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  1. England need two points from last two games to qualify
  2. Kane named as captain for Thursday
  3. NI guaranteed a top-two finish
  4. Scotland likely to need two more wins
  5. News conferences for NI, Scotland and England this afternoon
  6. Wales play on Friday

Live Reporting

By Mike Henson and Tom Rostance

All times stated are UK

See you tomorrow?

And that's all from this live page. Join us tomorrow, and all week, as we cover the live matches in our usual comprehensive fashion.

See you there!

Scotland used to pressure

Scotland v Slovakia (Thursday)

Coach Gordon Strachan is sure Scotland will not be overawed as they seek two victories to keep alive hopes of a World Cup play-off place.

Scotland must take maximum points from Slovakia at Hampden on Thursday and away to Slovenia on Sunday to guarantee second spot in Group F.

"We've had to deal with must-win games in the last four," said Strachan.

"Momentum is good at the moment. It's really exciting for me taking on this challenge."

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

Gareth Southgate was giving nothing away on team news in his news conference. Who is likely to replace Dele Alli do we think?

'We hope the country is excited'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England manager Gareth Southgate: "We are a win away from Russia. It's something we are excited about and we hope the whole country is excited about. We hope to put in a performance that makes a statement."

'Players select squads, not managers'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England manager Gareth Southgate: "My job is not to keep the players happy, it's to challenge them and create an environment which allows them to be successful. We can't sit back at any point, every session we have to get something from.

"When we get the results we want this week I hope to have a dilemma picking 23 players. I hope to have some difficult calls to make.

"Managers don't necessarily select squads, players do by the way they perform."

'Alli will get older and wiser'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England striker and Tottenham team-mate Harry Kane: "I think Dele Alli will improve his discipline. The older and wiser he gets this stuff probably won't happen.

"He is a fiery character, he wants to win on and off the pitch, but he is only 21 and we forget that sometimes. He will keep his head down and I'm sure everything will be fine."

'Winks is a player we like'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England manager Gareth Southgate: "Harry Winks is a player we like. With Fabian Delph leaving we needed another midfield player and we had an opportunity to look at a player for the short term or to integrate young player who can be a future England international.

"That's what we decided to do. The more we can do that, the better. I would have liked to do that with more young players this time but injuries prevented us.

"All of our big clubs have good young English players who they are giving opportunities to. Most of them are involved in European football this year."

'It makes me very proud'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England striker Harry Kane, reacting to being made captain: "It makes me very proud, growing up as a kid you dream of playing of your country and being captain as well. There are plenty of leaders in this team and other guys are going to have a go to see how it feels.

"I don't think having an armband on your arm makes a difference to how you play. I will go out there to try and win and score goals. There are plenty of players on the pitch who will help each other out when the going gets tough as well."

'He won't do it again'

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

England manager Gareth Southgate: "Dele Alli's one-game ban is a fair outcome. I've discussed it with Dele and he recognises his responsibilities and how things will be viewed. His world is changing.

"There is a spotlight on him. He won't do it again and he'll learn from it."

Kane named as captain

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

Harry Kane is named as captain for Thursday's game.

England manager Gareth Southgate: "His leadership qualities are invaluable to us as a team and he is in a good moment. I have known him for a long time and he is improving all the time.

"I haven't' decided yet [if we will have a full-time captain.] We saw potential leaders in the group at the start. What's important is that the lads who have led the team think about integrating the squad, the moments to step forward, the moments to have a quiet word with people.

"You are talking about leadership experience that comes over time."

'The fans are the 12th man'

Scotland v Slovakia (Thursday)

Christophe Berra
Getty Images

Scotland defender Christophe Berra: "You want play in the big games with the big atmosphere. We’re all looking forward to it. The fans are like the 12th man.

"We can only tell tomorrow night at 9:30pm how much improvement there has been over the past year."

'They defend with passion'

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

Northern Ireland
Getty Images

Germany defender Mats Hummels has been speaking about his side's match in Belfast.

"They have played very well up to now and defended strongly," he said.

"Northern Ireland don't just just defend with passion, but the system is tactically very sound too."

The sides met at the Euros last summer, with Germany winning 1-0.

'He's my number one'

Scotland v Slovakia (Thursday)

Leigh Griffiths

Gordon Strachan on Leigh Griffiths: "He's an all round better player, at this moment he’s number one pick for the Scotland side."

'Bannan is at the forefront'

Scotland v Slovakia (Thursday)

Barry Bannan

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan: "Callum McGregor has developed, he has changed position, he is comfortable on the ball. The best performance I've seen in the last three or four weeks is Barry Bannan. He's at the forefront of what we want to do.

"Our preparation doesn't change, there is an edge to what we do. It makes it easier when you've picked up points. We believed that we could come back in the group."

