UEFA World Cup qualifying preview: France, Portugal, Holland begin quest

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UEFA qualification for the 2018 World Cup continues on Tuesday as the final 18 teams in Groups A, B and H begin their quest to qualify for the tournament in Russia.

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Reigning European champions Portugal will begin their qualifying campaign but without captain and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo who is still out injured. EURO 2016 runners-up France also begin their road to Russia 2018 as they head to Belarus in Group A, plus an intriguing game in Stockholm between Sweden and the Netherlands also takes place in Group A.

Let’s take a look at the games coming up.

Sweden vs. Netherlands — 2:45 p.m. ET

How will Sweden cope without Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The powerful forward was a monster for Sweden over the years but they now begin a new era and will fancy their chances against a Dutch squad still struggling to regroup following their failure to qualify for EURO 2016. Sweden’s hopes now lie with John Guidetti and Marcus Berg, while Holland will look to veteran Wesley Sneijder and Tottenham’s Vincent Janssen to create and score the goals they need.

Switzerland vs. Portugal — 2:45 p.m. ET

The reigning European champs will be without Ronaldo but as we saw this summer they’ll be solid defensively and tough to break down in Basel. The Swiss are incredible stubborn defensively too as they were only ousted from EURO 2016 on penalty kicks by Poland. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka will look to drive Switzerland on from midfield, while Southampton duo Jose Fonte and Cedric Soares will keep things tight at the back for Portugal. A draw on the road without Ronaldo would be a good result for the Portuguese in Group B.

Belarus vs. France — 2:45 p.m. ET

Remember, just one team makes it through from each UEFA group automatically to Russia 2018 and France has to dust themselves off from the disappointment of this summer to go again. They have to face Sweden and Holland, while away trips to Bulgaria and Belarus will be no picnic. Didier Deschamps’ men head to Belarus on Tuesday without injured captain and star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris but they do have the majority of their EURO 2016 squad intact with Paul Pogba, N'Golo Kante and Antoine Griezmann all traveling to eastern Europe.

The rest (all times ET)

Bulgaria vs. Luxembourg — 2:45 p.m.
Andorra vs. Latvia — 2:45 p.m.
Faroe Islands vs. Hungary — 2:45 p.m.
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Estonia — 2:45 p.m.
Cyprus vs. Belgium — 2:45 p.m.
Gibraltar vs. Greece — 2:45 p.m.