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    Articles related to UEFA 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Update Sep 5, 2004
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    Update Nov 24, 2004
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    Update Mar 30, 2005
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    Update Oct 8, 2005
    Update Oct 12, 2005
    Preview Nov 8, 2005
    Review Nov 16, 2005

     

     



    Update: UEFA WC qualifiers until November 17



    by Jan Alsos



        The European World Cup qualifiers are well underway and each group is starting to find its shape. Next matchday is not until February 9th 2005, so now is time to take a closer look at the development of the groups since last update in September. Predicting the 13 teams to join Germany from this region is usually a waste of time. Just when you think you have Europe's football-map perfectly pictured in your head strength-wise, some of the middle tier teams screw up everything.

        Of UEFA's eight qualifying groups for Germany 2006, there are three groups of seven teams and five groups of six teams. All groupwinners and the two best runners-up qualify directly and the six other runners-up battle out for the remaining three spots in home/away play-off matches. More on UEFA's qualifying system can be found in Peter Goldstein's excellent article on the subject. We now move on to the action so far since the last update in September.


    GROUP 1
    (Netherlands, Romania, Finland, Czech Republic, Macedonia FYR, Andorra, Armenia)


        The Czech Republic have won three matches in a row since losing the prestigious match against the Dutch in Amsterdam in September. Jan Koller might be struggling with Dortmund, but he has netted in all these three matches as the Czechs chase a spot in the World Cup which has eluded them since the Czechoslovakia days back in 1990. Superstar Pavel Nedved is no longer in the team, but that doesn't seem to effect the results. The Czechs main rivals in this group will of course be the Netherlands who are unbeaten so far. Marco van Basten's side won three easy points away against Andorra last week and look consistent enough to overcome all opposition in this group.

        Finland are also up there with the front runners. At 34, Jari Litmanen makes one last attempt to reach a major championship with his home nation, but Aleksei Eremenko jr. has been Finland's most influential player so far. Finland lost away to Italy last week in a friendly and lost to the Dutch in their last qualifier in October, so things are now working against the Finns after a positive start. Romania, now without suspended starforward Adrian Mutu, are also struggling. Only 1-1 away to Armenia last week was a major dent in retiring coach Anghel Iordanescu's World Cup plans. Romania can't afford to stumble on the road against minnows if they want to keep up with the Dutch and Czechs through-out next year.


    GROUP 2
    (Ukraine, Denmark, Turkey, Albania, Greece, Georgia, Kazakhstan)


        This is Europe's Group of Death and that became even more evident when Greece won Euro 2004 this summer. Ukraine, and especially Andriy Shevchenko, have been in sparkling form this autumn. Last week's 3-0 win in Istanbul against Turkey just underlined the serious threat Oleg Blokhin's men are posing for the other countries in this group. Ukraine have now opened up a five point lead to the rest, although a couple of teams including Denmark have one game in hand.

        Greece had a tough start in the campaign, but beat Kazakhstan 3-1 last week to creep nearer the top. Coach Rehhagel called this a "do-or-die" match and the players responded well to his battlecry. They also took a point in Ukraine in October after a late equalizer and might well be on the roll again.

        Denmark gave away the lead twice against Georgia in Tbilisi last week and had to settle for a draw. Prolific scorer Jon Dahl Tomasson scored both goals for the Danes. He has been a saviour more than once in this campaign. With three draws in four matches, Denmark are in desperate need for three points when they go to Greece next March.

        Albania was the only team not in action last week, but they might still be celebrating their first ever away win in a World Cup qualifier which they accomplished in October against new UEFA member Kazakhstan in Almaty. Hans-Peter Briegel's side is keeping up with the pack chasing Ukraine and things look very bright for the moment.


    GROUP 3
    (Portugal, Slovakia, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg)


        This is arguably UEFA's most poorly balanced group with at least one minnow too many. Portugal, now without Figo, are running the show and completely outclassed their toughest opponents on paper, Russia, 7-1 in October. Last week they went to Luxembourg and knocked in five more goals. Portugal's only misstep was the unexpected draw against Liechtenstein in Vaduz four days before Russia were demolished. Pedro Pauleta, who experienced a goaldrought at Euro 2004, has found the net in every game so far in the qualifiers.

        Slovakia are second in the group and they too are unbeaten so far which must be considered a surprise even in this group, but they do have the most difficult fixtures ahead of them. The Baltic states Estonia and Latvia are level with Russia on points and the game between them in October ended in a draw. Latvia beat Liechtenstein last week while Estonia lost heavily to Russia. Neither Estonia or Latvia have produced a good result against the best teams in the group so far, so nothing points to Baltic success in this group.


