The World Cup is the home of football’s greatest and yet the presence of a large number of top players in Russia next summer is far from assured.
Gareth Bale is already missing out after Wales’ elimination and the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and James Rodriguez still have it all to do with the clock ticking.
Ronaldo plays tonight
Portugal’s permutations are very simple: beat Switzerland in Lisbon tonight, and they qualify for Russia 2018 as group winners. Lose or draw, and it will be the play-offs for the Selecao and Ronaldo, who should at least set to be seeded for November’s double headers.
Messi plays in the early hours
Travelling to Ecuador on Tuesday night are Argentina, knowing that a victory guarantees that they will at least enter them into a play-off with New Zealand. Winning in Quito is by far their best bet to qualify directly via a top four finish while even a defeat is possible to send nudge them into fifth place. The match kicks off at 01:30 CET on Wednesday morning, meaning any European onlookers will have to stay up late.
James Rodriguez also insecure
Colombia travel to Peru for tonight’s decider with fourth place currently theirs, and a win securing their spot in Russia. A draw relies on other’s results with the play-off spot of fifth a possibility, and a defeat almost certainly denying the Real Madrid man a chance for next summer.
Alexis Sanchez faces Brazil
Sitting third in the CONMEBOL group, Chile are arguably best placed to finish among the four direct qualifiers from South America, but Sanchez’s side first face Brazil in Sao Paulo. Without Arturo Vidal, the Copa America winners must hope for an off-day from their already-qualified opponents or from Argentina.
Luka Modric in the play-offs
A 2-0 win in Ukraine sent Croatia through to next month’s play-offs, Real’s Modric assisting the first goal in Kiev. Their seeding among the eight teams will be verified on October 16, when FIFA’s rankings are refreshed.
Buffon also must wait
After Spain took top spot in Italy’s group, Gianluigi Buffon is destined for the play-offs as he looks to round off his career with a successful run at Russia next summer.