Another international break is upon us, and while the first instinct of many football fans is to bemoan the break in domestic club football, instead choosing to read the transfer rumours which will inevitably emerge while clubs are taking a break, a closer look at this month's fixtures reveals an exciting round of World Cup qualifiers across the globe.
Several sides have already qualified for the tournament. Brazil, Mexico, Belgium, Iran, South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia will all be joining hosts Russia at the final tournament.
We have listed six games below which could have big repercussions for the teams involved when it comes to qualification, and should also provide football fans with some entertainment while they wait for their club to return to action.
Scotland vs Slovakia
Thursday October 5, 19:45 (all times BST)
England sit at the top of Group F on 20 points and need just two more points to secure automatic qualification. Scotland meanwhile lie in fourth, level with Slovenia on 14 points, and one behind second place Slovakia.
Gordon Strachan's side play both of these teams in their final two games of the group in what is a make-or-break couple of games.
If they lose against Slovakia at Hampden Park then they're out. Win, and they stand a chance of going through to the play-offs with a result against Slovenia in the following game. They'll hope England can also do them a favour against the latter when they face each other at Wembley.
This game on home soil is as important as they come, and they'll need the Tartan Army behind them throughout to help push them over the line.
Argentina vs Peru
Friday October 6, 00:30
With just two games to go, only two sides have been eliminated from the 10-team CONMEBOL qualifying league which pits the South American nations against each other in one of the most exciting leagues in world football.
With so much at stake in the remaining two match days, the best thing to do would be to watch them all, but seeing as that’s impossible — especially in the UK where, bizarrely, this festival of football is not shown on TV — then it might be wise to make the first port of call Argentina vs Peru.
This game will shape the importance of fixtures to come in a tense and exciting final two match-days, which could lead to the unthinkable scenario where Lionel Messi’s side miss out on the World Cup.
The current standings see Chile outside of the qualification places in sixth.
The top four will qualify for the tournament with the 5th placed side going into an inter-confederation playoff, so Alexis Sánchez‘s side need to win their upcoming games against Ecuador and Brazil, the latter being the only side to have secured qualification from this group.
Peru are currently in fourth place, but they'll have to beat an Argentina side full of some of the world's best players if they're to stay there.
Cape Verde vs Senegal
Saturday October 7, 18:30
The island nation of Cape Verde have never qualified for a World Cup, as you might expect given the size of their archipelago, but when they face Senegal on Saturday they could go one step closer to qualification for Russia 2018.
It won’t be easy though. They face one of Africa’s modern day heavyweights, who could be considered underachievers having themselves not made a World Cup since 2002. They face the prospect of missing out again despite boasting a team of stars which includes Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mané, Keita Baldé, and a whole host of other top players.
Will a team effort from the minnows triumph, or will the stars of Senegal be too much for them?
United States vs Panama
Saturday October 7, 00:35
It’s been a miserable qualifying campaign for the United States, who will have expected to have been challenging at the top of the pile with Mexico. Instead they sit fourth in the six team CONCACAF qualifying section, level on points with Honduras, and behind Costa Rica and Panama.
They have the opportunity to scrape into the World Cup courtesy of this game against Panama in Orlando, and a final match away to bottom-of-the-pile Trinidad and Tobago.
Honduras have tough matches against Mexico, who have already secured qualification, and Costa Rica, so will struggle to challenge the US for a place in the inter-confederation playoff, which will be the fate of the US if they are beaten by Panama in the standout game from this north and central American group.
Wales vs Republic of Ireland
Monday October 9, 19:45
This is another game which could be dependant on previous results, but both sides will be expected to win their respective games against Georgia and Moldova, with much resting on Ireland’s result. If they win, their game against Wales will decide who is still in with a chance of qualifying for the World Cup.
The most likely is that Serbia will top the group with one of these sides taking second place, but if the current leaders falter in their games against Georgia and Austria, then there is still the possibility that one of the pair could qualify automatically.
Wales currently sit in second on 14 points, four behind Serbia, while Ireland are a point behind Wales. Chris Coleman’s side will be missing star player Gareth Bale, and these important fixtures will be a true test of their strength in depth, and strength of character.
Portugal vs Switzerland
Tuesday October 10, 19:45
Both teams should triumph in their first game of the international break when they face Andorra and Hungary respectively. They are the only two teams who can still qualify from Group B of the UEFA qualifying section, and they face each other in what could effectively be an automatic qualification decider depending on those earlier results.
All will not be lost for the second placed side as they will enter the playoffs, but each would obviously prefer to qualify automatically and avoid the uncertainty of the two-legged second round.
Switzerland currently sit in the driving seat, three points ahead of second place Portugal but Fernando Santos’ side have a superior goal difference, so if they can recover the three points in the game between the two, they would sit at the top of the group.
So as well as Messi, there is still a chance that Cristiano Ronaldo may not make it to the World Cup.
*Bonus Matches – UEFA Group I
This group of UEFA qualifying is still wide open, with Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, and Ukraine all still in with a chance of automatic qualification.
Turkey play Iceland in the first matchday, while Ukraine play Croatia in the second. Finland and Kosovo are already eliminated, but could still put a spanner in the works as the other four, who are only separated by two points, will be seeking easy wins against these sides.