We have a break in the Premier League schedule this weekend. In its place, from Thursday to Tuesday, we have the October international break.
At their worst, the international break is a tease -- the football nothing more than a reminder that the Premier League is not in session.
At their best, they are more than the Premier League can offer. This weekend has the potential to be the international break at its best. For 6 days, countries will qualify for the World Cup. Others will be eliminated. Dreams will be achieved; others will be dashed.
It promises to provide all the football drama we could want until the Premier League returns.
In an effort to provide you with a way to maximize the fun, this post will be your guide to all the World Cup qualifiers that matter most. All times EST (5 hours before the time in England).
NOTE: This post will be updated as the weekend goes. Check back to get all the matches through Tuesday.
It all begins at 8:30 AM. Syria and Australia meet in the first of two legs over the weekend. Syria hosts this one. The winner over both legs will meet the fourth place team from CONCACAF during November's international break. You have to love an elimination match that starts all the fun.
At 2:45 PM, the fun kicks off in Europe. It's all left to play for in Group F. Find a way to take in both England v. Slovenia and Scotland v. Slovakia at the same time. England has a chance to qualify for the World Cup, while the other three countries are likely battling for second place and a place in the November playoffs.
At the same time in Group E, you have a dream matchup in terms of meaning: Montenegro and Denmark are tied for second. Only one of them will qualify for the November playoffs, although the winner will still have a chance to win the group and qualify for the World Cup this weekend.
In South America, 8 of the 10 countries could still qualify for the World Cup. 6 of them play each other at 7:30 PM. While Columbia v. Paraguay could be interesting (Paraguay has to win away), the real fun will be Argentina v. Peru. These two countries are 4th and 5th. Since 5th is the cutoff for staying in World Cup contention, both teams will be going for the three points.
And then there's Chile (6th) v. Ecuador (8th). Ecuador needs three points; Chile will want to minimize the drama later in the weekend. South America will no doubt end the first day of international football with some exciting results.
The action begins in Europe on Friday, and the first significant match is in Group I: Turkey v. Iceland. Both teams will be going for it, especially since Croatia and Ukraine have easy wins lined up, you would think. All four countries are gunning for the top two.
Next, you'll have to forgive us for a minute. We are Americans after all. The US plays a big match against Panama at 7:35 PM. Technically, both countries are in position to advance either to the World Cup or a November intercontinental playoff. But no American soccer fan wants to have to qualify in November. The nerves are high for this one.
On Saturday, it's all to play for in Africa. At 9:00 AM, South Africa v. Burkina Faso and Uganda v. Ghana kick things off in two matches between four countries still hoping to qualify.
At 12:00, Nigeria v. Zambia may decide who qualifies from Africa's Group B. At the same time, Bosnia & Herzegovina will attempt to stay in playoff position when they host Belgium, who has already qualified.
At 1:30, Cape Verde Islands v. Senegal, the other match in Africa's Group D, kicks off. Assuming the South Africa-Burkina Faso result hasn't changed things, all four countries in this group are still in contention.
Amidst all the 2:45 PM kickoffs in Europe, Bulgaria v. France is the most enticing. Bulgaria is still in contention for a November playoff, but defeating France will be a difficult task for them. The other match to watch at this time is Cyprus v. Greece, especially if Bosnia & Herzegovina lose to Belgium. Both are aiming for the November playoff.
Last but not least, at 3:00 PM, Morocco v. Gabon will need to be checked out. Both countries are still aiming for first place in Africa's Group C.
8 matches on Saturday...what a great start to the weekend.
Only Europe has matches on Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the second round of matches in Europe, so Thursday-Saturday's results might alter what matters on Sunday-Tuesday.
As it stands, Poland v. Montenegro at 12:00 PM should be big. Heading into the international break, these two countries are first and second in Group E. In Group F, Slovenia v. Scotland also kicks off. This might be an elimination match by the time the match begins.
Sadly, that's all there is to see on Sunday.
We stay in Europe. All starts are at 2:45. Here are the ones that matter most:
Wales v. Ireland will likely determine the November playoff competitor from Group D. Ukraine v. Croatia will be the key match coming out of Group I. Sneak in those matches during your work day if you can.
Don't worry! We finish strong on Tuesday with important matches all over the world!
At 5:00 AM, Australia v. Syria will finalize who advances to the November playoff with the fourth place team from CONCACAF.
At 2:45 PM, Netherlands v. Sweden kicks off in a match that will clarify who finishes second in Group A behind France. Steal a glance at the three matches from Group H while you watch this one. The top three countries still contending for a World Cup bid will play the bottom three countries, and the group will be sorted out by the end.
At 3:45, Portugal v. Switzerland will be fun. One of these countries is going to qualify for the World Cup; one will play in the November playoffs. This match may decide who's who in Europe's Group B.
At 7:30 PM, we return to South America -- potentially the most competitive of all of the qualifying zones. Peru v. Colombia could feature two countries who will both qualify, but they are both on the brink of dropping out as well. Ecuador v. Argentina will be even more desperate. As the weekend begins, both are outside the four automatic qualifying positions. This one should be fun. Brazil v. Chile will feature a Chile team that expects to qualify but will need a result in this extremely difficult match to do so.
The international break ends with the 8:00 PM kickoffs in CONCACAF. All three matches in "The Hex" feature a team that needs a result to qualify. Honduras v. Mexico and Panama v. Costa Rica feature two countries that will need a result at home against the two toughest teams in the confederation. The United States, meanwhile, travels to Trinidad & Tobago and will attempt to qualify on the road.
In the last World Cup, the qualifying spots were literally filled in stoppage time. We can only hope for the same drama this year.