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Review Nov 16, 2005
Update: UEFA WC qualifiers, March 26th 2005
by Mike Gibbons
There were 17 games across the confederation in this round, and as qualifying reaches the crucial halfway stage, many were vital.
Some could keep the hopes alive, others could give the victor one foot already in the finals for next year. Predictably, some
fixtures were already meaningless non-events, which is hardly surprising given the six and seven teams per group format.
Some of Europe’s big hitters were in action in friendlies. Spain beat China 3-0 in preparation for their crunch game away to Serbia
and Montenegro on Wednesday, and Portugal warmed up for their game in Slovakia with a 4-1 victory over Canada. As the hosts
Germany are currently halfway through the two year trawl of friendly matches, fine tuning their squad for the biggest challenge of
their lives. It would appear coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a lot of work to do, as the 1-0 win in Slovenia was anything but
convincing. It is rumoured that the German players have brokered a deal with the DFB that will secure them 300,000 Euros a man
if they reach the World Cup Final on July 9 2006. If I were them, I wouldn’t start planning how to spend the cash just yet.
And so to the real stuff…
(Holland 13, Czech Republic 12, Romania 10, Finland 9, Macedonia 5, Armenia 4, Andorra 4)
Romania 0-2 Holland
Czech Republic 4-3 Finland
Armenia 2-1 Andorra
This group is a living, breathing nightmare. Containing Holland, Romania and the Czech Republic, it seems a shame that one of
these teams will miss out next year, especially when you see how weak some of the other groups are. Throw in dangerous
point-snatchers Finland, and it is no wonder the group is as tight as it is. Holland seized the group initiative by grabbing a crucial
away win in Bucharest with goals from Cocu and Babel.
The Czech Republic and Finland contested what would prove to be the game of the day. The Czechs romped into a 2-0 lead
before the evergreen Jari Litmanen scored a stunning volley to reduce the arrears. Polak restored the two goal lead, but two goals
in six minutes brought Finland level with ten minutes to play. The Finns then missed a glorious chance to grab the winner, and in
true basketball style the Czechs broke upfield and Lokvenc fired home the winner. Incredible stuff.
In the first of the dead duck matches, Armenia won the bottom of the table clash with Andorra 2-1.
(Ukraine 14, Greece 11, Denmark 9, Turkey 9, Albania 6, Georgia 5, Kazakhstan 0)
Denmark 3-0 Kazakhstan
Turkey 2-0 Albania
Georgia 1-3 Greece
For Denmark, this was mere shadow boxing before their trip to face the group leaders Ukraine on Wednesday. A routine 3-0 win,
with two goals from Moller and one from Poulsen, has boosted the Danes confidence before what could be the crucial game in this
group. In a typically intense atmosphere Turkey comfortably won their home tie with Albania, the game effectively over after a
Turkish penalty and an own goal in the first five minutes.
Greece, lest we forget the reigning European champions, cemented second place after coming from behind to win in Georgia. The
sense of after the Lord Mayor’s Show has now disappeared from the Greek ranks, who were cause for much sneering when they
began their campaign with a loss to Albania. You don’t become a bad team overnight, and Greece are back on course to make at
least the play-offs, and have the Ukraine to play in Athens further down the line.
(Portugal 13, Slovakia 13, Russia 10, Latvia 7, Estonia 7, Liechtenstein 4, Luxembourg 0)
Liechtenstein 1-2 Russia
Estonia 1-2 Slovakia
Russia made very heavy weather of beating Liechtenstein, but secured the three points to move them within one win of Slovakia
and Portugal, who play on Wednesday whilst Russia travel to Estonia. One point of interest in the Estonia – Slovakia tie is that
originally this was due to be refereed by Anders Frisk. Sadly, the best referee at FIFA’s disposal has decided to retire after
receiving death threats following the controversial Chelsea-Barcelona tie in the Champions League. Taking a projectile square on
the head in Rome probably didn’t help either then. Roma were suitably punished for the incident, and it will be interesting to see if
the deep pockets of Roman Abrahmovich can find a way out of this. If the football authorities ‘action’ over the racist abuse in Spain
is any barometer, expect a pathetic, paltry fine.
