afford to slip up in its remaining matches.
Furthermore, Russia will be confident of making it to Brazil thanks to a flawless campaign to date. They may hold just a one-point lead over Israel and Portugal, but they also have two games in hand and could pull away from the rest of the group. Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal salvaged a crucial draw against Israel last Friday, but still have four crucial games coming up if they are to secure second spot.
Group G is a three-horse race between Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece and Slovakia, with the former sitting in pole position at this point. Nevertheless, there are still five games to go and the away match against the Slovakians on September 10 could prove to be a crucial encounter.
England finds itself in real trouble in Group H following Tuesday's draw against leaders Montenegro. The Three Lions still have four matches left to make amends and close the two-point gap, but they cannot afford to slip up as Poland and Ukraine are ready to take advantage of any minor mistake.
Finally, reigning European and world champion Spain got back on track for qualification on Tuesday as it beat rival France 1-0. La Roja now top the table again, holding a point-lead over les Bleus with just three more games to go.
4.5 (inc. playoff)
Things are looking good for Argentina at the moment as Lionel Messi and his teammates top the table, with 24 points from 11 games, after their hard-fought 1-1 draw against Bolivia.
Furthermore, Ecuador will be optimistic about its chances of making it to the World Cup as well, after beating Paraguay 4-1 on Tuesday, while Radamel Falcao's Colombia is well on its way too, despite the recent loss versus Venezuela.
There is also fierce battle going on for the last automatic qualification place. Chile and Venezuela currently sit joint fourth in the table, but Uruguay and Peru still have every chance of making it to Brazil next year as well. Oscar Tabarez's side was dealt a blow on Tuesday, though, when it was beaten 2-0 by Chile.
5 (Playoff winners)
Ethiopia and South Africa are fighting for top spot in Group A, with the former holding a two-point advantage in first place. The 2010 World Cup host will be hopeful of turning things around in the remaining three games, though, in order to secure a playoff spot.
Elsewhere, Tunisia is leading Group B with nine points from three games following its win over Sierra Leone, with the latter and Equatorial Guinea both having to settle for just four points.
Cote d'Ivoire is leading its section after a comfortable win over Gambia at the weekend, but Tanzania is only one point off the pace in Group C halfway through round two.
Zambia and Ghana are fighting it out for top spot in Group D, and the match on September 6 is likely to decide matters. The Ghanaians will be high on confidence, though, after their 4-0 win over Sudan.
Congo has dominated Group E so far, winning all three games, and appears to be on its way to the playoffs without any noteworthy problems.
AFCON winner Nigeria has been struggling in Group F and currently shares top spot with Malawi after it was held to a draw by Kenya on Saturday.
Egypt will be confident of winning Group G having collected nine points from three games and it now holds a five-point lead over second-placed Guinea.
Group H is a tighter affair, with Algeria and Mali sitting joint first, and Benin in third place only two points off the pace.
Meanwhile, Cameroon is sitting in pole position to qualify from Group I, with six points from three games after Samuel Eto'o's double helped them past Togo on Saturday, ahead of Libya and Congo DR.
Finally, Senegal sits atop of Group J with five points, but Liberia, Angola and Uganda still have every chance of making it to the playoffs as well, as the gap between first spot and last spot is only three points.
3.5 (inc. playoff)
Panama has somewhat surprisingly made the best start with five points from three encounters. After a 1-1 draw against Jamaica on Friday, the team managed to bag the full three points versus Honduras on Tuesday (2-0).
However, nothing is decided just yet as there are still seven more games to be played, and the gap between Panama and Jamaica in last place is only three points. Costa Rica, USA and Honduras currently sit joint-second, while Mexico completes the section in fifth place following its scoreless draw against the USA.
Things will get a lot clearer on matchday four, when Panama hosts favorite Mexico, and Clint Dempsey's (pictured) USA travels to Jamaica.
4.5 (inc. playoff)
Uzbekistan is dreaming of making it to the Word Cup for the first time in history as it sits atop of Group A with 11 points from six games after its narrow 1-0 win over Lebanon on Tuesday. Korea Republic has a game in hand and sits second in the table with 10 points, while Iran is the number three in the standings with seven points. Qatar can still make it to at least the playoffs, too, despite its loss to the Koreans this week, while Lebanon has little chance of making it to Brazil.
Elsewhere, Japan is on the verge of sealing qualification for the 2014 World Cup as it needs just one point from its remaining two matches. Japan could have sealed the deal on Tuesday, but a missed spot kick from Yasuhito Endo saw it lose 2-1 to Jordan. Australia will be hopeful of securing second place in the table, but missed the chance to take a big step toward Brazil, as it had to settle for a 2-2 draw versus Oman. Iraq completes the section with five points from as many games.
Playoff v CONCACAF
New Zealand has already won the Oceania qualification campaign after it proved to be too strong for New Caledonia, Tahiti and Solomon Islands.
New Zealand will now have to wait and see who finishes fourth in the CONCACAF zone, with that side to be its opponent in the playoffs.
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