10 things to watch as international football returns

Harry Kane celebrates his goal in England's 6-0 rout of Bulgaria last time out in qualifying

The scramble for Euro 2020 places comes to its conclusion this week as the final international fixtures of the year are played out across the continent.

Six countries have already secured their spot at next summer’s finals and several others stand on the brink. For some, however, it’s going to be a nervous few days.

We pick out  10 things to keep a close eye on during this decisive round of internationals.

Harry Kane celebrates his goal in England’s 6-0 rout of Bulgaria last time out in qualifying

CAN WORLD CHAMPIONS FRANCE SECURE TOP SEED STATUS?

The seedings for next summer’s finals draw will be determined by group position and, as it stands, there are a few big fish lurking in pot two for when the draw takes place in Bucharest on November 30.

Reigning world champions France are currently second in qualifying Group H and if that were to remain the same, they could be paired with the likes of England, Spain or Holland in a Euro 2020 group.

Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann look dejected as France lose to Turkey

Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann look dejected as France lose to Turkey

Turkey then secured a 1-1 draw at the Stade de France last month to move to take top spot

Turkey then secured a 1-1 draw at the Stade de France last month to move to take top spot

France are currently tied on 19 points with group leaders Turkey and sit second by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record against the Turks.

In order to clinch top spot, Les Bleus may have to win both their remaining games, at home to Moldova on Thursday and away to Albania on Sunday, and hope Turkey drop points in their games with Iceland and Andorra.

A win over Moldova in Paris on Thursday will secure France’s automatic qualification in any case, while Turkey need only a draw against Iceland to book their place at the finals.

France have work to do if they are to secure top spot in Group H and top seed status

France have work to do if they are to secure top spot in Group H and top seed status 

COULD HOLDERS PORTUGAL REALLY MISS OUT?

Portugal are the reigning European champions after their win over France back in 2016 and they also won the inaugural UEFA Nations League on home turf back in the summer.

But there is a possibility that Cristiano Ronaldo and Co may be absent from next summer’s finals as they face a nervy could of games this week.

Ukraine’s win over Portugal last time out took them through as Group B winners, leaving Portugal second on 11 points and Serbia third on 10.

Cristiano Ronaldo cuts a frustrated figure as Portugal are defeated by Ukraine last month

Cristiano Ronaldo cuts a frustrated figure as Portugal are defeated by Ukraine last month 

Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates as Serbia beat Lithuania to remain in the hunt

Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates as Serbia beat Lithuania to remain in the hunt

It means Portugal need to take maximum points from their home game against Lithuania on Thursday and Sunday’s trip to Luxembourg to settle automatic qualification.

Any slips and it could be the play-offs in March to earn the right to defend their crown.

Portugal are the reigning champions of the European Championship but could miss out

Portugal are the reigning champions of the European Championship but could miss out

HOLLAND AND GERMANY SLUG IT OUT FOR TOP SPOT

It’s been nip and tuck between old rivals Holland and Germany for first place in Group C, with the Dutch currently top by virtue of a better head-to-head goal difference.

The priority of both remains to secure qualification with Northern Ireland snapping at their heels (more on them later).

Contrasting emotions in Hamburg as Holland defeated Germany 4-2 back in September

Contrasting emotions in Hamburg as Holland defeated Germany 4-2 back in September 

Germany's Ilkay Gundogan pictured during their qualifying defeat to Holland two months ago

Germany’s Ilkay Gundogan pictured during their qualifying defeat to Holland two months ago

Holland head to Belfast on Saturday knowing they will get through with a draw, while Germany will make it if they beat Belarus and Northern Ireland fail to beat Holland.

But both Holland and Germany will fancy finishing top of the group because this should theoretically secure an easier draw for next summer’s finals.

Holland and Germany are slugging it out for top spot in Group C, with Northern Ireland behind

Holland and Germany are slugging it out for top spot in Group C, with Northern Ireland behind

BUT CAN NORTHERN IRELAND PIP THEM?

It was always an absolute killer of a draw for Northern Ireland, but they’ve done themselves proud and are still in with a shout of repeating their 2016 Euro qualification.

They won their first four matches in the group before losing to Germany and then agonisingly to Holland having led with 10 minutes to play in Rotterdam.

Northern Ireland led through Josh Magennis in Rotterdam but Holland ultimately prevailed

Northern Ireland led through Josh Magennis in Rotterdam but Holland ultimately prevailed

It leaves Northern Ireland with a mountain to climb in their last two games to qualify

It leaves Northern Ireland with a mountain to climb in their last two games to qualify 

In truth, they’ll need to beat both again in their final two fixtures – against Holland in Belfast on Saturday and Germany in Frankfurt on Tuesday – to steal into the top two.

But, as it stands, they will take a play-off place and therefore all hope of reaching another finals isn’t lost yet for the Green and White Army.

ENGLAND AIMING TO GET OVER THE LINE

England are in pole position to finish top of Group A but clear heads will be required to get over the line this week.

