Russia 2018: Where do the home nations and Republic of Ireland stand in World Cup qualifying?

By Jackson Cole

All roads lead to Russia! This is certainly the case for the home nations and the Republic of Ireland.

However, there are still a few obstacles for them to overcome before they can begin to think about next summer’s tournament.

For some it’s a routine task but others are desperately scrambling for a runner-up spot to keep their dreams alive.

Here is what lies ahead for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland as the teams prepare for their final two games in their respective groups.

 

England

Fixtures: Slovenia (H) 5/10        Lithuania (A) 8/10

 

The Three Lions are in the best position of all the home nations. It seems a foregone conclusion that England will qualify as group winners as they only require a win against Slovenia at Wembley – or two draws – to achieve this.

Harry Kane will captain England as manager Gareth Southgate looks to find a permanent skipper following Wayne Rooney’s decision to retire from international football in August.

But the 47-year-old boss has found himself in an awkward situation after suggesting that some of the players in the squad for the upcoming qualifiers were not deserving of their places.

The likes of Fabian Delph received a call-up despite just one Premier League start at left-back this season, although the Manchester City player has since withdrawn due to injury.

 

Scotland

Fixtures: Slovakia (H) 5/10        Slovenia (A) 8/10

 

Gordon Strachan’s men will need a favour from rivals England as they look to secure a play-off spot in Group F.

Scotland are fourth but are only a point behind their next two opponents, so will look to secure second, with two wins, as Slovakia’s final game is against minnows Malta.

They are missing Stuart Armstrong and Scott Brown but Leigh Griffiths will look to continue his goal scoring heroics, which saw his side nearly defeat England at Hampden Park in June.

 

Northern Ireland

Fixtures: Germany (H) 5/10        Norway (A) 8/10

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This has already been a fantastic qualifying campaign for the Green and White army who have guaranteed second place for themselves and only need a point to secure a play-off place.

Northern Ireland can play with a certain freedom but can still finish top of Group C. However, that would require a maximum six points from their games, and for reigning World Cup champions Germany to also lose at home to Azerbaijan.

A huge amount of credit should go to manager Michael O’Neill, who guided Northern Ireland to a last-16 spot at Euro 2016 (their first tournament in 30 years).

The former Shamrock Rovers boss appeared to commit his future to Northern Ireland after early speculation linked him with a move to club management.

 

Wales

Fixtures: Georgia (A) 6/10      Republic of Ireland (H) 9/10

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Wales currently lie second in their group but are four points off Group D leaders Serbia and are currently the lowest ranked second placed team of all the European groups.

With only eight spots from the nine groups available for the play-offs, Chris Coleman’s men will have to rely on other teams slipping up, while also thinking about taking maximum points from their difficult games.

There is also the small matter of talisman Gareth Bale being ruled out with a calf strain, which could also see him miss their play-off tie as well, should they get there.

 

Republic of Ireland

Fixtures: Moldova (H) 6/10     Wales (A) 9/10

 

Martin O’Neill’s men have it all to do but are still alive despite their damaging defeat at home to Serbia last month.

Their first game against Moldova should be fairly routine but they will surely need a victory in Wales to retain any hope of a play-off spot.

Uncapped Scott Hogan has received a call-up stepping in for Jon Walters who was ruled out with a knee injury.

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