Manchester: Italy, Germany and the Netherlands can seal their places at the 2014 World Cup in the latest round of European qualifiers on Tuesday while England will boost its hopes of joining them by avoiding defeat in Ukraine. All of the continent's heavyweight teams have risen to the top of their groups and will be looking to spare themselves a nervy finish to qualifying by wrapping up their passage to Brazil with matches to spare.
Italy will secure first place in Group B with a home win over the Czech Republic but the Germans and the Dutch need victories against the Faoroe Islands and Andorra, respectively, as well as results elsewhere to go their way to qualify automatically. "I hope it can be a celebration in Turin for the squad," said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who is set to equal Fabio Cannavaro's record of 136 caps for the Azzurri. "As for personal matters and records, it can be satisfying, but only if we book our ticket for the World Cup in Brazil."
Italy have only missed one World Cup since 1934, but have never qualified with two matches to spare. Germany, the joint-highest scorers in qualifying, will expect to rack up the goals against the Faoroes but will only be guaranteed to top Group C and post a 16th straight appearance at a World Cup if second-place Sweden fails to defeat Kazakhstan away.
Similarly, the Netherlands should thrash an Andorran side without a point or a goal so far in Group D but requires second-place Romania to drop points at home to Turkey. Things are more complex for the English, who top Group H but could be looking to secure their passage via the playoffs if they fail to return from Kiev with at least a point in Tuesday's standout qualifier.
Ukraine are a point behind in third, and would topple England if it can gain revenge for an unlucky loss to the same opponents in a European Championship group match in Donetsk last year. "They need to win," said England coach Roy Hodgson, who should give Frank Lampard his 100th international cap. "There is no guarantee a draw will be that suitable for them because that might take it out of their hands. We have two home games left and if we win them, it is out of their hands."
Meanwhile, Montenegro are equal on points with England having played a game more. For the misfiring French, though, the playoffs - for the eight best second-place finishers from the nine groups - are increasingly likely to be the best they can hope for.
Without a goal in five matches since March, France has slipped three points behind Spain in Group I with two matches left and must win in Belarus to keep alive its fading hopes of topping the pool. Spain isn't in qualifying action, instead playing Chile in Geneva in a friendly.
France have gone 479 minutes without scoring a goal, a national record according to FIFA. "There are some nice moves sometimes, but there's no end product, no goals," said France striker Karim Benzema, whose personal drought was extended to 15 games in the 0-0 draw at Georgia on Friday.
Elsewhere, Russia will overtake Portugal by a point atop Group F by beating Israel in their game in hand and Switzerland would see its lead in Group E reduced to just one point by Norway by losing in Oslo. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are tied on 16 points at the summit of Group G and play Slovakia and Latvia, respectively.