    GROUP 4
    (Ireland, France, Israel, Switzerland, Cyprus, Faroe Islands)


        France, now without Zidane, have struggled a lot to score goals so far. Only four in four games against average opposition. Thierry Henry isn't half the player he is at Highbury when wearing the French jersey these days. Only Cyprus and Faroe Islands have conceded goals against the 1998 World Cup winners so far in the competition. France didn't play a qualifier last week, but instead invited Poland to Paris for a friendly. The result? 0-0. On the other side, Barthez & Co have shut out everything so far and France are still level on top of the table with Ireland and Israel.

        Israel beat Cyprus 2-1 on Nicosia in the group's only match last week. Switzerland have a game in hand and are lurking just behind the top trio. They too must be counted as a serious contender to a play-off spot. Ireland are still in fine form and beat Croatia in a friendly recently. Damien Duff and Robbie Keane showed the way in Dublin. The Irish look strong enough to book World Cup tickets without going through play-offs. France are warned.


    GROUP 5
    (Italy, Norway, Slovenia, Belarus, Scotland, Moldova)


        No action here last week. Italy are in control of this group despite a surprising loss against Slovenia in October. Four days later they came back on track by winning a seven-goal thriller against Belarus. Marcello Lippi tested new players and fielded a team full of reserves last week when Italy beat Finland in a friendly.

        Norway have climbed up to second after taking six points in two games against Scotland (in Glasgow) and Slovenia (in Oslo). The Norwegians will most likely battle out with Slovenia for that play-off spot next year because Scotland don't seem strong enough.

        Scotland are virtually out of it already. Coach Berti Vogts was sacked after 1-1 against Moldova and caretaker manager Tommy Burns started off by losing 4-1 to Sweden in last week's friendly in Glasgow. However, Belarus is the dark horse in this race. They put four past Moldova, stretched Italy in Parma and have a game in hand vis-a-vis Norway and Slovenia. Everything is still open in this group.


    GROUP 6
    (England, Poland, Austria, Northern Ireland, Wales, Azerbaijan)


        The "British" group is beginning to look like a two-horse race between teams who have battled out for the same World Cup spot more than once before. No action in this group last week either, but a number of interesting results in October. Poland won two straight away games in Austria and Wales and thereby put themselves in a nice position for the fixtures next year. Leverkusen's Krzynowek was a decisive man in both games. Poland's manager Pawel Janas has created a promosing attacking team that could follow England to the door and beyond. To England's advantage the remaining match against Poland will be played on English soil.

        Despite much problems with media and off-the-field issues, Sven-Göran Eriksson has guided England to the top of this group. An important win in Azerbaijan was secured in October by an Owen-goal before England lost to Spain in Madrid last week. That match of course won't have anything to do with the outcome of this group.

        Wales and Northern Ireland are still without wins so far. Austria are the only threat to the top duo, but even they will find it hard to keep up with England and Poland.


    GROUP 7
    (Serbia/Montenegro, Lithuania, Spain, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Belgium, San Marino)


        This has turned out to be the bizarre group of the 2006 European World Cup qualifying campaign. Belgium belongs to a very small group of countries who have qualified for every World Cup in the modern era (since 1982 when the WC was expanded to 24 teams), but now their run seems to be over and out. They lost at home to Serbia/Montenegro last week and they're currently nine points behind leaders Serbia/Montenegro and seven behind...Lithuania!

        The Baltic nation has indeed already played twice against San Marino, while Belgium still have both fixtures left, so that has given Lithuania a fictionally high ranking at the moment, but Spain are also in this group which complicates the situation further for the Red Devils.

        Spain haven't impressed all that much, but are unbeaten so far. Their last qualifier was against Lithuania in Vilnius in October, a lacklustre 0-0 draw. New coach Luis Aragones has been in all sorts of trouble with racial issues and his results haven't spoken volumes yet. Spain will with 99.99% certainty also be seven points ahead of Belgium in February because they play San Marino at home. Bosnia/Herzegovina have only played two matches and have everything in their own hands still.


    GROUP 8
    (Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, Malta)


        Only one match in this group last week: Malta - Hungary 0-2. This was a lifeline Lothar Matthäus' men couldn't afford to waste if they wanted to keep up with the top teams. Sweden's supertrio of Zlatan, Ljungberg and Larsson have made sure the yellow and blue top this group two points ahead of Bulgaria and Croatia, but with one match more played.

        Iceland have been widely regarded as the best team among Europe's minnows in recent years, but now they don't seem to be able to stand up well against superior teams anymore. Not even with Chelsea-star Gudjohnsen at their disposal. Malta and Iceland look certain to spend the rest of the campaign trying to avoid the bottom position.


        March 26th 2005 is the next major matchday in Europe when virtually all teams are in action, but already on February 9th there will be played four matches: Macedonia FYR-Andorra, Greece-Denmark, Albania-Ukraine and Spania-San Marino.



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