World Cup 2018: Northern Ireland v Switzerland, Denmark v Republic of Ireland, Sweden v Italy, Croatia v Greece


World Cup play-off: O’Neill & Davis call for NI improvement in Basel
BBC coverage
Live radio commentary on 5 live and online of Switzerland v Northern Ireland (Sunday, 12 November, 17:00 GMT)
Live text commentaries on the BBC Sport website of all four European play-off ties

Eight European nations. Four spots left at next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia. Everything to play for.

Northern Ireland, aiming for their first World Cup finals since 1986, lost 1-0 to Switzerland in Belfast on Thursday when the two-legged play-offs began and will need to win on Sunday to progress.

The Republic of Irelanddrew 0-0 with Denmark in the first leg in Copenhagen, in one of the other three ties as they seek to reach a first World Cup finals since 2002.

Four-time world champions Italy are in danger of missing out for the first time since 1958 after a 1-0 defeat by Sweden in their first leg, while Croatia look set to qualify after a 4-1 first-leg win over Greece.

These teams were the eight best second-placed finishers in the nine European qualifying groups, with Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Croatia seeded because of their superior world rankings.

Denmark v Republic of Ireland

First leg: Denmark 0-0 Republic of Ireland, Copenhagen

Second leg: Tuesday, 14 November (19:45 GMT), Dublin

The Republic of Ireland may have qualified for back-to-back European Championships, but have not featured on the biggest stage of all since a buoyant showing at the 2002 World Cup.

Their manager Martin O’Neill says his side have it “all to play for” in Dublin on Tuesday after a 0-0 draw in the first leg against Denmark.

The Republic of Ireland had just 28% of possession in Copenhagen but were well-organised and disciplined as they frustrated the home side.

“We’re still in the tie,” O’Neill said. “We’ll have to win a game and we might have to score a couple because Denmark are capable of scoring.”

Denmark, who last qualified in 2010, finished second behind Poland in their qualifying group.

Sweden v Italy

First leg: Sweden 1-0 Italy, Stockholm

Second leg: Monday, 13 November (19:45 GMT), Milan

A World Cup finals without four-time winners Italy, whose only failure to qualify came back in 1958, is almost unthinkable for many football fans.

The Azzurri also came close to missing out when England pipped them in their 1998 World Cup qualifying group, and they needed a 2-1 play-off win against Russia to scrape through.

The Swedes won the first leg 1-0 at the Friends Arena, the only goal coming when Jakob Johansson drilled home from 20 yards, via a Daniele de Rossi deflection, and Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura has called for a “great performance” in the second leg.

“Now all that matters is getting the result,” Ventura, 69, said.

“We have to turn everything on its head back in Milan. San Siro must give us a hand too but it is up to us to deliver a great performance for our fans.”

The Swedes, who missed out on the past two tournaments, finished behind France in Group A but clinched runners-up spot ahead of the Netherlands, who needed to win by seven clear goals to overtake them in the final game.

Northern Ireland v Switzerland

First leg: Northern Ireland 0-1 Switzerland, Belfast

Second leg: Sunday, 12 November (17:00 GMT), Basel

Northern Ireland and Switzerland had not faced off in a competitive fixture since 1964 and this first-leg meeting will likely be remembered for a controversial penalty decision.

Michael O’Neill’s side, who are targeting back-to-back tournament appearances after reaching the last 16 at Euro 2016, fell behind when Corry Evans was adjudged to have handballed in the area, allowing Ricardo Rodriguez to score.

O’Neill had said not conceding an away goal was “the most important thing” and his side now have it all to do in Basel against a side who won nine of their 10 matches in the group stages and only lost out on qualification to Portugal on goal difference.

Croatia v Greece

First leg: Croatia 4-1 Greece, Zagreb

Second leg: Sunday, 12 November (19:45 GMT), Pireaus

Croatia have won all four of their previous play-off ties – to reach either World Cup or European Championship tournaments – and have booked a place at nine out of 11 major finals as an independent nation.

They look set to do so again after a commanding first-leg win in which Greece paid for errors and slack defending.

It was Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic’s second game in charge and his side will now have to suffer their biggest defeat since 2009 if they fail to qualify in Athens on Sunday.

Which European nations have already qualified?

Ten European nations have already qualified for next year’s finals, including hosts Russia, holders Germany and England

Five-time winners Brazil have also qualified, along with Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Tunisia and Uruguay.

Who else can still qualify?

The tournament will consist of 32 teams, with hosts Russia joined by 31 qualifiers from around the globe.

We already know 26 of the nations who will compete next summer, plus the four European play-off winners.

That leaves two more spots to be decided:

Peru or New Zealand (South America/Oceania play-off)

Honduras or Australia (CONCACAF/Asia play-off)

Road to Russia: The key dates

  • 12-14 November: Play-off second legs
  • 1 December: Groups are drawn
  • 14 June – 15 July 2018: World Cup

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