'Slovakia are like a club side'

Scotland v Slovakia (Thursday)

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan: "They are two teams who have picked up momentum. They have good players, experienced players and they have been together a long time, like a club side.

"The players will determine how the game goes, I haven't got a lever I can slow them down with or make the quicker. They play by instinct. We want to do more attacking than them."

Let's get loud

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

My eldest sends LouLou the holiday cat on work trips with me. I think she's going to need ear defenders tomo night.

My eldest sends LouLou the holiday cat on work trips with me. I think she's going to need ear defenders tomo night.

Captain Kane?

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

Gary Flintoff

BBC Radio 5 live reporter at Tottenham's training ground

The media are starting to congregate for the scheduled 14:30 BST news conference...

BBC Sport

A World Cup without Messi

Lionel Messi
Getty Images

A World Cup without Lionel Messi?

It could just be...

Argentina - two-time champions who have not missed the finals since 1970 - are currently languishing in fifth place in South American qualifying.

With the top four qualifying, that position would send them into a two-legged play-off against New Zealand, but even that scenario is far from assured with Copa America holders Chile lurking just a point behind in sixth.

Argentina take on Peru, who are above them in fourth on goal difference, before facing Ecuador.

Not strictly World Cup qualifiers but...

Who is that taking selfies when they should be focusing on the lecture?

Only former Arsenal defender Lauren.

He is in the second year of his business management course in Seville apparently...

View more on twitter

App users may need to click through to view Lauren's tweet.

Play-offs prize

Thierry Henry and Richard Dunne
Getty Images

For those that fail to come through the groups as winners, the thrills and spills of the play-offs await.

Eight of the nine European runners-up go into a two-legged play off for four places at next year's finals. That means the runner-up with the fewest points misses out. That unfortunate position is currently occupied by Wales, although plenty can change over the coming days.

Fifa says teams will be seeded for the draw on 17 October, with the top four sides according to its ranking at the time in one pot and the remaining four in another.

The teams currently in second place are Portugal (3rd in Fifa rankings), Wales (13th), Italy (17th), Slovakia (19th), Northern Ireland (20th), Iceland (22nd), Sweden (23rd), Bosnia-Herzegovina (36th) and Montenegro (37th).

So while there are plenty of permutations, a Wales-Northern Ireland play-off is a possibility...

What do England need?

Gareth Southgate

Group F - Thursday: Slovenia 19:45 (h), Sunday: Lithuania (a) 17:00

Unbeaten England, with six wins and two draws, comfortably lead Group F and are poised to qualify automatically. They require one win, or two draws, or just a single point if second-placed Slovakia do not win both their matches.

Preparations continue...

Republic of Ireland v Moldova (Friday, 19:45 BST)

What do Scotland need?

Scotland goal
Getty Images

Group F - Thursday: Slovakia 19:45 (h), Sunday: Slovenia (a) 17:00

With just four points from their first four matches, few were rushing to back Scotland to reach Russia.

But victory over Slovenia, a draw with England and wins against Lithuania and Malta have put them back in the hunt for a first World Cup appearance since 1998.

Scotland could reach the play-offs by winning their final two matches, but defeat by Slovakia will end their hopes. Realistically, they need to beat Slovakia, because they will surely take maximum points in their final match at home to Malta.

Bale blow for Wales

Georgia v Wales (Friday)

Gareth Bale

Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales' last two World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland with a calf strain.

The 28-year-old could be out for a month and that would also rule Bale out of the play-offs on 9-14 November.

Wales are second in Group D and if they keep that spot it could be enough to earn them a place in the play-offs.

Bale joined the Wales squad on Monday and, despite sitting out training, it had been hoped he would be fit.

But a scan revealed the severity of the injury and means Bale will not travel to Georgia for Friday's game in Tblisi and will play no part in the Cardiff clash with Republic of Ireland three days later.

What do the Republic of Ireland need?

ROI goal
Getty Images

Group D - Friday: Moldova (h) 19:45, Monday: Wales (a) 19:45

The Republic of Ireland can enter the play-off picture by defeating both Moldova and Wales. A win over Moldova and a draw with Wales would only be enough if the Welsh fail to beat Georgia.

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill: "The players have done the work now. Whatever happens here it won't take away from that it will only enhance it."

Lukaku latest

Bosnia v Belgium (Saturday)

Getty Images

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku is an injury doubt to face Bosnia for Belgium at the weekend. With the Belgians already qualified, manager Roberto Martinez says he will not rush the number nine back.

Martinez said: "He is very uncertain for Saturday, we will make a decision on Friday. It is difficult for him.

"Lukaku wants to play. He hasn't trained with the group, he has a sore ankle and it is important he gets fully recovered. We will give him as long as he can.

"We are talking to Manchester United closely. We are careful that we won't rush him into anything."

