x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

World Cup 2014 qualifying: Portugal have not pushed the panic button yet

England is also among European powers in trouble heading into the second half of qualifying for World Cup 2014 while Argentina hopes a healthy Lionel Messi will boost them in South American qualifying.

Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portugal national team are in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup. Francisco Leong / AFP
Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portugal national team are in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup. Francisco Leong / AFP

The prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo missing the 2014 World Cup will creep ever closer if Portugal fail to beat Russia in the biggest match of the latest round of European qualifiers Friday.

Ronaldo, Real Madrid's superstar forward, has been unable to inspire the sluggish Portuguese in their qualifying campaign and they are third in Group F with four matches remaining.

Group leader Russia are one of only two teams with 100 per cent records in qualifying so far, so Portugal could be in even deeper trouble after the full-time whistle in Lisbon.

Only the top team automatically qualifies for the finals in Brazil, with the eight top runners-up from the nine groups going into the play-offs. Portugal, the world's sixth-ranked team, are a point adrift of the Russians, having played two games more, and are also behind Israel on goal difference.

"It's essential we take all three points," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. "We've run out of room for manoeuvre."

Portugal and England are the European powers most in danger heading into the second half of qualifying.

"[I] just can't picture a team like Portugal not making it to the World Cup," Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho told Fifa.com.

With Spain, Germany, Holland, France and England having Friday night off, Italy are the other power in action when they visit Czech Republic in Group B.

A victory would not only leave the Azzurri six points clear in their group, it would also take them to the Confederations Cup with some precious momentum. After playing in Prague, Italy are scheduled to fly to Brazil two days later for the June 15-30 tournament.

"Right now we've got to focus exclusively in the Czechs," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "It's easy to look ahead to Brazil, but this match is too important to be distracted."

Seeking a first appearance at a World Cup, Montenegro can pull five points clear of England at the top of Group H by beating Ukraine at home. Like Portugal, the English are not even assured of second place, with Poland able to move to within a point of Roy Hodgson's side with a win at Moldova.

The battle for first place in Group A is between Belgium and Croatia, and they both lie on 16 points ahead of home games against Serbia and Scotland, respectively.

Austria and Sweden are vying for second spot in Group C behind runaway leaders Germany, ahead of their meeting in Vienna. The top three in Group E – Switzerland, Iceland and Albania – are all in action with just two points separating them.

Group leaders Switzerland are at home to Cyprus on Saturday, while Iceland, two points further back, host Slovenia and Albania are at home to Norway.

Bosnia-Herzegovina would stay in control of Group G by beating Latvia away, with second-place Greece three points adrift heading into their game at Lithuania.

South America qualifying

Every time Colombia come to play Argentina at the Monumental in Buenos Aires, local fans are reminded of the twice World Cup winners’ most humiliating home defeat – 5-0 in 1993.

Friday’s World Cup qualifier will be no different as Radamel Falcao’s Colombia look for a victory that would put them within two points of South American group leaders Argentina.

They will fancy their chances, too, if Lionel Messi is not fit enough to start for Argentina, bringing back memories of Diego Maradona watching from the stands as Colombia tore apart the home side 20 years ago.

Messi, ever-present so far in the 16-match series, resumed training this week after a three-week recovery process from a hamstring injury.

“With Messi, the best in the world, it would be better if he didn’t play,” Colombia defender Luis Amaranto Perea said.

The 1993 match was seen as a coming of age for Colombia, with a golden generation led by Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla, whose victory sent the team to the 1994 finals as one of the favourites. Now Colombia have a side spearheaded by striker Falcao that could become as good as the 1990s vintage.

“Everything Colombia generate ends with Falcao as centre forward. The first thing we have to do is deactivate that circuit,” Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said.

If Argentina lose, second-place Ecuador could move to within a point by beating Peru in Lima.

Argentina lead the table with 24 points from 11 matches. Ecuador have 20 points and Colombia 19, both with a match in hand. The top four teams at the end of the qualifiers in October advance to the finals. The fifth-place team will enter a play-off against an Asian qualifier in November for another berth.

Africa qualifying

In Africa, Egypt are closing in on a World Cup place, which would put the country back at football’s top tournament for the first time in over 20 years.

Unbeaten and leading Group G, Egypt play Zimbabwe on Sunday and a victory can just about clinch the group and a place in the final play-offs for former United States coach Bob Bradley’s team.

The 10 group winners have to face off in those decisive two-legged play-offs to be one of Africa’s five countries at the World Cup.

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