Euro 2016 finalists France have the inside track on winning the group by the slimmest of margins, tied with Sweden on both points (7) and goal differential (+4). Where France have an upper hand is that they've already played one of their tougher road games, away to the Netherlands, and emerged with a win. The Netherlands, with 4 points, are still in the hunt but have work to do. The good news is the Dutch have already played both of the group leaders once. The bad news is they've drawn one match and lost the other. Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg have negative goal differentials and are destined to be on the outside looking in.
Switzerland are the early frontrunners following a perfect start after 3 matches. A home win against Portugal to get things going was a big step, as was their late road win against Hungary. The Portuguese will likely jockey for position with the Swiss all the way down to the wire. The Euro 2016 champions currently sit in second with 6 points, with one loss against the Swiss. They'll get a chance to return the favor a year from now, as Switzerland travels to Portugal on Oct. 10, 2017. Hungary are a good side, but they'll likely be relegated to playing spoiler as it relates to which team wins Group B, and which could be headed to the playoff round.
Germany were far and away the favorites to win this group, and three matches in there's no reason to think otherwise.The Germans have been methodical in their three wins, scoring eight conceding zero. Azerbaijan have played to a somewhat surprising second place with 7 points, albeit the bulk of those points game from narrow 1-0 victories against San Marino and Norway. Traditional powers Czech Republic have just a single point from the first three matches, so second place is wide open. All that's pretty much settled is that Germany will win the group, then it's anyone's game for second place -- except San Marino. On the bright side, San Marino scored an away goal on Tuesday, so that's something!
Serbia and the Republic of Ireland lead the charge with 7 points apiece after three matches, but Wales and Austria certainly have the quality to make a run for at least the second-place spot. Wales sit third with 5 points and Austria have 4. A home draw against Georgia will leave a bad taste in Wales' mouth, while Austria will rue their missed chance for a point in Serbia. It's a tough race to call, as most of these are so early in the qualifying cycle, and will likely be exciting to the very end. Any of the current top four teams can win the group (Sorry, Georgia and Moldova), with Serbia the narrow favorites.
Raise your hand if you saw Montenegro leading this group after three matches. Poland are still tied on points with 7, but Montenegro boast the superior goal difference. Poland should still turn things around and probably win the group, but Montenegro have showed they're not going to be complete walkovers. Romania and Denmark (to a lesser degree) will also be in the mix. Kazakhstan and Armenia, meanwhile, face a tall order if they're going to push for advancement.
England fans might not feel comfortable about their team, but at least the Three Lions are atop their group. The Gareth Southgate era opened with a win against Malta and a less-than-exciting goalless draw against Slovenia. Not anything to write home about, good or bad. Save for Malta, the group remains pretty tight-knit. Teams will begin to pull aways as more matches are played, obviously, but as it stands the fifth-place team, Slovakia, are 4 points from first. Lithuania and Slovenia have 5 points, while Scotland have 4. Any of those sides could find themselves moving on.
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It's hard to envision Spain or Italy missing out on the World Cup, and three matches in it looks like they'll be the survivors of Group G. Both European giants have 7 points, with the only dropped points coming in in an Oct. 6 draw against each other. Israel and Albania are on their tails with 6 points, but that success is bit of a mirage. Both Albania and Israel have won their matches against Macedonia and Liechtenstein, while Albania fell to Spain and Israel lost to Italy. It's a two-horse race to see which team between Italy and Spain wins the group and avoids the playoff.
With roughly a third of qualifying in the books, Belgium have the advantage out of Group H. They're flawless three games in, collecting 13 goals and allowing none for the full 9 points. More importantly, they took a big chunk out of a challenger in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a 4-0 win in Brussels. Greece, with 9 points as well, have feasted on the minnows of the group in the early going, beating Gibraltar, Cyprus and Estonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina should make it a fight before all is said and done, but the Red Devils aren't showing any signs of letting up. The meeting between those two nations in Zenica next October should be pivotal.
Iceland reached their first major tournament in this summer's Euro 2016, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. Keeping that ride rolling would be huge for the island nation, and they've started World Cup qualifying on the right track, sitting second behind Croatia on goal differential with 7 points. Last Sunday's 2-0 win against Turkey was big, especially since Croatia and Turkey already had a draw on the books. Don't count out the Ukraine to make some noise, too, as they've held both Turkey and Iceland to draws in the early going. Group I might not have the traditional European powers, but there are some hungry up-and-comers that want a seat at the big kids table.