Paris – A host of European countries, including giants Germany, could secure their passages to the World Cup on the penultimate round of qualifying matches Friday.
Joachim Loew's men need only beat Republic of Ireland at home to join the likes of Italy and Netherlands, who have also already booked their plane tickets, in Brazil.
Group C leaders Germany could even afford to draw or lose and still qualify, depending on Sweden's result against Austria.
Yet that has not stopped them from peddling a cautious line ahead of their meeting in Cologne.
Germany may have romped to a 6-1 success in Dublin in October but holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is still expecting a battle against the usually tenacious Irish.
“It won't be easy, the Irish fight non-stop for their country,” said the Bayern Munich player.
“They're maybe not as good as Argentina or Spain in a footballing sense, but they have an enormous heart and always give their all.”
Belgium and Switzerland can also qualify without depending on other teams' results, although for the former to do so they will need to avoid defeat against Croatia in Zagreb.
Belgium lead Group A by five points but a defeat would mean their battle with Croatia going down to the final round of games Tuesday, when they host Wales and Croatia travel to Scotland.
The Belgians may have dominated the group so far, winning seven and drawing one of their eight games, but they come into this clash after suffering a pair of blows.
Captain and Manchester City star Vincent Kompany has been ruled out with a thigh strain while teenage Manchester United sensation Adnan Januzaj has once again turned down overtures from coach Marc Wilmots to join up with the national team squad, opting instead to leave his international options open.
Switzerland need to win in Albania to ensure their progress but, just like Germany, with a four-point cushion on Iceland they could even draw or lose and qualify depending on the Group E result when Cyprus visit Reykjavik.
Russia, who travel to Luxembourg, are the other team that could qualify Friday but that would depend on the unlikely event of Portugal losing at home to Israel.
Perhaps the most intriguing battle for a World Cup spot takes place in Group H where the top four play each other.
Leaders England host Montenegro knowing they could knock out the Balkan nation with a victory.
But with Ukraine entertaining Poland, and the top four sides separated by just three points, nothing will be decided until Tuesday.
England may lead by a point from Ukraine and Montenegro, and have a much better goal difference, but while those two face minnows San Marino and Moldova in their final games, Roy Hodgson's team host Poland at Wembley.
England have not missed out on World Cup qualification since 1994 but they did fail to make it to Euro 2008 in similar circumstances to these when defeats to Russia and at home to Croatia in their last two qualifiers saw them miss out on the finals in Austria and Switzerland.
The nightmare of that failure still haunts England's players and captain Steven Gerrard has been forced this week to defend the team against accusations that representing their country simply doesn't mean enough to the highly-paid Premier League stars.
“The pain and the agony – how long that lasted after we didn't qualify for Euro 2008 – I wish you could bottle that and show it to people who say those things and doubt how much we care,” he said.
“We care. Trust me, we care. No one cares more than the players. We understand the fans and media are passionate, but that's certainly the case in the dressing room.
“It's a shame the supporters and certain people can't go into the dressing room and see how we prepare and how much we want this. The word I use when people bring it up is just 'nonsense'.” – Sapa-AFP