It's complicated: How Europe's World Cup play-off berths are shaping up

by
REUTERS/Max Rossi

With just a few matches of UEFA's World Cup qualifiers left to play, fans of countries floating around the nine groups' runner-up places are searching for their calculators.

That's because the second-placed team with the worst record will be out of the 2018 World Cup. The other eight teams will have the opportunity to contest the four two-legged play-offs that decide who advances.

This is how the mini-table of countries that are second in their groups shapes up on Friday:

Group Country Played GD Points
B Portugal 6 +18 15
G Italy 7 +3 14
E Denmark 7 +7 13
C Northern Ireland 7 +5 13
D Wales 7 +2 11
I Croatia 7 +2 11
F Scotland 7 -1 11
A Sweden 6 +3 10
H Bosnia and Herzegovina 6 +2 8

This means that if the qualifiers ended today, Bosnia and Herzegovina would be out of World Cup contention. All matches are taken into consideration in this table, with the exception of meetings with bottom-placed teams.

There's a lot more to the above table, however. For example, if Serbia loses its final Group D match against Georgia, it could be leapfrogged by a winner from Tuesday's clash between Wales and Ireland. Serbia would then take the position currently occupied by Wales in the above table.

Here are the countries that could still finish second, thus replacing a group rival in the mini-table:

Group Country Played GD Points
A France* 7 +10 16
A Netherlands 7 +2 10
A Bulgaria 6 -4 9
B Switzerland^ 6 +11 18
D Serbia* 7 +3 12
D Ireland 7 +1 10
E Poland^ 7 +9 18
E Montenegro 7 0 8
F Slovakia 8 +5 12
F Slovenia 7 +2 8
H Greece 7 +3 10
H Cyprus 6 -1 4
I Iceland* 8 +6 16
I Ukraine 7 +1 11

* Currently positioned first
^ Currently positioned first, assured of a play-off berth

Switzerland and Poland are safe. If either messes up the remainder of its qualification venture, it at least has a play-off position locked up. With 18 points each, these countries cannot drop into ninth spot of the second-placed teams.

The draw for the four play-offs will be picked out Oct. 17. The FIFA World Ranking will determine the four strongest and, as a result, seeded teams, and then they'll each be drawn against one of the other four unseeded teams.