1) One more point for Belgium

To the delight of hipsters across the land, or at least the social media landscape, Belgium are almost there. All they need to do to reach their first World Cup since 2002 is to draw in Croatia, a tall order admittedly, but Belgium's manager, Marc Wilmots, has said that playing defensively would go against his beliefs. "If I told my players that I wanted to play defensively for a draw they would cut my head off," Wilmots said. "Why wait if we can qualify immediately? This is our philosophy and we are not counting on a second chance against Wales because we are going to Croatia to win."

Bold words indeed and with Croatia, who are five points behind Belgium, also in need of a win to keep their hopes of winning the group alive, this could be the match to watch on Friday night. It will not just be a test of Belgium's nerve but also of their squad depth, with a couple of key players out injured. While Marouane Fellaini has been passed fit despite requiring surgery on a wrist injury, Vincent Kompany is out for a month with a thigh strain, Thomas Vermaelen is lacking match fitness and although Aston Villa have been annoyed by Christian Benteke's call-up after his hip injury, he is unlikely to feature against Croatia. However, Benteke's absence means that Belgium will just have to rely on Romelu Lukaku – they'll probably get by. JS

2) Another de-Lux shock?

Luxembourg are not quite giant-killers yet, even though their victory over Northern Ireland last month made a few people sit up and take notice. Now they must beat Russia, a considerably more daunting proposition, or else Cristiano Ronaldo will end up disappointed. The Real Madrid forward scored a hat-trick in Portugal's last match, a 4-2 win at Windsor Park, but saw Russia go top of the table by a single point by virtue of beating Israel four days later.

Ronaldo has nevertheless promised Portugal will beat Israel and Luxembourg in their remaining two matches and qualify automatically, but that can only happen if Russia slip up away from home in Luxembourg or Azerbaijan. That seems unlikely, though by virtue of their win over Northern Ireland, Luxembourg are theoretically the tougher opponents. Azerbaijan are currently bottom of the group. PW

3) The return of Bendtner

Nicklas Bendtner is back. Did you miss him? Denmark, you know you missed him. In fact, they need him. Denmark have managed nine goals in eight qualifying matches in Group B and their top scorer is Daniel Agger with a measly two. But Bendtner, banned for six months by the Danish FA after being arrested for drink-driving, is back in the squad and ready to help Denmark snatch second place off Bulgaria, who they trail by a point. "It's fantastic," Bendtner beamed. "I love being here and I love playing for the team, so I'm very pleased to be back."

Having enjoyed a messianic return to action at Arsenal, Bendtner says that he has grown up. He is a father now and says that his year on loan at Juventus has matured him, which is good news for Denmark before their crucial match against Italy, who have already secured their place in Brazil. For all the jokes about Bendnter and the Bendtnerish things he says, does and wears, or indeed grows on his head and face, he has an impressive record for Denmark, 22 goals and counting, and with their attack having stuttered so badly recently, his could be a timely return. JS

4) Germany v Republic of Ireland

Joachim Löw's side need just one point to confirm automatic qualification as winners of Group C, and it would be a major surprise were the Germans not to gain it at home against the Republic of Ireland, in advance of their trip to Sweden four days later. Ireland can hardly be confident after going down 6-1 to Germany in Dublin this time last year, and they have lost a manager since then, though if they seek a straw to clutch at, Löw has a few injury problems, particularly up front. Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose are both unavailable and Max Kruse of Borussia Mönchengladbach is likely to play as a lone striker, with Chelsea's Andre Schürrle potentially coming in on the right wing.

Whichever combination of players he uses, Germany have more than enough talented performers to cause Ireland more problems. No European team have ever won a World Cup in South America, though the present German side surely stand a chance. Even Lothar Matthäus thinks Germany are better now then they were when they last won the World Cup in 1990. PW

5) Austria look to history for inspiration

Austria beat Sweden 2-1 in Vienna in June and although they are three points behind their rivals for second place in Group C, they are confident of completing the double in Solna. "We have to take a positive approach and show determination," David Alaba, who plays as a left-back for Bayern Munich and in central midfield for his country, said. "We all know it won't be easy and if we use the victory in Vienna as an indicator, we will need to increase our efforts. However, this match could certainly open the door for us."

