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Turgid England may be sometimes, but at least they didn't go 527 minutes without scoring a goal, as France contrived to do before their win over Belarus on Tuesday. It's tough to criticise France too much for being second in a group featuring Spain, but Didier Deschamps' side have rarely been convincing in this qualification campaign, particularly in the 0-0 draw with Georgia last week. Franck Ribery ended the drought with a penalty in what would turn out to be an eventful 4-2 win over the Belarusians, and it seems the Bayern Munich man is being lauded rather highly in his homeland.
"I'm not the saviour. I scored at the right time, when France needed me to score," Ribery told reporters. Brave, too: "Some other players might not have given it a go with the injury I was carrying but I like to contribute what I can." What a trooper.
France are actually level on points with Spain, but since they only have one game remaining while Vicente del Bosque's men have two (at home to Belarus and Georgia), they look destined for the play-offs.
La Celeste are actually turning things around now, having won their last three, most recently against the much-hyped Colombians, but the mid-campaign wobble could end up costing the Copa America holders dear. Everything started reasonably well - they took 11 points from the first available 15 without losing a game - but the wheels started to come off following a 4-0 shellacking at the hands of Colombia. Draws against Ecuador and Paraguay followed, along with beatings by Argentina, Chile and, perhaps most damagingly, a 4-1 pasting by Bolivia, in the visiting footballers' graveyard of La Paz, some 4,000m above sea level.
"We're not dead, but we need to fix things," said head coach Oscar Taberez at the time, and fix things they have, clawing themselves back into the race with narrow wins against Venezuela, Peruand then Falcao, James Rodriquez and Juan Quintero on Tuesday. They still might not make it - they currently sit in fifth place, when only the top four go through, leaving the next best side to play-off against the fifth Asian qualifier, in this case Jordan. They will have to go some to qualify though, since their remaining two games are away to fourth-place Ecuador, with whom they are currently level on points, then against Argentina, who have already qualified.
Remarkably, Mexico have won just one of their eight games in the final group stage but still have a shot of qualifying. The side ranked 20th in the world sit second-bottom of the six-team group after a defeat to the USA this week, with the top three to go through automatically and fourth to play-off against New Zealand, who have already won the Oceania section. The Mexicans are level with fourth-place Panama, and three points behind Honduras with two games left - one against those Panamanians, another in Costa Rica, who secured their place in Brazil on Tuesday.
Even the usually straight-shooting FIFA website reports that Mexico are in 'crisis mode and unable to put together anything resembling confident, competent football'. Ouch. They really need two wins from the final games to have a chance of making the finals, and even then they will probably have to negotiate that potentially tricky two-legged affair against the Kiwis in order to avoid missing their first World Cup since 1990, a tournament from which they were banned for using over-age players in the Youth World Championship.
For a team ranked seventh in the world, they don't 'alf make heavy work of qualifying for stuff. They haven't finished top of their group in the last three qualifying campaigns, making Euro 2008 as group runners-up, and reaching both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 by beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in play-offs. And it looks like they may have to go down that route again, as they sit a point behind Russia with two games remaining. That is obviously not exactly an insurmountable gap, but Fabio Capello's side face Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in their last couple of fixtures, meaning the Portuguese will be praying to whichever god they find handy for a miraculous slip-up. Imagine, if you will, Cristiano Ronaldo's face if he is stuck at home while Leo Messi dances around the defenders of the world on his home continent...
You have to feel a little sorry for the Croatians, given they were drawn against the indomitable, the wonderful, the unbeatable (according to the cool kids) Belgians, who are just a point away from securing their qualification. Indeed, they could secure that point in Zagreb next month, when they face Igor Stimac's side. Croatia would be in rather better touch with the leaders were it not for an inexplicable home defeat to Scotland in June, a result that would lead many an international manager to consider a walk in the woods with pa's old service revolver. Even if Croatia do manage to beat the Belgians, the chances of automatic qualification are slim - Marc Wilmots' side host Wales on the final day. The play-offs await.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter