With the club season over, the summer attention turns to qualifying for next year's World Cup. With most nations just past the halfway mark, the race for Europe's 13 slots in South Africa 2010 is taking shape. Nine group winners qualify automatically, while the top eight runners-up will enter four two-legged playoffs for the remaining slots. Here's a look at how the groups stand.
Group 1: Portugal has been one of the biggest disappointments to date, with just one win in five matches. Portugal trails both Denmark and Hungary by seven points, although Portugal does have a game in-hand on the Hungarians. Sweden, with the fewest games played, is also in the mix. Portugal's September 5 trip to Denmark will be a key fixture.
Group 2: The weakest of the nine groups, Greece and Switzerland top the table, three points ahead of Latvia. The Greeks travel to Switzerland on September 5.
Group 3: Northern Ireland are one of the biggest surprises, topping the table with 13 points, but they've played two more matches than second-place Slovakia, which has 12. Poland (10 points in six matches) will also view for top honors. With only eight points through six matches, the favored Czech Republic has work to do.
Group 4: Germany appear in comfortable position with 16 points in six matches. Russia, with 12 points in five matches, should be able to hold off Finland (seven points, four matches played) for second.
Group 5: European champions Spain are perfect in six matches, the best mark of any of the 53 qualifiers. While Bosnia-Herzegovina trail by six points, they're positioned well to take second, four points ahead of Turkey.
Group 6: English fans are giddy over the 15 points in five matches earned by Fabio Capello's men. Croatia and Urkraine will battle for second, with the Croats hosting a June 6 meeting.
Group 7: Serbia are another surprise group leader, two points ahead of 2006 runners-up France. The Serbs are in good shape with two of their next three at home, including a September 9 visit by Les Blues.
Group 8: Despite a home draw to Ireland in their most recent match, Italy are poised to defend their 2006 title. The Irish have yet to lose in six matches, leading third-place by Bulgaria by five points.
Group 9: Holland join Spain and England as the only sides with unblemished marks, and they have more than double the points of second place Scotland (15-7).
Predicted group winners: Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, England, France, Italy, Holland
Predicted playoff qualifiers: Portugal, Greece, Poland, Russia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Ireland