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European Giants Start on Road to Johannesburg
Domenech’s Job Still Hangs on the Line after Austria
Upset France
By Steve MacClare
September 15, 2008



What's next for Raymond Domenech?


     So the Word Cup qualifiers are underway, and France made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. A few eyebrows were raised when coach Raymond Domenech retained his job after a dismal Euro 2008. He stood  on the precipice of dismissal after goals from Marc Janko, Rene Aufhauser and a penalty from Andreas Ivanschitz gave Austria a shock win in their first game. France however saw off Serbia four days later in what we would normally have anticipated as a top of the table clash. In the same group, Lithuania shocked Romania 0-3 in Bucharest and then beat Austria at home to take an early and surprise lead in the group. Certainly Group 7 has got off to an interesting and unexpected start. 

     But before we proceed, all plaudits must go to a team who won’t be in South Africa. Luxembourg won 2-1 in Switzerland and in doing so, broke more records of continuous failure than we have time to mention here. Suddenly Israel, Greece and Latvia must eye an opportunity to progress as the Swiss have already dropped five unexpected points. 

     Italy were outplayed by Cyprus but somehow escaped with a 2-1 win. A 90th minute goal by Antonio Di Natale earned them all three points after they had spent much of the game defending. No such problems for the Republic of Ireland who won against a Georgia side forced to surrender home advantage. Both sides remain unbeaten and in one of the more predictable groups, Italy should win and Republic of Ireland follow them in second. 

     Germany cruised to a win in Liechtenstein and were then held by Finland. Miroslav Klose bizarrely scored THREE equalizers after the Finns had taken the lead three times. Russia beat Wales, and the battle to finish behind Germany is well underway, although Russia must think they are capable of topping the group. 

     After Luxembourg and perhaps Denmark, the shock result of the day was achieved by England who won 4-1 in Croatia with Theo Walcott scoring a hat-trick. England should now win this relatively weak group although Ukraine have a maximum six points at this stage. The two may slug it out for the one automatic place. 

     In Group one, Sweden failed to win in Albania, while Hungary and Denmark also drew 0-0. All seemed to be fighting for second place behind Portugal until Denmark shocked them with 2 goals in the last five minutes in Lisbon. Denmark’s 2-3 win throws this group wide open but for now it’s Albania who top it having drawn at home to Sweden and beaten Malta. Sweden, Denmark and Portugal seem likely to shut out Hungary and carve up the top three places between them. Sweden host Portugal next but it seems that every round will throw up a crunch game in this, the most fascinating and open of the groups. 

    Elsewhere Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland have begun jockeying for position in Group 3 with no-one really striking a fatal blow. The Czechs have only played once, a draw in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and remain favourites. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict save that everyone will beat San Marino. Slovenia Northern Ireland and Poland v Czech Republic

     European Champions Spain have 6 points out of six and their two most likely challengers Turkey and Belgium drew on Wednesday. Bosnia hammered Estonia 7-0 and may be able to take some points off Turkey or Belgium

     Finally, we come to the only five team group, Group 9. The Netherlands won in Macedonia, their only match so far. Scotland who lost their opener in Macedonia recovered to win in Iceland, who in turn held Norway to a draw in Oslo. It would seem that Scotland and Norway are battling for that second place and a play-off, but with one second place side in a group not even making the play-offs, neither side can afford to drop too many more points. Norway

     FORMAT: The nine group winners automatically qualify for the world cup finals. Of the nine second places, the eight with the best records will play each other in a play-off to fill four further places reserved for European sides in South Africa.

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