Which of the home nations are on course to qualify for the 2018 World Cup?

Sports Staff
England have almost guaranteed their spot in Russia: Getty

World Cup qualifying in Europe has reached its halfway point, with five games played in each of the groups.

In Group F, England have won four of their five games and are still yet to concede a goal, and their route to Russia looks assured.

But the other home nations are all fighting hard to book their place at the 2018 World Cup. Scotland are fourth in Group F after a crucial win against Slovenia, while in Group C, Northern Ireland are well positioned behind Germany in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Group D, which contains both the Republic of Ireland and Wales, is particularly competitive. The Republic currently sit four points above Wales in second and the final match of the Group, between the two nations in Cardiff, could prove pivotal.

Here each team's chances of reaching the finals in Russia next year is analysed.

Which of the home nations will make it to the Russian World Cup? (Getty)

England

Games remaining: June 10 v Scotland (a), September 1 v Malta (a), September 4 v Slovakia (h), October 5 v Slovenia (h), October 8 v Lithuania (a).

Qualification is rarely an issue for England, it is how they then cope on the biggest stage. Four points clear at the top of Group F at the midway point of qualification, it is hard to see Gareth Southgate's men slipping up.

England have not conceded after five matches - the only team in European qualification yet to do so - and have got two of their hardest away trips out of the way, Slovakia and Slovenia. June's mouth-watering trip to Scotland is their toughest remaining assignment, but few expect qualification to be thrown off-kilter even if England falter at Hampden Park.

Verdict: Group winners

England will hope to perform better in Russia than they managed in France (Getty)

Northern Ireland

Games to go: June 10 v Azerbaijan (a), September 1 v San Marino (a), September 4 v Czech Republic (h), October 5 v Germany (h), October 8 v Norway (a).

Northern Ireland are still on course to reach the playoffs (Getty)

Russia is firmly on Northern Ireland's radar, even if the path remains long. Germany are Group C's winners-in-waiting and the best prize on offer for the other five nations is second spot and subsequently a possible play-off berth.

Michael O'Neill's side sit in that position now with 10 points and they have already visited Germany and the Czech Republic. Victory in Azerbaijan in June would essentially make it a two-horse race for second and the Czechs, two points adrift currently, still need to travel to Belfast.

If Northern Irish momentum is maintained through that September showdown, they will surely be one of the eight in the play-offs.

Verdict: Play-offs

Republic of Ireland

Games to go: June 11 v Austria (h), September 2 v Georgia (a), September 5 v Serbia (h), October 6 v Moldova (h), October 9 v Wales (a).

Eire could pip Wales to a playoff spot (Getty)

Martin O'Neill's unbeaten Republic of Ireland are well poised as they contemplate the second half of the campaign. Three victories and two draws from their first five games have yielded 11 points and they trail Group D leaders Serbia only on goal difference with Wales and Austria four points adrift.

Ireland host the Austrians in June as the Welsh head for Belgrade on a night which could prove hugely significant, and having finished strongly to claim a Euro 2016 play-off berth, they will be confident of challenging for top spot as they home in on a final-day trip to Wales.

Verdict: Play-offs

O'Neill's team are well poised (Getty)

Scotland

Games to go: June 10 v England (h), September 1 v Lithuania (a), September 4 v Malta (h), October 5 v Slovakia (h), October 8 v Slovenia (a).

Scotland's win against Slovenia gives them hope (Getty)

Scotland were well aware their game against Slovenia was a "must-win" and they delivered, eventually, with Chris Martin's 88th-minute goal keeping manager Gordon Strachan in a job. Despite the wait for the only goal, the victory was well-deserved and a similar performance could cause Group F leaders England some problems at Hampden on June 10.

Scotland have little, or possibly no, room for error in their final four matches but they are now two points off second and back in contention for a play-off spot.

Slovenia, Scotland and Slovakia have taken three points each from games against each other but Strachan's men still have to make up for two dropped points at home to Lithuania and a second-place finish remains unlikely. They still have plenty to do but there is hope at least.

Verdict: Fail to qualify.

Qualification remains unlikely (Getty)

Wales

Games to go: June 11 v Serbia (a), September 2 v Austria (h), September 5 v Moldova (a), October 6 v Georgia (a), October 9 v Republic of Ireland (h).

Wales will be without Bale for their crucial game against Serbia (Getty)

Wales' hopes of reaching the World Cup finals in Russia through top spot in Group D now look remote. Four draws in five games have left them playing catch-up ahead of visiting group leaders Serbia in June.

Gareth Bale's suspension makes life even more difficult in Belgrade and the likelihood is that Wales will lose even more ground. But all is not lost with a September double-header against Austria and Moldova, and an October trip to Georgia.

It is still possible for a Bale-inspired Wales to sneak second spot and a play-off place in a frantic group finale against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff.

Verdict: Play-offs.

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