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Six Months to Take Stock as Qualification Ends for 2008
By Steve MacClare
October 20, 2008


South Africa will be hosting FIFA World Cup 2010

     The World Cup takes a break until next year and this affords us a welcome chance to look back on how everybody is faring. All the European big guns are still chasing hard but notable among the early strugglers are Portugal and France. Portugal are in a very tough group but last Wednesday’s failure to beat Albania at home has compounded an iffy start which also saw defeat at home to Denmark. Denmark and Sweden are both unbeaten and although Hungary and Albania have fared better than expected, it looks like the Nordic duo may be the best bet to shut favourites Portugal out of the South African finals in 2010. Certainly at present, Portugal are by far the best bet for a big name casualty at the first stage. 

     With a win, a draw and a defeat, France are not out of it. The FFF confirmed that Domenech is staying so I promise not to write about him anymore. Romania, Serbia, Lithuania and Austria make up the competition and any two of five could finish in those top two positions. Their preponderance for beating each other makes this group open and unpredictable. It is one of only two groups without an unbeaten side and Serbia perhaps look best placed having already played in Paris. 

     Of the other big guns, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands all lead their groups comfortably and should all finish there and qualify automatically without a play off. Russia look a good bet to see off Finland and Wales in Germany’s group after Russia’s 3-0 win over the Finns. Wales could upset Russia in Cardiff and their play-off hopes now probably hinge on this match if they can hang on in there until September. Group 8, led by Italy, seems very weak and the Republic of Ireland can probably limp into second with minimal effort. Unimpressive with two wins and a draw against weak opposition, Trapattoni’s Irish side can only hope that the eventual play-off draw pits them against favourable opponents. Bulgaria, who have drawn all three matches, are their only threat and their March visit to Dublin looms large for both sides. 

     European Champions Spain have won all four games although they have avoided unbeaten Turkey so far. They meet in Spain in March and although it is a must win game for the Turks, Spain can afford one slip up without worrying. A Spain win would secure first place for them and leave Turkey looking over their shoulders to see if inconsistent Belgium can string some results together. The Dutch won in Oslo last Wednesday and would have to endeavour to lose to Scotland twice to not win this group. It’s all about second here with Scotland, Norway and Macedonia fighting to be the least bad alternative. However, only eight of the nine second places will go into the play-off and there is already a fear that the odd one out may come from this group. 

     In the other groups, England have made a 100% start and Ukraine’s inability to beat Croatia in Kiev has allowed England to open up a gap over the Ukraine. The two are the sole challengers for first now and their April Fool’s Day showdown at Wembley could see England home if they win. Even if they don’t, Ukraine still have to go to Croatia and try to emulate England’s magnificent win there. 

      That leaves Groups 2 and 3. Switzerland’s shock victory in Greece threw this group even wider open, although they will still never recover from the shame of losing at home to Luxembourg. This group has already seen a remarkable seven away victories. Were if not for this fact, I’d happily tip Israel who lie second and have four home games to come. However, if Wednesday’s loss to Switzerland proves just to be a hiccup for the Greeks, then they should find themselves very close at the end of qualification. 

     Last week saw the Czech Republic get their first win in qualification with a hard fought and unimpressive 1-0 win at home to Slovenia in Teplice. Their neighbours Slovakia were simultaneously beating Poland 2-1 to complete a brace of defeats for the sides who had led the group in the morning. This threw the group even more wide open than it had been. After the Czechs visit San Marino in November, three teams will have seven points from four games and Slovakia nine points from four games. Everyone will still have to play everyone else. The advantage may lie slightly with the Slovenes, who have had the hardest fixtures so far, but the advantage is very slight and there are plenty of games still to be won. 

     That’s the world cup picture for the next five months, so between now and February we’ll be focusing on Champions League, Europe’s domestic leagues and most of all on the big build up to MLS coming to Seattle in 2009. 

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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited




© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited