This is the final hurrah for many teams involved in World Cup Qualifying. We know for certain that 7 more teams will qualify for Brazil in the October period, while another 14 will be eliminated from qualifying. As usual, we’ll make a prediction for every match, but we’ll be focused more on projecting the teams reaching both Brazil and the 2nd place play-offs.
We’re down to just Belgium and Croatia alive in Group A, and it is looking like Belgium will be the one to advance directly to Brazil. In all 1,000 simulations we ran, Belgium finished 1st while Croatia finished 2nd. Although Croatia is extremely likely to finish in 2nd place, they’ll need to keep an eye on the other matches being played. It matters to them who finishes last in the group, which we’ll go into later on.
Croatia v. Belgium – Zagreb, Croatia
This is the match to watch in Group A. If Belgium is able to avoid defeat in Zagreb, they’ll be headed to Brazil. Croatia must surely still be kicking themselves and wondering how they succumbed to Scotland at home in June. Croatia drew away to Belgium in the reverse fixture, so they know they have the ability to come away with 3 points here. Getting points is key, as they’re not in a great spot to grab one of the 8 second place spots in the play-off. We think they are able to snag a point at home, but Belgium should qualify for Brazil here.
Wales v. FYR Macedonia – Cardiff, Wales
This is an interesting match as we think Wales is one of the most overrated teams in the world. We have them all the way down at #119. Croatia should be keeping an eye on this one. If either of these teams finishes last, Croatia will lose 2 wins from their total in the 2nd place play-off. This is not ideal. Call it an upset, but we like the road team to come away with a surprise victory here.
Prediction: FYR Macedonia by 1
At this point, we believe Belgium will be through to Brazil, while Croatia will be looking to clinch a spot in the playoffs. They will still certainly have something to play for on the 15th.
Belgium v. Wales – Brussels, Belgium
When we were considering traveling to Belgium for this match, we didn’t anticipate this being a completely meaningless match for Belgium. But that’s what this is. If Wales cannot defeat Macedonia on the 11th, it looks like they will finish dead last in the group. Completely remarkable considering they have one of the world’s best players on their roster. Belgium should finish qualifying on a high note. Our predictor is quite ambitious.
Prediction: Belgium by 5
Scotland v. Croatia – Glasgow, Scotland
As we indicated above, Croatia at this point will be playing for a spot in the 2nd place play-off. With Wales in the basement, their overall point total will be reduced by 6. This is a critical game for Croatia to get 3 points and ensure they are not the 2nd place team left out. We think they have what it takes to avenge their home loss to Scotland here.
Prediction: Croatia by 1
Serbia v. FYR Macedonia – Jagodina, Serbia
Both of these teams will have nothing to play for in this match. Serbia can finish a disappointing qualifying campaign on a high note here. We expect them to deliver.
Prediction: Serbia by 1
If Croatia is able to reach 21 points, they’ll be in outstanding shape to move on to the play-off. When Group A concludes, we expect the standings to look like this:
Our other UEFA group previews can be seen below. Thanks for reading!
Group B Preview (Italy, Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malta)
Group C Preview (Germany, Sweden, Austria, Republic of Ireland, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands)
Group D Preview (Netherlands, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia, Andorra)
Group E Preview (Switzerland, Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania, Cyprus)
Group F Preview (Russia, Portugal, Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg)
Group G Preview (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein)
Group H Preview (England, Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, San Marino)
Group I Preview (Spain, France, Finland, Georgia, Belarus)