Club soccer pauses this weekend for the final FIFA international break of the year, making room for a number of playoff games with World Cup berths at stake. Here are some games expected to be compelling:
UEFA: Italy hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1958, but if the Azzurri are to keep that streak alive they need to get past Sweden in a playoff that begins Friday (FS1, 11:30 a.m. PST) and concludes Monday (FS1, 11:45 a.m.).
“We’re Italy and missing out on the World Cup is not an option,” Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci said.
Sweden last played in a World Cup in 2006. In between, on Sunday, Switzerland and Northern Ireland will conclude their playoff (ESPN Deportes, 9 a.m.) as will Greece-Croatia (ESPN Deportes, 11:45 a.m.). Northern Ireland is looking for its first World Cup berth since 1986.
CAF: In African qualifying, Ivory Coast needs a victory Saturday over group-leading Morocco to reach its fourth consecutive World Cup (BeIN Sports, 9:20 a.m.)
Intercontinental playoffs: The U.S. won’t be in Russia next summer but CONCACAF can still send four teams provided Honduras can get past Australia. That two-leg playoff begins Friday (Telemundo Deportes, BeIN Sports, 1:30 p.m.) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and concludes next week in Australia. Honduras has played in the last two World Cups, Australia in the last three. In the other intercontinental playoff, Peru faces New Zealand. Peru last reached the World Cup in 1982. That series kicks off Friday (BeIN Sports, 7 p.m.) and concludes next week.