Although there is still a year to go before the best national football teams gather in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup finals, fans all over the world are turning their attention to the competition as qualifying continues.
In Europe, eight teams will further ensure their ticket to Qatar by the end of the two match-days that are being held between November 11 and 16. They will join the already-qualified Germany and Denmark who have won Group J and F respectively with two games to go.
In Group B Spain are surprisingly struggling to make sure of automatic qualification. They currently lie two points behind Sweden, whom they face in their final match in Sevilla on Sunday.
Both teams are away in their penultimate game, with Luis Enrique’s side facing a tough trip to Athens, where the home side still harbours their own World Cup dream, as they are four points behind Spain and could still overtake their opponents.
There was disappointment for Enrique as teenage sensation Ansu Fati, who only recently returned from a lengthy injury lay-off, but has shown signs of his strength playing for Barcelona, had to pull out of the squad after picking up another injury on the weekend.
At the other end of the age barometer, Swedish coach Janne Andersson retained 40-year-old striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who last played for his country in March after retiring from his retirement from international football.
And Spain are not the only past World Cup winners who could be facing the difficult task of having to qualify via the play-off path as Group C sees a direct shoot-out, so to say, between Italy and Switzerland.
The two teams face each other in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Thursday. As the final placings will be decided by overall goal difference ahead of the head-to-head results, the group will only be decided on the final match day on Monday, when Italy are away in Northern Ireland, while the Swiss face Bulgaria at home.
Both Italy and Switzerland are currently on 14 points, but Italy have a slightly better goal difference of plus 11, compared to plus nine.
That has prompted Swiss coach Murat Yakin to realise that it seems likely that his team need to win in Rome to qualify automatically.
He aims to go for a win in Italy. “I like the fast and direct way. We have to be brave and strong.”
Despite missing several regulars, like Breel Embolo or captain Granit Xhaka, the coach, who has only just been appointed to the position, is not concerned facing the Euro champions.
“It is, what it is. As coach you have to be authentic. And I am not a person who worries about things. And football has to be fun. If we are too tense, you will be nervous and make mistakes.”
Italian coach Roberto Mancini has given a first call-up to midfielder Tommaso Pobega, who has been impressive with Torino this season – on loan from AC Milan.
Mancini will be concerned about the availability of veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, both of whom missed their last league game with Juventus.
With World Cup qualification an obtainable goal over the next two match days, it is hardly surprising that the footballing world is turning its attention to the European qualifiers.
Football enthusiasts in Zambia, will be able to catch the games live and only on TopStar’s ST channels HD.