With Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea having joined hosts Brazil in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in June, this autumn gives Europe's elite the first opportunity to book their place at next year's football extravaganza.
Old stagers Germany and Italy, Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Netherlands and reigning champions Spain are among the sides who could confirm their attendance in Brazil next summer.
Elsewhere, a number of groups are likely to be finely poised going into the last gaggle of games with big names such as Portugal, England and France anything but assured of qualification.
A win for group leaders Belgium at Scotland will put Marc Wilmots' side within touching distance of World Cup qualification for the first time since 2002. Croatia can keep the pressure on with victory over Serbia ahead of a mouth-watering penultimate group game between the top two in Zagreb. Back-to-back games against Macedonia and Serbia will dictate whether Wales, potentially without the world's most expensive player Gareth Bale, will finish third.
Three-time World Cup winners Italy will book their place at Rio with home wins over Bulgaria and Czech Republic, sparking the announcement of Cesare Prandelli's departure as manager next summer. An outcome in the race for the play-offs will have to wait until the final qualifying round when Bulgaria host Czech Republic.
Germany may be forced to wait to confirm qualification for their 16th consecutive World Cup even if they secure home wins against both Austria and Faroe Islands. Austria, Republic of Ireland and Sweden are all joint second on 11 points, five adrift of the leaders. The Swedes are best placed to hang onto second but they must negotiate trips to Ireland and Kazakhstan. Joachim Loew's side will be gifted the group if any of the trio drop points.
Successive wins over Estonia and Andorra will see Netherlands become among the first European teams to secure qualification for the World Cup. The duel for second between Hungary and Romania could be settled in Budapest while a draw could let in Turkey who host Andorra before travelling to Romania next week.
Should Albania lose either of their group games away to Slovenia and Iceland, then two wins for Switzerland will guarantee passage to their third successive World Cup finals. Ottmar Hitzfeld has guided the Swiss to the best defensive record of the group stage. In reality, all of the remaining five teams can finish second, but Iceland can take a firm grip ahead of Albania and Norway will two wins.
Portugal, Russia and Israel will all be expected to win their group matches over the weekend against Northern Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan respectively. However, it's the showdown between Russia and Israel in Moscow on Tuesday which will shape the group and the pair's game in hand over Paulo Bento's side will see the winner top the group with two games left. Israel face Portugal in the penultimate group game in October.
The group stage's top scorers Bosnia-Herzegovina require Greece to drop points at Liechtenstein and then home to Latvia to confirm qualification to their first World Cup. The double-header with Slovakia will go a long way to deciding the top two but with the top scorer in qualifying Edin Dzeko in toe; the Bosnians are favourites to remain at the summit.
While Montenegro, England and Ukraine are expected to all win their first group match, the crux of the group will be decided when two of the main protagonists go head-to-head in Kiev. England will travel to Ukraine knowing a win for either side will likely send them top heading into the last two group games. Montenegro visit England in the penultimate group game with a chance to salvage their chances.
France must win their two matches if they stand any chance to displacing Spain as group leaders. Vicente del Bosque's side only face Finland this week before their fate lands in their own hands in October where France only play once. An unlikely defeat for Didier Deschamps' side in both games against Georgia and Belarus will see Spain all but qualify. Finland's thin hopes of attaining qualification rest on beating Spain on Friday.
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