The international break isn’t the most popular section of the football calendar. Many spectators would much rather watch club football.
However, the upcoming international break is different to any other. There aren’t any of the dull friendlies that we’ve become used to, and instead there are several key games all across the world.
It’s the final round of World Cup qualifiers in Europe. Germany and Denmark have already qualified. This week, eight more teams will join them, and we’ll also know the 12 teams who will go into the play-offs.
The group stage is also nearly complete in Africa, with ten teams set to go into play-off rounds. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of fixtures remaining in North America, South America and Asia.
It ought to be an exciting week. Here are the big games to keep an eye out for.
As mentioned above, the first stage of World Cup qualifying in Europe is set to come to a close this week. Ten teams will automatically qualify as group winners, while 12 will go into the play-offs for the final three qualifying spots.
And there are some big names at risk of not qualifying. For example, Euro 2020 champions Italy are far from guaranteed a place in Qatar. They currently sit level on points with Switzerland with two games to play.
The pair clash on November 12 at 19:45 GMT. The winner will almost certainly book their place at the tournament, while the loser will have to settle for a play-off spot.
Speaking of big names, they hardly get any bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo. Qatar 2022 could be his last ever World Cup, and he will be desperate to make an impression.
But for now, he will have to make sure he gets there first. On November 14, Portugal host Serbia in a potentially decisive fixture, which could leave the Euro 2016 victors in second place.
The reverse fixture was full of drama. Serbia came back from 2-0 down to claim a point – although they were indebted to a goal-line decision that ruled out a late Ronaldo winner, inspiring an infamous reaction GIF.
Spain could also be on the verge of elimination. They currently sit second in their group, two points behind Sweden. The two face each other on November 14, with La Furia Roja likely needing to win to take top spot.
If things go badly for Luis Enrique’s men, they could potentially drop into third and miss out on the play-offs, with Greece taking their place.
Netherlands and Norway are also battling it out for an automatic qualification place. The former came so close in 2010 and 2014 but failed to qualify in 2018. Meanwhile, the latter have a young and exciting team emerging.
Louis van Gaal’s men are currently two points clear at the top but could drop into second with a defeat at home to Norway on November 16.
Lurking behind both sides are Turkey, who could still claim top spot with victories over Gibraltar and Montenegro.
Two of the most significant teams at the last World Cup are also facing off for a place at the next one. Finalists Croatia welcome former hosts Russia on November 14, in a game that will likely decide the winner of Group H.
Meanwhile, there are two groups where everything is still up for grabs. In Group D, France look like the ones who will claim top spot, but Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland still hold realistic hopes of finishing in second.
It could be a hectic week, with the big game looking like Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Ukraine on November 16.
Group J is in a similar position. Germany have already secured their place in Qatar, while Romania, North Macedonia, and Armenia are all separated by one point from second to fourth place. Armenia play North Macedonia on November 11.
The group stage of African World Cup qualifying is also coming to an end this week.
However, there is no automatic qualification, with the ten group winners going into a play-off to determine the five qualified teams. Morocco and Senegal are the only teams guaranteed to progress to the next round.
The current Africa Cup of Nations holders Algeria are currently at risk of missing out. They sit top of their group on goal difference alone, with Burkina Faso hoping to cause a shock. They clash on November 16, with the loser being eliminated.
Meanwhile in Group D, two of Africa’s biggest footballing nations are set to face off, with only one getting the chance to qualify for the World Cup.
Ivory Coast will travel to Cameroon on November 16, knowing that a draw will probably be enough to secure their place in the play-offs.
Things are also close in Group G. Ghana are top with ten points, while South Africa sit in second on nine. On November 14, they will face each other.
South American qualifying is brutal. With a touch of Lionel Messi’s quality and a hint of Tony Pulis-esque roughhouse tactics, it’s always a fascinating watch.
And this week should be no exception. On November 12, Brazil come up against Colombia, while Uruguay welcome the visit of Argentina, in two clashes that should see a number of the world’s best players on display.
Four days later, we’ve got a repeat of the Copa America final, as Argentina host Brazil. The last fixture between the two was halted early on, as Brazilian authorities arrived on the scene to escort several Argentinian players off the pitch for their breach of COVID-19 rules. What’s not to love?
Meanwhile, the likes of Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru are also vying for a place at the World Cup. This time next week, the table could look very different.
North American qualifying isn’t even halfway through yet. However, this week could still have some decisive games.
Canada are looking to qualify for only their second World Cup ever and their first since 1986. As of now, they’re on course to hit their target, sitting in third place.
However, a bad week could cause them to fall as far as seventh. They face Costa Rica on November 13 and then welcome group-toppers Mexico to the Commonwealth Stadium four days later.
The latter fixture is the second in a tough round for Mexico. They also have to play second-placed United States on November 13.
If they lose both games, they could fall all the way down to fourth, which would leave them out of the automatic qualification places.
Asian qualifying has been relatively uneventful so far. Iran and South Korea are currently leading Group A, while Saudi Arabia and Australia are in front in Group B.
The big shock so far is Japan, who currently sit in fourth place in Group B. This would leave them eliminated from the tournament, having almost beaten Belgium back in the 2018 World Cup.
The biggest game of the week comes between two of the group leaders.
On November 11, Australia face Saudi Arabia, knowing that a win will take them top of the group. However, a loss puts them at risk of dropping below Oman, which would leave them in a play-off place.
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