MATCHDAY: Spain at Greece; Croatia aims to gain on Russia
A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Thursday:
Portugal visits Ireland aiming to take first place before its faces Serbia in the last qualifier. Portugal is a point behind Serbia with a game in hand. They meet on Sunday to decide which team will automatically qualify for the World Cup and which will have to go through the playoffs. A draw at Ireland will be enough to put Portugal ahead of Serbia in the group standings because it has a better goal difference, meaning another draw on Sunday at home would be enough to secure Cristiano Ronaldo’s team a spot in the World Cup.
Spain needs to win in Greece to guarantee a chance to finish first in the group regardless of other results. La Roja enters its last two matches in second place, two points behind Sweden and four ahead of third-place Greece. Spain’s last game is at home against Sweden. A win by Sweden at fourth-place Georgia on Thursday and a Spain draw will secure first place for the Swedes. Spain’s squad is depleted by injuries. Among the absent players are Pedri González, Ferran Torres, Marcos Llorente, Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal, Ansu Fati and Eric García.
Russia and Croatia are confirmed as the top two teams, but the order is still to be decided. They square off Sunday in a rematch from the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. But first, Russia hosts Cyprus and Croatia visits Malta. Russia leads the group with 19 points, two clear of Croatia. So, Russia could qualify Thursday if it beats Cyprus and Croatia loses to Malta. In the other group match, Slovakia hosts Slovenia.
Germany has already qualified and hosts last-place Liechtenstein in Frankfurt. The other four teams are still in contention for the runner-up spot. Romania is in the prime position for the March playoffs, currently second and hosting Iceland in Bucharest. Armenia hosts North Macedonia with both teams on 12 points, one point behind Romania.
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