World Cup qualifiers you should not miss

It has been an arduous journey for some, but here we are, just days away from having a clear idea of who will be heading to Russia next summer, and who will be just a play-off victory away from doing the same.

We are aware of the uphill task facing Scotland, the challenge ahead for Wales without Gareth Bale, Northern Ireland’s quest for an incredible group-topping finish over Germany and the points needed for England to qualify, but what of the rest of Europe?

Here we look at five matches, all live on Sky Sports, that could make or break a nation’s hopes, all while peaking the interest of Premier League aficionados everywhere.

Belarus v Netherlands

World Cup qualifiers you should not miss

How the mighty have fallen. The forefathers of Total Football are facing the possibility that they could fail to qualify for successive tournaments for the first time in 22 years.

Victory in Barysaw on Saturday is a must. Holland are three points behind Sweden in second in Group A, who face Luxembourg. A repeat of the minnows’ incredible draw against France will be welcomed by the Oranje, that’s for sure.

Should Dick Advocaat’s side secure the three points they need in Barysaw, expect Premier League-based players to have a say. Virgil van Dijk is back in Advocaat’s squad, while Brighton’s Davy Propper was the hero last time out against Bulgaria, as he scored twice in a 3-1 win. Tottenham’s Vincent Janssen is expected to lead the line up front in a group where goal difference could be decisive.

Bulgaria v France

World Cup qualifiers you should not miss

Despite that shock 0-0 stalemate in Paris against Luxembourg, France are still very much in the driving seat in Group A. However, this trip to Sofia on Saturday is more perilous than many think – Bulgaria have won all four of their home games so far in the qualification process, including a 2-0 over the Netherlands in March.

Much has been made of the myriad of talent in the France squad, but some old faithful Premier League heads could be key. Olivier Giroud is very much a favourite of Didier Deschamps, and is only outscored by Antoine Griezmann in World Cup qualification for Les Bleus. Tottenham’s Moussa Sissoko is back in the squad after getting more action for Spurs, while Hugo Lloris will lead his country out once more.

Austria v Serbia

World Cup qualifiers you should not miss

This game could really shape the fortunes of Wales and the Republic of Ireland. Serbia need one win from games away to Austria and home to Georgia to ensure top spot. A repeat of their hard-fought 1-0 win over Ireland will do just nicely on Friday.

Premier League-based stars will play their part. Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic will anchor the midfield, Southampton’s Dusan Tadic provides the guile, while Aleksandar Mitrovic will be the focal point of the attack.

Armenia v Poland

World Cup qualifiers you should not miss

Poland are another side on the verge of qualification, but they still have negotiate a potential banana skin in Armenia on Thursday.

Robert Lewandowski’s goals will be crucial as ever. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has more goals in the qualification process than the Bayern Munich hitman, but it is an in-form Manchester United star who will be doing his utmost to make it a frustrating evening in Yerevan.

Having made just one assist all season in 2016/17, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has already laid on five goals for United this campaign, and with Poland not the most secure at the back – the Poles have conceded four more than the next leakiest defence from the nine UEFA group leaders – Mkhitaryan will fancy his chances of creating plenty of openings. West Brom’s midfield protector Grzegorz Krychowiak will be doing his best to stop him.