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UEFA World Cup qualifying preview: Belgium, Croatia vie for top spot

The battle for the ascendancy between Belgium and Croatia in their World Cup qualifying group will intensify on Tuesday.

The two nations are tied at the top of UEFA’s Group A on 13 points from five matches played apiece, with the carrot of automatic qualification to Brazil on offer to whoever can finish outright first.

The Belgians host group strugglers Macedonia, who Marc Wilmots’ men handled comfortably in Skopje on Friday night with a 2-0 victory.

It could be a gilt-edged chance for the Belgians to increase the three-goal buffer they hold over Croatia in score differential, with the latter on the road to Wales.

A home 2-0 win over Serbia was just the tonic for Igor Stimac’s side, however they will have to be switched on for their first ever away clash against the Welsh.

A win for Chris Coleman’s men at the Liberty Stadium would bring them within four points of the Croatians, though, and keep alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup finals.

The other Group A match will see Serbia host Scotland at Novi Sad, with neither side holding much hope of elevating themselves to the top-two with just four and two points respectively at the mid-point of the group stage.

In Group B, Bulgaria are away to Denmark in what could be a crucial fixture in deciding who nabs second spot behind leaders Italy.

Armenia and the Czech Republic both have a game in hand on the second-placed Bulgarians, but sitting on just three and five points respectively means it’s win or bust for both nations in their clash at Yerevan.

Austria can put pressure on the qualification spots in Group C with a positive result away to the Ireland Republic, with the hosts also well placed to challenge for the top two.

Level on seven points through four matches, the race for second spot is a three-horse race involving Austria, Ireland and the incumbent Sweden.

Meanwhile, in Group D there are effectively just two nations battling it out for second spot – Hungary and Romania.

The Hungarians are on the road away to Turkey, while the Romanians will attempt to upset the Netherlands’ perfect qualifying record.

Portugal can put pressure on Israel in second in Group F with an away trip to Azerbaijan, while the Israelis are on the road to Northern Ireland.

Ukraine, Moldova and Poland are all effectively playing for third spot in Group H given the daylight England and Montenegro have put on the group in the qualification spots.

Poland should secure an easy three points at home to San Marino, which would take them to eight points through five matches, while Ukraine should match that at home to the Moldovans.

Mon 25 Mar, 2013
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