The race to qualify for the 2018 World Cup will come to a dramatic conclusion over the next few days.
England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all still harbour hopes of reaching Russia next summer.
Here, we take a look at what the home nations need to do to qualify.
The equation is nice and simple for the Three Lions. They will secure qualification, with a game to spare, if they beat Slovenia at Wembley. Gareth Southgate’s side can also guarantee a top-two finish with a draw, or even if they lose should Scotland and Slovakia draw. If the unthinkable happens England still have a trip to Lithuania on Sunday to finish the job.
Two wins, at home to Slovakia and away to Slovenia, will guarantee second spot regardless of what happens elsewhere in Group F. However, in typical Scotland fashion, life is not that simple. With only eight of the nine second-placed teams reaching the play-offs, Scotland have to avoid being the worst of the runners-up, so fans will be keeping a close eye on results elsewhere. Group H looks the best bet – if Belgium beat Bosnia and Greece win their remaining two games against Cyprus and Gibraltar, it is entirely in Scotland’s hands. They could still reach the play-offs if they pick up four points but that would mean even more reliance on other results.
Michael O’Neill’s men are already guaranteed at least second place and as they currently possess the second-best points tally they are all but certain to feature in the play-offs. There is an outside chance Northern Ireland could finish top – but they would have to beat Germany and Norway in their remaining two qualifiers and count on Azerbaijan beating the world champions as well.
The Euro 2016 semi-finalists face a defining week, at Georgia on Friday and then at home against the Republic of Ireland on Monday. Four points from those final two games will guarantee one of the top two spots in Group D. However, as the second-placed nation currently with the least points, they probably need to win both matches in order to secure a play-off spot. Monday’s showdown in Cardiff is therefore set to decide which team goes into the play-offs and will not be a game for the faint-hearted.
Republic of Ireland
There is no margin for error for Martin O’Neill’s men but victories in their last two fixtures at home to minnows Moldova and then in Wales would see the Republic end up second in the Group D standings, barring an unlikely late collapse by leaders Serbia. However, their points tally would still mean they require a favour or two from the other groups – a Cyprus win over Greece would be most welcome, for example. Austria are the other team in the mix for second but, lying five points behind Wales and four behind Ireland, they must win both their games and hope their rivals slip up.
What about the play-offs?
Let’s assume England qualify outright and Northern Ireland, Scotland and one of Wales or the Republic of Ireland do make the play-offs. So what fate awaits them? Portugal are jousting with Switzerland for top spot in Group B, so one of them will drop down. Italy, trailing Spain in Group G, also look destined to be involved but Wales’ world ranking should ensure they avoid them – and Portugal/Switzerland – in the seeded draw. Sweden, Denmark and one of Iceland or Turkey appear the most likely to make up the final eight teams.