As the final round of World Cup qualifiers winds down, many groups are already settled at the bottom with teams knowing that they have been eliminated. At the top, things are not so certain in many groups. A lot of teams are still alive and while some have guaranteed at least a spot into the playoff rounds, winning the group is a much better option and will make the fans feel much safer about buying those flights and booking accommodations in Brazil next year.
Teams already qualified for Brazil 2014:
There are already 10 teams qualified for the world cup. Five-time winners Brazil are automatically qualified as the host nation. In June, Japan were the first nation to qualify, winning Group B in the Asian Qualifying fourth round. Australia finished as runners-up in that group and are also in. Iran won Group B, and South Korea finished second. From UEFA, Netherlands won group D and Italy won Group B, both finalizing their places on September 10th. In CONCACAF, despite the final places not being assured, Costa Rica and the United States both are in. Argentina are the only team to have qualified so far from CONMEBOL. New Zealand won the group for Oceania, so they will play the fourth place team from the North America in a playoff round.
There are important matches throughout the world, but my match of the round is Belgium at Croatia on Friday.
Remaining fixtures of importance:
Group A: with Belgium sitting in first and Croatia just behind, a crucial clash will take place Friday night in Zagareb as Croatia host Belgium at the Stadion Makasmir. Belgium are very talented and are ranked 6th in the most current FIFA world ratings, but have suffered some injuries as of late and will have to overcome that on the road to guarantee a spot at next summer’s World Cup Finals. Defender Vincent Kompany and striker Christian Benteke are ruled out, and defender Thomas Vermaelen is also expected to miss the game. Good news for the Belgians as midfield bossman Marouane Felliani is expected to play with a protective cast on his wrist. Croatia have to hope to win this and their next one against Scotland on Tuesday with Belgium losing at home to Wales for them to be able to win the group.
Group B: Even with Italy having qualified in September, there are still four teams that are fighting for one playoff spot. All of the teams have played eight matches so far and have two remaining. The remaining World Cup hopefuls are: Bulgaria (13 points, goal difference +7), Denmark (12, gd -1), Czech Republic (9, gd 0), and Armenia (9, gd -2). The match of the group this round is probably going to be Denmark vs. Italy. Third place Denmark host Italy who are already secured of a first place finish. This is crucial to the Danes, but against an Italian side that are a bit banged up and already qualified, it may not be such a difficult task for Denmark. All matches are crucial in this group.
Group C: After dominating the group with seven wins and a draw from eight matches, Germany are in pole position and are everything but assured the top spot in the group and an automatic berth into the World Cup. The only way the Germans will fail to get first is if Germany fail to gain any points from their final two matches and Sweden take max points from theirs. Sweden and Austria are still alive and play Friday night in Sweden. Sweden host Germany on Tuesday, while Austria get to play the Faroe Islands. I believe that the Republic of Ireland are technically not mathematically eliminated yet, but their qualifying chances are next to none.
Group D: Netherlands won Group D in September after recording a victory over group minnows Andorra, who have failed to take a point from eight matches. Hungary, Turkey, and Romania are all still alive. Hungary have 14 points and a goal difference of +6, Turkey have 13 and a gd of +7, and Romania have 13 and a gd +1.
Group E: Switzerland look like group winners and bring an undefeated record (W5,D3) into the final two matches. Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Albania still have a chance to qualify. Cyprus are eliminated. The most important remaining fixture is probably Norway vs Iceland on Tuesday, especially if the Norwegians manage to beat Slovenia on Friday.
Group F: Somewhat surprisingly the Russians are leading this group. On Friday second place Portugal play host to third place Israel. Israel need two wins from their final two games in addition to Portugal failing to win on Tuesday against Luxembourg if they hope to make it to the playoff round. Russia should be able to wrap up the group with matches against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
Group G: Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are level on points, however the Bosnians are winning on goal difference, with a +20 ratio comparing to a +5 rating by the Greeks. No other teams can qualify, and both teams will expect to win their final two games.
Group H: All the media buzz is about England and what they must do to qualify. With four draws despite having only allowed three goals, the English would have expected to have sealed their fate by now. However England, Ukraine, Montenegro, and Poland can all still qualify. England host Montenegro and Poland will travel to Ukraine on Friday. Tuesday sees England hosting Poland, Montenegro traveling to Moldova, and Ukraine visiting San Marino. I expect England and Ukraine to qualify.
Group I: Spain and France are the two teams who are assured to progress through this qualifying group. Only three matches are left, due to it only being a five-nation group. Spain host Belarus on Friday, and then on Tuesday France host Finland and Georgia travel to Spain. Spain and France are currently tied with 14 points.
All teams only have two remaining games. Costa Rica and the USA are both in, but one more team will confirm a place and another will go the playoff round against New Zealand. Honduras, Panama and Mexico are all fighting for the final two spots. Mexico have only won once in eight matches, but it would still be a surprise to see them miss the World Cup.
South America is still wide open. Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay all look like they will be prepared to play in the World Cup, but Venezuela haven’t been eliminated yet and one of those four teams will be in the playoff round against Jordan, the fifth place team from Asia.
Sadly Cape Verde, a massive underdog who many people had been rooting for, were disqualified after fielding an ineligible player, even though FIFA reviewed the case and overturned the ruling. Anyways, there are ten games to be played, in five separate two-legged playoff rounds. The first stage of these games will take place between October 12th and 15th, and the second leg games will be between November 16th and 19th.
New Zealand won and will play the fifth place team from CONCACAF.
Iran and Japan both won their groups. South Korea and Australia finished as runners up and are also automatically qualified. Jordan won the playoff against Uzbekistan and will play the fifth place team from South Africa in a home and home playoff series.
Let us know who you think will qualify!