(Rep of Ireland 9, France 9, Israel 9, Switzerland 6, Cyprus 1, Faeroe Islands 1)
Israel 1 Republic of Ireland 1
France 0 Switzerland 0
This was a night of crushing disappointment for the Irish, who had taken an early lead through a spectacular goal by Clinton
Morrison. As Israel chased the match they left huge holes in their defence, but the Irish were too cautious to exploit them, content
to sit on their one goal lead. This back-fired quite spectacularly when Soan crashed in a low thirty-yard drive in injury time to
rescue a point for Israel. Three points turned into one for Ireland, who had only themselves to blame.
They probably aren’t as gutted as France though, who recorded their third goalless draw at the Stade de France against one of
their main group rivals. The post-Zidane generation is looking a little lost at present, Pires has been dropped indefinitely and
Thierry Henry was not fit for this game. David Trezeguet was playing, but his ‘Trezegoal’ nickname looked like some sort of joke
as he missed a Santa’s sack full of chances. The Republic of Ireland, France and Israel are all tied on nine points, Switzerland are
on six with a game in hand. France go to Israel on Wednesday, and have trips to Ireland and Switzerland ahead. It’s not quite win
or bust for them yet, but it’s getting that way.
(Italy 12, Norway 7, Slovenia 7, Belarus 4, Scotland 2, Moldova 1)
Italy 2-0 Scotland
Scotland have a new manager, but the same old predictable results. A pair of beautiful free-kicks from Pirlo of AC Milan put this
game to bed, although the result was never in doubt. Italy look in good shape to qualify outright from this group and are currently
five points clear having played one more game than their rivals Norway and Slovenia, but the dream is now certainly over for
Scotland. They once qualified for five World Cups in a row; who knows when we’ll see them at the Finals again?
(England 13, Poland 12, Austria 8, Northern Ireland 3, Wales 2, Azerbaijan 2)
England 4-0 Northern Ireland
Poland 8-0 Azerbaijan
Wales 0-2 Austria
The top three teams in the group played the bottom three, and it showed. The gulf in class was most brutally exposed by Poland,
who made a healthy contribution to the goals for column in their rout of Azerbaijan. Tomasz Frankowski helped himself to a
hat-trick in this duck-shoot, as Poland continue their valiant chase of England, although this looks likely to be one of the groups
where the top two teams qualify automatically.
England dispatched Northern Ireland with four goals in sixteen minutes in the second half, amidst another precocious display from
Wayne Rooney. It was more inept defending then brilliant attacking that caused this rout, and the same was true in Cardiff where
Wales were picked off twice with quick counter-attacks in the last ten minutes against Austria. Short of what order Poland and
England finish in, this group looks effectively done and dusted.
(Serbia and Montenegro 10, Spain 8, Lithuania 8, Belgium 4, Bosnia-Herzegovina 2, San Marino 0)
Belgium 4-1 Bosnia Herzegovina
Belgium recorded a win at last with goals from Mpenza (2), Daerden and Buffel to leapfrog Bosnia-Herzegovina in the table, putting
them in fourth. They should pick up another three points in San Marino on Wednesday, but they look like they have left it a bit late
to challenge Spain and Serbia-Montenegro for the qualifying places. Belgium not at the World Cup Finals…it just doesn’t seem
right does it?
(Sweden 12, Croatia 10, Bulgaria 7, Hungary 6, Iceland 1, Malta 1)
Croatia 4-0 Iceland
Bulgaria 0-3 Sweden
Another tightly contested group, Croatia scored a resounding win over Iceland with goals from Nico Kovac (2), Simunic and Dado
Prso. They have a game in hand against Malta on Wednesday, and another win will put them on top of this group.
Sweden recorded an excellent win on the road to beat Hristo Stoichkov’s Bulgaria. Two goals from Freddie Ljungberg and a superb
free-kick from Edman secured the points here. Croatia versus Sweden on October 8th is starting to look like it will be the group
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