With the final set of fixtures earmarked for October, the UEFA World Cup qualifying groups are rapidly gathering shape as the stronger European teams build seemingly impregnable leads at the head of their tables. Although Spain need to win their remaining two home fixtures to qualify, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy are also reinforcing their reputations as the dominant forces in European football. Switzerland are favourites to win a fairly weak Group E, but there is still much to play for in the other groups.
The absence of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck may have blunted the English attack against Ukraine in Kiev, but England have not beaten any of the four teams below them in Group H and have failed to score more than one goal in any of those corresponding matches. With forthcoming home fixtures against Montenegro and Poland, they are favourites to qualify, but their performances in this rather average group suggest that they lack the quality needed to progress in Brazil.
Group G is developing into a contest between Bosnia-Herzegovina and former European champions Greece. With a far superior goal difference and matches looming against Liechtenstein and Lithuania, the Bosnians will be desperate to qualify for their first major tournament since becoming independent and should prevail. However, after failing to win their final matches to ensure qualification for both Euro 2004 and 2012, the Greeks must be hopeful with two home matches remaining.
Two victories in five days by Russia has cemented their position at the top of Group F in which they hold a one point lead over Portugal. Qualification hopes for the Portuguese were almost extinguished at Windsor Park when they trailed 2-1 to Northern Ireland with Helder Postiga also being dismissed. A second half hat-trick by Cristiano Ronaldo secured a 4-2 victory and maintained the pressure on the Russians.
However, away fixtures against Luxemborg and Azerbaijan are in the pipeline for a Russian team which has not travelled particularly well in this group, a fact which does not bode well for their hopes should they qualify for Brazil. Portugal will probably need to rely on the play-offs and this raises the possibility of Ronaldo missing the World Cup finals next year.
France and Croatia already appear destined for play-off berths but among the other teams vying for second place in their respective groups, there are few to match the quality of Portugal.
Next month promises some fiercely competitive matches as the groups are finalised, but it will also be argued that several mediocre European teams will eventually be jetting to Brazil in 2014.
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