FIFA World Cup trophy

Race for 2014: Final World Cup slots on the line in eight crucial playoff matches

The final spots at next summer's FIFA World Cup are up for grabs.

After Ghana booked their ticket to Brazil on Tuesday, downing Egypt 7-3 on aggregate despite a 2-1 second-leg loss, there are seven slots left to be claimed.


Algeria hosts Burkina Faso at the Mustapha Tchaker Stadium in Blida, needing at least a one-goal win to overcome the Stallions' 3-2 home victory in the first leg. Burkina Faso are seeking their first-ever trip to the World Cup finals, while Algeria have three such occasions in their past.


The stage is set for some vintage Greek bus-parking at the National Arena in Bucharest as Romania tries to overcome their 3-1 first-leg loss to Greece in Piraeus last week (1:55 pm ET, ESPN3). While the visitors are well-versed in the arts of stout defending, Romania's possession of an away goal and their ability to attack with verve puts the final result in some doubt here. 


One of the most closely-watched playoff contests concludes at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb on Tuesday. Massive underdogs Iceland – seeking to become the smallest nation ever to reach the World Cup – enter the lions' den to meet Croatia in the second leg of a series which is deadlocked at 0-0 after goals went missing at the Laugardalsvöllur National Stadium in Rejkavik.


This week's “glamor tie” enters its second phase as Sweden welcome Portugal to the Friends Arena in Stockholm's Solna district with a one-goal deficit to overcome. Cristiano Ronaldo's diving header in Lisbon is all that separates these UEFA rivals and the world is watching to see whether superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic will stand up and be counted on a frigid night in Sweden.


Another keenly-watched European clash will take place at the Stade de France in Paris' northern suburbs as the 1998 World Cup winners must stage a major comeback on Ukraine after crashing to a 2-0 defeat in Kiev last week. France are arguably the highest-profile powerhouse in danger of missing out on Brazil and will look to winger Franck Ribery for inspiration, while defender Laurent Koscielny is suspended after his red card in the first leg.


Further afield, there's precious little suspense in Wednesday's two intercontinental playoffs. They kick off with Mexico visiting New Zealand with a 5-1 aggregate lead thanks to their emphatic win at Estadio Azteca a week ago.


Uruguay, including Chicago Fire midfielder Arevalo Rios, host Jordan in Montevideo with a 5-0 advantage carved out in Amman. Being at home at Wellington's Westpac Stadium, the All Whites may hold marginally brighter hopes than Jordan's “Brave Gentlemen” but the rest of the world is already planning on seeing El Tri and La Celeste in Brazil next summer. 

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