Home Nations watch: Wales & Scotland battling for play-off berths
There are just two games left in World Cup Qualifying for the Home Nations. All four remain in the mix, but none are yet confirmed of a place at World Cup 2018 in Russia. In other words, it’s all to play for.
Here’s what awaits the quartet in October’s final two qualifying games.
As it stands, Wales are in the driving seat in Group D’s battle for second spot. Having trailed the Republic of Ireland for much of the campaign, the two teams forms have now flipped – leaving the Dragons a point ahead of the Boys in Green.
Chris Coleman’s men face Georgia next, in a game which should be a straightforward three points. Their opponents are yet to win in the group stage, and now host a Wales side who have conceded just twice in five WCQ games.
Win that, and they’ll be in an incredibly strong position. The Dragons haven’t actually beaten Martin O’Neill’s men since 1992, but with three of the last four meetings finishing level, a point shouldn’t be beyond them.
Gordon Strachan’s side looked down and out after successive 3-0 defeats to Slovakia and England, but have turned a corner in recent months. The Scots have picked up 10 points from a possible 12 since their Wembley humbling.
As it stands, Scotland and Slovenia sit together on 14 points, just one behind Slovakia, who currently occupy that all-important second spot.
Remarkably, those two sides are the next opponents for Strachan’s side. Slovakia at Hampden Park is up first, before the Tartan Army head to Slovenia. It’s a big ask, but having scored five without reply over the past two games (against Malta and Lithuania respectively), we’re certainly not ruling Scotland out.
Michael O’Neill’s men are guaranteed second spot already, but there’s still a slim chance they could pip top spot from Germany. It’s unlikely, but a victory over Die Mannschaft at Windsor Park would leave just two points between the sides ahead of the final fixture.
However, the main focus in the Norn Iron camp will likely be on keeping up a high level of performance, and continuing the defensive solidity which has seen them keep seven clean sheets in their previous eight qualifying games.
The Three Lions’ Wembley comeback against Slovakia means they need just two points to confirm their place in Russia next summer.
Gareth Southgate’s much-changed squad host Slovenia in game nine, with rotation likely. Eight of the squad have five appearances or fewer, including uncapped pair Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire.
However, if they are on the receiving end of an upset by Srecko Katanec’s men, that puts the pressure on for the final group game, away to Lithuania.
That said, with the likes of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford both in fine striking form, the chances of Southgate’s side slipping up more than once seem very small indeed.
Click here for the latest WCQ 2018 odds.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing