Saints stars chase World Cup places

By SFC Media time Mon 02 Oct International
Photo by Reuters | Ryan Bertrand

A host of Southampton players face a crunch week on the international scene, as they look to help their countries secure qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Defender Maya Yoshida has already helped Japan book their spot at next summer’s tournament, and there are a number of his Saints teammates who will be looking to follow suit in the coming days.

Ryan Bertrand and Fraser Forster will have a chance to do just that on Thursday, as England host Slovenia, at Wembley Stadium.

The maths is simple for the Three Lions – a win and they will seal a place at the finals, in Russia. A draw might still be good enough, while they also have the fall-back of a trip to Lithuania in their final Group F match on Sunday if they need it.

Dušan Tadić is in a similar position with Serbia, who lead the way in Group D and possess a four-point cushion over second-placed Wales.

Tadić and his teammates could wrap things up as early as Friday, when they visit Austria. Should they still require anything after that, they have a home game against Georgia to follow on Monday.

Defender Jan Bednarek could also be celebrating qualification with Poland, who top the Group E standings and require four points from Thursday’s trip to Armenia and Sunday’s home clash with Montenegro in order to guarantee reaching next year’s finals.

Things are a little less clear-cut for some of Saints’ other players in action this week.

Cédric and Portugal are currently second in Group B, three points behind leaders Switzerland, who they host in their final match next Tuesday.

Before that is a trip to Andorra, on Saturday, with six points from those two matches almost certainly enough to ensure that they will edge out the Swiss.

Second place should at least be enough for a play-off spot, with the best eight runners-up from the nine groups in the European qualification section advancing to that stage.

Shane Long and Republic of Ireland will hope to get one of those places. Currently third in Group D, Ireland are likely too far behind leaders Serbia to trouble them, but are just one point below Wales, who they visit in their final game, on Monday, following Friday’s home game with Moldova.

Wesley Hoedt and Virgil van Dijk, who are with the Netherlands, also have work to do if they are to make it to Russia.

The Dutch are third in Group A, ahead of their final two matches, with Saturday’s trip to Belarus followed by next Tuesday’s home clash with Sweden. Six points from those games would give them a chance of overhauling one or both of France, who are four points above them, and the Swedes, who are three ahead.

Manolo Gabbiadini and Italy are set for at least a play-off place, but will want to make sure they take maximum points from Friday’s home game against Macedonia and Monday’s visit to Albania, in case Group G leaders Spain, who are three points above them, slip up.

Steven Davis and Northern Ireland have already guaranteed second place in Group C. They will finish off with Thursday’s home game against leaders Germany, who are five points ahead, and Sunday’s trip to Norway.

In the Africa qualifying section, Mario Lemina and Gabon still have hopes alive as they embark on their penultimate match.

Gabon, who are third in their group, visit Morocco on Saturday in need of a win, as they trail their opponents by a point and leaders Ivory Coast by two. Only the group winners advance, but three points would keep them in contention when they host Mali in their final game next month.

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