World Cup Qualifying Preview: Thursday

England will secure their place at next summer’s World Cup finals next summer if they beat Slovenia on Thursday.

The Three Lions are top of Group F, unbeaten and five points clear of second placed Slovakia with just two games remaining.

Victory at Wembley will secure passage to Russia for Gareth Southgate’s men, but despite being on the brink of qualification – the England boss has warned his players not to take their own places for granted.

“The reality is what I don’t want players to be comfortable. I think the danger when you don’t have competition for places is twofold. What’s the level needed at our club to get in the squad? And is everyone fulfilling that at the moment? Well I’m not so sure they are. And then it’s, ‘We come into training, am I a shoo-in to get in the team or do I have to push a bit harder because I have a couple snapping at my heels?”

Elsewhere in Group F, victory for Slovakia over Scotland will seal second placed, but victory for Gordon Strachan’s men – coupled with an England win over Slovenia – will put the Tartan Army in pole position for the runner-up spot.

“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.”

Northern Ireland have already sealed second spot in Group C as they host leaders Germany. The current world champions only need a point in Belfast to secure their passage, but victory for Michael O’Neill’s men would give them an outside chance of topping the group.

O’Neill is full of respect for Germany, but insists they can be beaten.

“Analysis is important because it’s how it’s interpreted – we’ve presented the Germans as a formidable opponent but not an invincible opponent,” he said.

“An opponent that on any given night, there’s an opportunity for us to try and find a way to win the game and certainly the players believe that.

“I think Germany are the strongest team in Europe, arguably the world. The players they have coming into their squad seem to adapt to international football very quickly.”

See below for a run-down on the games, including predictions and picks from our own Football Insider Graeme Bailey and BoyleSports’ Leon Blanche.

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Northern Ireland 19:45 Germany
Windsor Park

KEY FACT: Germany won reverse fixture 2-0 12 months ago
MATCH ODDS: N.Ireland 11/1 Draw 4/1 Germany 3/10
The Northern Irish are great at home, but think Germany might just sneak a win…0-2
BOYLESPORTS PICK: Northern Ireland +2 @10/11

England 19:45 Slovenia
Wembley Stadium

KEY FACT: England have won four and drawn one of their five previous meetings with Slovenia
MATCH ODDS: England 1/3 Draw 4/1 Slovenia 10/1
Comfortable England win, unlikely to be convincing…2-0
BOYLESPORTS PICK: Harry Kane first goal @9/4

Scotland 19:45 Slovakia
Hampden Park

KEY FACT: Scotland are unbeaten in their past five home World Cup qualifiers
MATCH ODDS: MScotland 29/20 Draw 2/1 Slovakia 23/10
Think Scotland’s hopes will come to an end with a draw…1-1
BOYLESPORTS PICK: Leigh Griffiths anytime @6/4

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