Everyone is aware of the potential of the Belgian squad and to justify Jan Vertonghen's declared belief that they can win the next World Cup, Belgium could do with picking up at least a point in Serbia, who are among their chief rivals in a group that also features Croatia, Scotland and Wales.
Belgium, who say they are going for all three points, have plenty of injury problems ahead of the trip to Belgrade, with Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku ruled out and Vincent Kompany a doubt. They also have a new face in their squad: the uncapped Gent striker Ilombé Mboyo, whose call-up does not sit well with everyone.
The 25-year-old, who is nicknamed "Le Petit Pélé", served three years in prison following a gang rape committed when he was 16 and many are angry that he is now being given the chance to represent his country; others, meanwhile, see his call-up as a triumph for the Belgian penal system's capacity to rehabilitate offenders. "I admit it's not easy," said the chairman of the Belgian FA, François de Keersmaecker, "I want to see his selection as a positive thing for football and for society … everyone deserves a second chance. Someone who has been to prison is not written off forever by society." PD
We're still calling them a golden generation, right? Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and friends need nothing less than victory over Scotland if they are to cling to their hopes of reaching the next World Cup. Ominously for the home team, Scotland have Steven Fletcher back in the fold, the striker no doubt lured back by soothing words from Craig Levein and the prospect of facing a Welsh defence that looked utterly clueless during the 6-1 defeat by Serbia last time out. In what promises to be a shuddering game, in which Bale and Charlie Adam can renew acquaintance, Scotland's firepower may just give them the edge over a Welsh side missing Craig Bellamy. Then again, they may not. This one is too close to call, and should be too feisty to miss. PD
"This is Chile's greatest generation!" boomed the Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal ahead of his team's ascent to Ecuador, who have won all four of their home qualifiers so far. Those victories have put Ecuador a point and two places ahead of fifth-placed Chile in the South American qualifying group, with only the top four team certain of going through. The Chile side features many of the players who came third at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup and impressed in South Africa in 2010; they are particularly eager to win this match in light of a tempestuous encounter between the teams in a so-called friendly in the United States in August, when Ecuador won 3-0. PD
After Rui Costa, Luis Figo, Pauleta & co were outed as frauds, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, João Moutinho & co have been identified as Portugal's real golden generation, but they too are at risk of being exposed as gilded tin. Their trip to Russia will go a fair way to deciding whether they will top Group F, and to avoid defeat they will surely have to improve on their last away performance, an ignominious 2-1 win over Luxembourg. As well as omitting Andrei Arshavin and Pavel Pogbrebnyak, Fabio Capello seems to have tightened up Russia's defence since taking charge so Portugal will be relieved that Ronaldo appears to be winning his battle to be fit. Pepe remains a doubt, however, so Portugal may find themselves hoping that Aleksander Kerzahov reprises his hilariously wayward Euro 2012 finishing antics. PD
Trouble in paradise? All is not well for the Nationalmannschaft and for the first time since he took over in 2006, Joachim Löw is under pressure. Bastian Schweinsteiger, the midfielder who has been a shining light for Germany's golden generation since they hosted the World Cup six years ago, voiced dissatisfaction with the spirit in the camp during their run to the semi-finals of Euro 2012 – giving the manager "a piece of my mind".
This weekend they face the Republic of Ireland in Group C after victories over the Faroe Islands and Austria, but Schweini's outburst means the slightest whiff of discontent will be pounced upon by the German press. Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski and Schweinsteiger all came to prominence when Jürgen Klinsmann's side captured the imagination in 2006, and they have since been joined by Thomas Müller, Marco Reus and Mesut Ozil. Anything less than a victory at the Aviva Stadium could be a seminal moment in Löw's tenure. Fresh and exciting players keep emerging through the ranks, but with no trophy since 1996, change at the top is a possibility. JR
6) Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast have never won nor even scored a goal in Dakar, where they go this weekend for the second leg of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Senegal. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, still striving, along with the likes of Yaya Touré and Emmanuel Eboué, to lead their country to the trophy they were supposedly destined to land, were among the scorers as the Elephants stomped to a 4-2 first leg lead, a result that compels Senegal to go on the attack in Dakar.
And that is precisely what they intend to do, with Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé expected to start alongside each other. Senegal failed abysmally to find the right formula for getting the best out of their array of fine forwards but their new coaches, Joseph Koto and Karim Séga Diouf, are plotting to rearrange their midfield to do just that. The Ivorians will be missing Kalou but can still call on Gervinho and the in-form Arouna Koné. This game promises goals as well as high drama. PD
7) Jamaica and Guatemala
Jamaica's recovery from conceding a Clint Dempsey goal in the first minute to beat the USA 2-1 last month has left Concacaf Group A intriguingly poised: Jamaica, the USA and Guatemala are level on points and each have two matches left to secure their passage to the semi-final stage of the World Cup qualifiers. What could be the crunch game comes in Guatemala City on Friday, where Jamaica are the visitors. The Reggae Boyz were slightly fortunate to beat Guatemala on an awful pitch in Kingston earlier in the campaign. They are expected to find it tougher this time round, against a home side inspired by the Heerenveen midfielder Marco Pappa and two veterans who are surely making their last attempt to reach the World Cup, Dwight "The Tank" Pezzarossi and the all-time top scorer Carlos "Fish" Ruiz. The stakes are similarly high for Nyron Nosworthy and friends.
"It's very difficult for the football federation to exist and to be able to manage and to do all the things we need to do if we crash out before we get to the next round," warned the head of Jamaica's Football Federation, Horace Reid. "Secondly, for us to reposition our football on the international stage – it took us quite a while to get back to where we are – we would definitely lose a lot of ground should we not advance." PD
Having missed out on Euro 2012, the first time they were absent from a major international tournament since 2002, Switzerland are looking for a return to the kind of form that saw them dispatch Spain in their opening match of the 2010 World Cup. Ottmar Hitzfeld remains at the helm and they go into Friday's game against Norway on the back of qualifying wins against Slovenia and Albania. Their squad boasts plenty of quality. Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri is the best of them while Gokhan Inler, Tranquillo Barnetta, Gelson Fernandes and Valon Behrami should be at their peaks in two years' time, and they are by far the strongest side in Group E. If they do not return to the big stage, something needs to change. JR
The biggest threat to Switzerland's qualification hopes may come from Iceland. Scoff you may, but no longer does Eidur Gudjohnsen carry the burden of dragging his side kicking and screaming across Europe, through defeat after defeat. Iceland are now a dangerous threat for any side who take them lightly (although they did lose to Cyprus in their last outing). Tottenham's Gylfi Sigurdsson runs the midfield while the youngsters Eggert Jonsson of Wolves and Ajax's Kolbeinn Sigborsson add pace and guile where there was only endeavour. Iceland have never qualified for a major international tournament, but the 2014 play-offs could be within their grasp. JR
10) San Marino
Never before have San Marino been able to call upon such high-calibre removals operatives. The defender Gianluca Bollini and his brother in midfield, Fabio, make their living lugging furniture around and, so far as we are aware, can be relied upon to get your settees and pouffes from one place to another on time, without damage and at a reasonable cost. And in the unlikely event of them ever falling below those high standards, the striker Danilo Rinaldi, who works for a furniture-making company, may be able to help out with repairs. If they can stack wardrobes in front of their goal at Wembley and definitively get rid of the notion of this being England's golden generation, that would be a service that would leave many with smiles. PD