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The European section of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup reaches its dramatic climax over the next week, with eight more nations set to secure their places in Qatar.

There will be 50 matches played during this international window, during which the result of the 10 groups will be decided, with Denmark and Germany being the only European nations to have already booked their tickets.

Indeed, the other eight group winners will seal the automatic qualification for Qatar 2022, while 10 other nations will advance to the March play-offs as finalists.

The 10 second-ranked teams will be joined by the top two group winners of the 2020-21 Nations League who have neither already qualified nor sealed a place for the play-offs via the group stage.

With plenty of excitement and drama guaranteed, Stats Perform takes a closer look at the most eye-catching fixtures, permutations, and milestones.

800 more for Ronaldo?

Another day and another milestone is approaching for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just two goals away from bringing his career tally to 800.

The Portuguese skipper could mark the occasion when his country takes on the Republic of Ireland on Thursday – failing which, they will host Serbia three days later.

If Portugal won the maximum points at the Aviva Stadium, Fernando Santos’ men would then secure first place in Group A by avoiding the loss to Serbia on Sunday.

Deja vu for Italy?

The reigning European champions missed the final last time around, triggering a cultural reset that ultimately culminated in their brilliant success at Euro 2020 earlier this year. But their place in Qatar is still far from assured.

Tied on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C with two games remaining, the Azzurri must beat the Swiss in their clash on Friday and avoid defeat against Northern Ireland three days later to secure qualification.

Four years ago they fell to Sweden in play-offs – failure this time would be an even bigger shock.

Work to do for the Dutch

The Netherlands were also absent from Russia in 2018 and, despite leading Group G, they are not yet home and dry.

Louis van Gaal’s side will travel to Montenegro on Saturday while second-placed Norway will host Latvia.

Only two points separate the top two, who block the horns at De Kuip on Tuesday in a game that will more than likely decide who wins the group.

Spain to avoid Swedish success?

The 2010 World Cup winners are yet to be sure of finishing among the top two in Group B, although they will be by avoiding the defeat to Greece on Thursday.

Spain are two points behind the Swedish leader, who travels to Georgia on the same day. They go head-to-head in what will surely be the group’s decider on Sunday, assuming they take maximum points three days earlier.

France seeks to avoid the Blues

The reigning world champions and recently crowned Nations League winners aren’t quite above the finish line in Group D, despite a three-point and one-game short advantage over Ukraine , second.

However, the Blues will secure first place with a victory over Kazakhstan on Saturday or, failing that, by removing the maximum points from Finland on Tuesday.

Who will be at the head of group H?

Russia and Croatia are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group H, but with just two points separating them, the identity of the group winners is still very uncertain.

After facing Cyprus and Malta respectively on Thursday, the two nations face off in Split on Sunday, one reserving a place in Qatar and the other heading to the play-offs.

Second place to win in Group J

Eight points ahead of the chasing pack in Group J, Germany qualified brilliantly. But the battle for second place is not that simple.

Second place is Romania (13 points), closely followed by North Macedonia and Armenia (12 each), while Iceland (eight) still have an away chance.

Armenia and North Macedonia will face off on Thursday and Romania will host Iceland.

The group then climaxes three days later as North Macedonia and Iceland stick together, while Armenia, host of Germany and Romania, travel to Liechtenstein – expect a roller coaster ride in Group J!

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