World Cup Qualifying About to Reach its Zenith


Zakumi awaits

We have a month before world cup qualifying concludes its final group stages, so I thought it would be fun for the next few weeks to look at each continental zone that is still in play.

November will have playoffs in Europe for their four remaining spots, the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL showdown (which can be either a dullard like Costa Rica- Venezuela, or a blockbuster like Argentina-USA – stay tuned), and the world-stopping Bahrain-New Zealand tilt.

But let’s take a look at Europe first.

Group 1
Denmark – 18 pts - +11 GD
Sweden – 15 pts - +6 GD
Portugal – 13 pts - +5 GD
Hungary – 13 pts - +4 GD

With Denmark , Portugal , Sweden and Hungary all still alive for some kind of spot, no one can afford a slip up. Denmark locks up a ticket with a win at home to Sweden on the 10th. A Sweden loss puts Portugal in a solid position to claim the playoff, provided they beat Hungary and Malta at Home. If Sweden and Portugal are tied, then Goal differential will be used. They tied 0-0 twice in the head to head.

Prediction:
Denmark won in Sweden , so there is no reason to believe they won’t in Copenhagen . The Portuguese send Denmark a boat load of Sagres and Piri Piri Sauce in thanks as they make the playoff.

Group 2
Switzerland – 17 pts -- +7 GD
Greece -- 14 pts -- +6 GD
Latvia – 14 pts -- +5 GD
Israel – 12 pts -- +8 GD

This is by far the toughest group to predict. The Swiss are in with a win to Luxembourg and a tie at home to Israel . Greece has to win their two home games vs. Latvia and Lux and hope for a Swiss loss to get the golden ticket. Latvia also has to win twice. Israel needs the top three teams to implode to have any chance.

Prediction:
The Swiss do just enough to earn the top spot while Greece knocks Lativa out of the running before making their fans sweat out a squeaker vs. the Luxemburgers for the playoff.

Group 3
Slovakia – 19 pts - +13 GD
Slovenia – 14 pts -- +9 GD
Northern Ireland -- 14 pts -- +4 GD (9 games played)
Czech Republic --12 pts -- +9 GD
Poland – 11 pts -- +8 GD

Another crazy competitive group, at least for the playoff spot. But Slovakia can calim a golden ticket with a win vs. either Slovenia or Poland . Slovenia can clinch the playoff spot with two wins (at Slovakia , at San Marino ), but the Czechs can steal the playoff with two wins (home to N. Eire, and Poland ).

Prediction:
he groupmates wish Slovakia and the Czech Republic were still one country because they both go through. It’s Slovakia who gets the automatic bid and they do the Czechs a solid by beating Slovenia . There is no Gerry Armstrong miracle for the Northern Irish.

Group 4:
Germany - 22 pts -- +20 GD
Russia – 21pts -- +14 GD

This one is simple. The Russians play host to the Germans on the 10th. The Russians would like nothing more than to send ze Germans to ze playoff.

Prediction:

I think they do it. Germany then anxiously waits its draw.

Group 5
Spain has qualified.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 16 – pts - +12 GD
Turkey – 12 pts - +3 GD

Bosnia gets to the playoff with a win either at Estonia or at Home to Spain . Even if they falter in Estonia , their GD may be too much for the Turks to overcome.

Prediction:
Eastern Europe adds another team to the playoff while the Turks disappoint their home fans and a lot of footie lovers all over the world by not making the finals.

Group 6
England has qualified
Croatia - 17 pts -- +5 GD (9 games played)
Ukraine – 15 pts -- +8 GD

If the Ukraine can win vs. the Lads at home, then they will make the playoff, regardless of what Croatia does at Kazakhstan . They finish the group play with Andorra .

Prediction:
England avenge their Euro 2008 exit to Croatia by losing to the Ukraine , thus depriving the world of the long-sleeved Gingham unis sure to have been seen in South Africa.

Group 7
Serbia - 19 pts -- +10 GD
France – 15 pts - +2 GD

Serbia has got this, provided they can beat disappointing Romania at home on the 10th. Otherwise they’ll have to go to Lithuania to get a result. France has the Faroes and Austria at home. France might have to tie the Faroes to the whippin’ post to bring up their GD, in case they end up tied with the Serbs.

Prediction:

Serbia gets the win they need and France heads to the playoff to await their fate. The French have amazing talent, but lack a certain je ne sais quoi in their game. They just haven’t looked like they are having fun. How will FIFA manipulate the draw so that France, Germany, and Portugal avoid each other?

Group 8
Italy - 20 pts - +10 GD
Ireland - 16 pts + 4GD

The Irish host the Italians in what they hope will be a replay of their Giants Stadium clash. A win over the Italians will get them through to at least the playoff, but finish at home to Cyprus, so the chances that Ireland leapfrog the Italians are pretty slim.

Prediction:
Italy manages to steal a draw at Croke Park, but the Irish go through to the playoff regardless, where they will inevitably get a chance to play giant killer one more time.

Group 9
Holland went through the group unblemished, only giving up 2 goals while scoring 17. Norway set a very low standard for second place teams in the other groups to beat. Since this group had one less team, the other second place teams will have the two games they played against the last place team in their group removed to determine which 8 of the 9 will go through to the next round. At 10 points, the Norwegians are virtually assured of being the odd man out.

The games that have enormous implications, then, are Denmark vs. Sweden, Portugal vs. Hungary, Russia vs. Germany, and Italy vs. Ireland – all on the 10th. Next week, we’ll tackle the most unpredictable of confederations: Africa. Like 2005, old favorites may get bounced out by several upstarts. Making predictions here is like handicapping the Mexican Primera.