At least history will be on their side when they take on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his support cast. These two sides were in a similar position in qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France and then it was Austria who emerged triumphant over Sweden, Andreas Herzog scoring the goals in 1-0 victories home and away. However, despite Alaba's optimism, this could be a time for Austrian pragmatism given that their final match is against Faroe Islands and Sweden's is against Germany. JS

6) Swiss bliss?

Switzerland can clinch automatic qualification with just a point in Tirana, though Albania may not be the pushovers they were last week, before everyone discovered Adnan Januzaj is considering playing for them. It has been widely assumed that should Manchester United's wonderkid opt for Albania instead of Belgium he would be blighting his international career prospects, though things are not quite as bad as all that. Albania have managed 10 points from Group E games, courtesy of wins over Cyprus, Slovenia and even Norway away from home. They were still in contention for a play-off place when they travelled to Iceland last month, and actually took the lead in Reykjavic before going down to a 2-1 defeat. While Albania are probably not going to feature in too many tournaments in Januzaj's time as a player, they are an improving side who would improve still further with the addition of his quality, and it is unfair to rank them as complete no-hopers. That said, Group E looks a lot like one of the easiest qualifying groups imaginable, and while Switzerland have experienced little difficulty in remaining unbeaten it does not necessarily mean they will be a force in Brazil. PW

7) Altitude sickness

Uruguay have climbed a long way since their disastrous start to their qualifying campaign but now comes an unenviable test: facing Ecuador, their rivals for the final automatic qualifying place, at 2,800m above sea level. Playing in Quito has long been a daunting task for visiting sides because of the intimidatingly high altitude, although Luis Suárez believes that Uruguay have nothing to fear and that the momentum is with them. After three successive wins, they are level on 22 points with Ecuador, who have not won since March. "We're in good shape," he said. "We have to be smart and control the tempo, and not p lay so fast because they are much more used to playing at altitude. Playing in Quito is difficult and we are aware of what is at stake." And with Suárez in form, Uruguay have every reason to be confident of avoiding a play-off against Jordan, even if their final match is against Argentina next Tuesday. JS

8) England v Montenegro

England have drawn all their Group H matches so far against teams with any sort of pedigree, and while their last point-sharing exercise in Kiev was a decent result, the manner of it exasperated many viewers, whose reaction to a fairly dismal display duly exasperated Roy Hodgson. There is no time for any more excuses. England have two winnable home games to reach the World Cup finals, and if Montenegro and Poland cannot be overcome at Wembley then there is little point in taking a team to face the likes of Germany and Spain in Brazil.

Hodgson is likely to go for experience, which is why he is sticking with Joe Hart in goal and will most probably play Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in tandem again. For once he has a range of striking options from which to select, and the most experienced is Wayne Rooney, who is due a big game for England. Now back in his favourite position at his club, and apparently happy again for the time being, this is the time for Rooney and England to show they can deliver when the pressure is on. PW

9) Bosnia and Greece

Bosnia and Greece are level on points at the top of Group G but there is one crucial difference between the two sides. While Greece have scored nine goals and conceded four in their eight matches, Bosnia have scored 25 and let in five; something for the neutrals to get behind, then. Bosnia have never been to a World Cup before but their freewheeling style, with Edin Dzeko helping himself to eight goals, has kept them in front of Greece, who they have already played twice. On Friday, then, they will be hoping for more of the same from Dzeko, who has been in sharp form for Manchester City, before following it up with one final win in Lithuania next Tuesday. JS

10) Pressure games don't come smaller than this

Faroe Islands v Kazakhstan is not only a contender for the most surreal meeting in the European qualification cycle but potentially a key fixture in the unofficial no-hopers mini-league. If you look at the bottom of all the European groups there are only three teams without a point. The Faroe Islands are one of them, along with usual suspects San Marino and Andorra. Liechtenstein, often present on this list, have two points courtesy of draws at home to Slovakia and Latvia, while Malta have three points and Cyprus a giddy four.

San Marino face possibly the weakest opposition in Moldova on Friday, though they lost the home fixture 2-0, and Ukraine will probably be unforgiving visitors in their final match. Andorra will not be expecting any points from games against Hungary and Romania, so it is up to the Faroes to make the best of two remaining home matches against the Kazakhs and then Austria. The latter won 6-0 in Vienna, though the Faroes were actually leading at half-time in Astana before going down 2-1, so Kazakhstan have to be regarded as beatable in Torshavn. Pressure games don't come much smaller than this. PW