While there are already 21 countries qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, eleven more places are still up for grabs, and a number of some very important Liga BBVA players will be fighting it out over the next few days to ensure that they are among the lucky few.
Portugal is one of the national sides with the most amount of Liga BBVA players, and includes the Spanish topflight’s top goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Paulo Bento’s team will take on Zlatan Ibrahimović’s Sweden in one of the European play-offs. Beto (Sevilla FC), Pepe, Fabio Coentrão (both Real Madrid), João Pereira, Hélder Postiga, Ricardo Costa (all Valencia CF) and Vitorino Antunes (Málaga) will also be looking to secure their passage to Brazil next summer.
Other Real Madrid players fighting to ensure they make it to the World Cup are Karim Benzema and Raphaël Varane, who will be hoping to get past a tough Ukraine side to guarantee France’s qualification to the competition.
Romania, made up of the likes of Ciprian Marica (Getafe) and Andrei Gabriel Torje (RCD Espanyol), will take on Greece in a complicated play-off which begins with an away trip. Meanwhile, Iván Rakitić (Sevilla) and Luka Modrić (Real Madrid) will travel to Iceland with the Croatian national squad.
The return legs of the play-offs take place this weekend in Africa. Ivorian Bobley Anderson (Málaga) and Senegalese Papakouli Diop (Levante) will come face-to-face when the Ivory Coast looks to defend the 3-1 lead it picked up in Senegal. Elsewhere, a Cameroon side made up of Allan-Roméo Nyon (Granada CF), Stéphane M'Bia (Sevilla), Alexandre Song (Barcelona), Raoul Loé (Osasuna) and Fabrice Olinga (Málaga) will be hoping to bounce back onto the World Cup scene with a win against Tunisia, after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
Although one of the biggest surprises to come out of the African play-offs is that of Burkina Faso, a national squad that includes UD Almería's Jonathan Zongo. Burkina Faso is looking to qualify to the World Cup for the first time in its history, and leads Algeria 3-2 after the first leg, a match in which Zongo played all 90 minutes.
Across the ocean, the first legs of the play-off games involving Central and South American teams have already been disputed. A Mexican side made up of no European-based players thrashed New Zealand 5-1, meaning that players like Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Aquino (Villarreal CF) are likely to feature in Brazil next year.
In the other match, the Uruguayan side, which includes Diego Godín, Cristian Rodríguez, José María Giménez (all Atlético Madrid) and Cristian Stuani (RCD Espanyol), also practically ensured their place in the World Cup after a convincing 5-0 win against Jordan, with Stuani and 'Cebolla' Rodríguez both scoring.