How Scotland can qualify for World Cup play-offs tonight - even if they don't beat Moldova

It’s make or break for Scotland’s World Cup hopes over the next four days with two crucial qualifiers against Moldova and Denmark for Steve Clarke’s side.

Scotland are currently second-placed in the group behind the runaway Scandinavian leaders who haven’t even conceded a goal yet over the campaign’s eight games, but their placing heading into the last international weekend of the year has John McGinn and co. in pole position to seal a play-off place in their bid for Qatar qualification next year.

The Tartan Army aren’t quite in a position to book time off work next year though.

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Israel are the only challengers left who can skip ahead of Scotland into the runners-up spot but there are a few ways Steve Clarke’s side can earn a springtime play-off and an extension to the campaign which reaches the penultimate stage on Friday evening.

There are various permutations of how Scotland can secure a play-off - but winning in Moldova is the most straightforward route for Steve Clarke's side (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

What do Scotland need for a play-off?

Places in one of the six European play-off semi-finals are available to each group’s runner-up.

Scotland are currently second in Group F so in line to take a place with two group games remaining.

Steve Clarke’s team are four points ahead of Israel with a potential six still up for grabs so the last international double-header is crucial to the make-up of the section.

The Tartan Army are praying for a place in the play-offs - and a World Cup return (Photo by CARL RECINE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

How can Scotland secure second place?

A runners-up place can be secured, first and foremost, by winning against Moldova in Chisinau – something Scotland have never done.

Three points would either extend or maintain Scotland’s lead over Israel which would then be insurmountable going into Monday’s final group fixtures.

However, if Austria beat Israel, then Scotland can’t be caught and the Moldova result – plus Monday’s Denmark clash – become irrelevant to the outcome of the group’s top places.

Monday could be a nervy night for Scotland fans if the team can't tie up a play-off place tonight (Photo by LEE SMITH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

What if Scotland DON’T win in Moldova?

Perish the thought, but it’s possible.

Scotland can still qualify even without a Friday night victory – but need that favour from Austria.

A home win in Vienna would send Scotland to the play-offs regardless, but Israel taking points where Scotland don’t would pile the pressure on for Monday’s match with Denmark at Hampden.

Scotland's head coach Steve Clarke (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

It could even come down to goal difference but that nerve-shredder can be avoided if any one of three things happen this evening – if Scotland win or Austria win, or both games have the same outcome.

Then, we’re back in the play-offs.

And what’s the play-off scenario?

There are 12 team places in the play-offs but just three World Cup places available. They’ll be made up of the ten qualifying group runners-up, plus the two countries ranked highest in the Nations League who haven’t qualified directly, or for the play-offs, already.

The draw would then be seeded narrowing into three play-off finals where the remaining European entrants for next winter’s World Cup would be decided.

The play-offs are scheduled for March next year, in quick succession, with the draw for the first 'winter' World Cup to follow in Doha on April 1 once all entrants have been established. And without getting ahead of ourselves, the tournament itself is scheduled to kick off on November 21 next year.

A win on Friday puts Scotland in the mix for one of the three remaining qualification places (Photo by CARL RECINE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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