'Electric atmosphere'

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

Northern Ireland midfielder Steven Davis is speaking to the media about facing the world champions, and he expects a cracking atmosphere again at Windsor Park.

he says: "We know the quality they've got but I think we have improved from the last time we played them.

"It's going to be another great night for the fans and I'm sure they'll provide another electric atmosphere"

What do Wales need?

Wales goal

Group D - Friday: Georgia (a) 17:00, Monday: Republic of Ireland (h) 19:45

"Don't take me home, please don't take me home," sang the fans as Wales marched to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

Now they want to cheer them in a second World Cup, with their only previous finals appearance coming in 1958. However, Chris Coleman's side must play their final two group matches without injured talisman Gareth Bale.

A win in Georgia on Friday will be enough to secure a top-two spot if the Republic of Ireland fail to beat Moldova at home. Otherwise, it could come down to Monday's meeting between Wales and Martin O'Neill's side in Cardiff.

Serbia lead the group and will qualify with a victory in Austria or at home to Georgia.

Start saving up...

2018 World Cup yet to take place but nations already eyeing 2030 event. Argentina, Paraguay & Uruguay due to announce joint 2030 bid today

'I have come to answer everything there is to answer'

Spain v Albania (Fri)

Gerard Pique

More from Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who says that he will not be driven out of the national team by fans who oppose his support for a Catalan independence referendum.

"To go now would be give belief to people who think that the solution is whistling and insult," he said.

"I don't want to go through the back door. This team and all the Spanish federation are my family. I want to continue for them.

"I can understand that my colleagues are tired of this. So I have come to answer everything there is to answer."

Around the world

Argentina goal
Getty Images

There are of course plenty of teams duking it out to qualify in Africa, Asia and the Americas too.

Find out how the land lies in each continent here.

What's all the fuss about?

In case you've forgotten - THE WORLD CUP IS BRILLIANT...

Advent calendar: All the World Cup goals

Captain Kane?

England v Slovenia (Thursday)

Gary Flintoff

BBC Radio 5 live reporter at Tottenham's training ground

Harry Kane

I cannot have been the only person to notice that Harry Kane led the England players out at training this morning? Could the in-form Tottenham striker be about to be handed the captains' armband once again against Slovenia tomorrow night?

McAuley fancies it

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

World Cup 2018: McAuley eyes shock Northern Ireland win over Germany

Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley says it would be "unbelievable" to beat World Cup champions Germany in Thursday night's qualifier in Belfast.

Michael O'Neill's side are already guaranteed a top-two finish and a likely play-off spot while they have a slim chance to finish above the Germans, who sit five points clear at the top of Group C with two games left.

Germany boast a remarkable record of having never lost an away World Cup qualifier as they prepare for the Windsor Park game.

McAuley returns for Northern Ireland after a thigh injury kept the West Brom centre-back out of August's qualifier wins over San Marino and Czech Republic.

Legends in the building

Northern Ireland v Germany (Thursday)

Three-time World Superbike champ Jonathan Rea is on board...

Just pointing out how many goals we are going to score on Thursday night @NorthernIreland! #GAWA #daretodream

Just pointing out how many goals we are going to score on Thursday night @NorthernIreland! #GAWA #daretodream

What do Northern Ireland need?

NI goal

Group C - Thursday: Germany (h) 19:45, Sunday: Norway (a) 19:45 (all times BST)

With just one defeat and only two goals conceded in eight matches, Northern Ireland - second in Group C - have more points than some group leaders.

Nine clear of third-placed Azerbaijan, they are guaranteed a top-two place as they look to reach their first World Cup since 1986.

Automatic qualification seems unlikely though - they need to beat Germany and Norway, and hope the Germans lose their final match against Azerbaijan. The reigning champions need just a draw in Belfast to top the group.

'I am proud to be in the Spain team'

Spain v Albania (Fri)

Gerard Pique

Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique, who offered to retire from international football after being jeered by some of the national team fans for his support of the Catalan independence referendum, has said he wants to continue playing for his country.

"It is impossible to put in doubt my commitment. I have been here since the age of 15. I consider this a family," he said.

"I am proud to be in the Spain team and part of this group.

"It is not nice that people who support your team is against you. I'm here to try to change it.

"Through respect and coherence I believe that everything can reach fruition."

Get involved

#bbcfootball or 81111 on text

Who are your team and what are their chances of being in Russia next year? Are you planning a trip?

Send me your World Cup tales. We are on 81111 (UK Only, names on please) or at #bbcfootball.

Who's already qualified?

An excellent question. With just a handful of games remaining there are still 24 places up for grabs at next summer's carnival.

Already there are:

  • Russia (hosts)
  • Belgium
  • Mexico
  • Iran
  • South Korea
  • Japan
  • Saudi Arabia