The Weekend in Numbers: Ireland could take a big step towards Russia

They play Wales on Friday night

The Weekend in Numbers: Ireland could take a big step towards Russia

Manager Martin O'Neill with Seamus Coleman. Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

As the midway point approaches in the European World Cup qualification groups, we look at some of the teams who could take a huge leap towards Russia over the coming days.

The Republic of Ireland are in the strongest position they have been in for a qualifying group arguably since the successful 2002 campaign.

Martin O'Neill's men top the group on 10 points, two ahead of Serbia and four ahead of Wales. With Serbia facing a tricky trip to Georgia, a win for Ireland tonight would put them in a commanding position before they welcome Austria to Lansdowne Road in June. 

However, Ireland have been hammered with injuries leading up to the game and should Wales take advantage and return home with three points - the group will really get interesting.

Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon will make his 1,000th senior appearance when he lines out against Albania. The peerless goalkeeper is due to retire after the 2018 tournament should Italy qualify although they are involved in a really tight group.

Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus in 2001 Image: ©INPHO/Allsport

Both Italy and Spain are level on 10 points in Group G with Israel one point behind while Albania have six points to their name. Spain host Israel tonight.

Northern Ireland face a tricky tie when they welcome Norway to Windsor Park. World champions Germany are running away with Group C with four wins from four and are yet to concede a goal.

Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan are both on seven points with the Czech Republic in on five and Norway two points further back. San Marino, unsurprisingly,  are yet to get off the mark.

The Northern Ireland team. Image: ©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

With the Germans playing the Azeri's it and the Czech's more than likely to pick up an easy three points against San Marino, Michael O'Neill's men will need at least a draw to stay in contention for the runner-up spot in the group.