Gareth Southgate’s men need just a draw against Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday night to qualify and a win would secure top spot and top-seed status in the draw.

Given the helter-skelter nature of their meeting at Southampton in September, England wouldn’t fancy having to travel to Kosovo on Sunday needing something.

England are on the brink of booking their place at next summer's finals after five wins from six

England are on the brink of booking their place at next summer’s finals after five wins from six

Below the Three Lions, it’s a straight fight between the Czech Republic and Kosovo to take second spot and they will meet in Plzen on Thursday night.

A win for the Czechs will be sufficient for them, though Kosovo are already assured of a play-off spot as they won their Nations League group.

England need just a draw against Montenegro on Thursday night to secure their finals place

England need just a draw against Montenegro on Thursday night to secure their finals place

GROUP D STANDS FOR DRAMA AND DANGER

For excitement this weekend, look no further than Group D where just a single point splits leaders Republic of Ireland, second-placed Denmark and Switzerland in third.

Ireland currently sit top with 12 points but they take a back seat on Friday as their two challengers play their games in hand – Switzerland host Georgia and Denmark entertain Gibraltar.

Haris Seferovic celebrates his goal as Switzerland beat Ireland 2-0 in Geneva last month

Haris Seferovic celebrates his goal as Switzerland beat Ireland 2-0 in Geneva last month

It leaves Ireland in a three-way shoot-out with the Swiss and Denmark to make it through

It leaves Ireland in a three-way shoot-out with the Swiss and Denmark to make it through

Both will be expected to win, which means the clash between Ireland and Denmark in Dublin on Monday night becomes winner-takes-all.

Ireland would have the fall-back of a play-off spot if Denmark get the better of them, as they did emphatically in the play-offs for the 2018 World Cup.

There's everything to play for in Group D with Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland fighting it out

There’s everything to play for in Group D with Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland fighting it out

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL FOR WALES

Wales’ hopes of qualifying for another European Championship after reaching the semi-finals of the last one remain alive following last month’s 1-1 draw with Croatia.

Their coach Ryan Giggs said then that the point ‘could be vital’ and, though they sit fourth in Group E, he is correct.

Gareth Bale's goal against Croatia last month has kept Wales in the hunt for qualification

Gareth Bale’s goal against Croatia last month has kept Wales in the hunt for qualification 

That’s because Croatia and Hungary, who currently occupy the two automatic spots, have played a game more than Slovakia in third and Wales below them.

If Croatia beat Slovakia on Saturday, Wales will qualify if they beat Azerbaijan away on Saturday and Hungary in Cardiff next Tuesday.

However, that may be a little too simplistic given that Wales have failed to record back-to-back wins in qualifying so far.

Wales sit fourth in their group but favourable results could still see them finish second

Wales sit fourth in their group but favourable results could still see them finish second

WINNER TAKES IT ALL IN GROUP F

We’re all set for an intriguing finale in Group F, where Sweden and Romania are fighting it out to join group leaders Spain at the finals.

It will all come down to Friday night’s Romania vs Sweden clash in Bucharest. A Sweden win and they’re over the line. Anything less and we go to the final round of games on Monday.

If that happens, you’d have to back Sweden, who play at home to the Faroe Islands, while Romania face a daunting trip to Madrid to play Spain.

Sweden can secure their place with an away win over Romania in Bucharest this Friday

Sweden can secure their place with an away win over Romania in Bucharest this Friday

Sweden and Romania have a winner-take-all clash in Bucharest to settle things in Group F

Sweden and Romania have a winner-take-all clash in Bucharest to settle things in Group F

FLYING FINNISH FOR FIRST-TEAM QUALIFIERS?

Italy were among the first nations to book their progress to the finals, leaving the remainder of Group J to slug it out among themselves for second.

And it’s Finland who have risen to the challenge. They have a five-point lead over third-placed Armenia, thanks in a large part to the seven goals of Norwich striker Teemu Pukki.

A home win over Liechtenstein on Friday night will make them the 34th different nation to grace the Euro finals.

If they somehow fail to beat the group minnows in Helsinki, they have another chance in Greece on Monday.

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring for Finland against Armenia last month

Norwich striker Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring for Finland against Armenia last month

Finland are on the brink of qualifying for a European Championship finals for the first time

Finland are on the brink of qualifying for a European Championship finals for the first time

BRAZIL AND ARGENTINA SET TO RESUME RIVALRY

It’s probably the most fierce rivalry in international football and the latest instalment of the Brazil versus Argentina saga will unfold in the unusual surroundings of the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh on Friday.

This will be their first meeting since the Copa America semi-final back in the summer when Brazil won 2-0 en route to lifting the trophy.

Argentina’s last win came in June 2017, a 1-0 victory in another tour match played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

It is a contest that has always enchanted fans all over the world and Friday’s game will be no exception.

Lionel Messi's Argentina and Brazil are set to renew their rivalry in a friendly in Saudi Arabia

Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Brazil are set to renew their rivalry in a friendly in Saudi Arabia 

 

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