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Review Nov 16, 2005
Update: UEFA WC qualifiers, June 4th 2005
by Mike Gibbons
As seasons end all over the continent, and big clubs prepare to flex their financial muscles, there remains the trifling matter of the end of
season World Cup qualifiers to be played. Under the disguise of ‘surely the players should have the summer off before next years World
Cup?’ many of the G14 clubs and aspiring entrants to that elite are less than happy about the timing of these fixtures. Considering that
important World Cup qualifiers have been shunted to the start of June to clear the decks for the final stages of the Champions League in
April/May, this is a bit rich.
Some of the major nations aren’t playing them anyway; Germany as hosts are still wading through the cannon fodder of warm-up friendlies arranged for them, and thrashed Northern Ireland 4-1 on
Saturday with ten men. France stumbled to an unconvincing 2-1 win over Hungary last week, and England embarked on a pointless tour of
the USA with a B/C team and recorded wins over their hosts and Columbia. Michael Owen scored a hat-trick against the South Americans
that pushed him closer to the England scoring record, which is the only thing of note to come out of a tour that he and David Beckham missed
the opening match of. How annoying for Beckham, missing a perfect marketing opportunity in front of his new target audience.
Back in Europe, some proper football was played. This is how it went…
(Holland 19, Czech Republic 18, Romania 13, Finland 9, Macedonia 8, Armenia 4, Andorra 4)
Czech Republic 8 Andorra 1
Armenia 1 Macedonia 2
Holland 2 Romania 0
The Czechs and the Dutch have now established clear daylight between themselves and Romania. Holland struck what looks a terminal blow
to Romanian hopes in Rotterdam with a 2-0 victory supplied by goals from Robben and Kuijt. Slowly but surely Marco Van Basten is crafting
them into a very efficient unit.
The Czech Republic stay hot on their heals though after an 8-1 slaughter of Andorra – this qualifying campaign more than ever surely will
lead to serious thought over a preliminary round of qualifiers in UEFA. The biggest beneficiary of the evening was Jan Koller who claimed
his 35th international goal, a new record for the Czechs.
In the other game in the group Macedonia won in Armenia 2-1.
(Ukraine 20, Greece 15, Turkey 13, Denmark 9, Albania 9, Georgia 5, Kazakhstan 0)
Ukraine 2 Kazakhstan 0
Turkey 0 Greece 0
Albania 3 Georgia 2
Andriy Shevchenko was on the mark yet again for the Ukraine as they swept aside the group whipping boys Kazakhstan in Kiev. With a five
point lead and four games to go they are on the brink of their first ever World Cup finals, and on Wednesday are away to Greece, their nearest
rivals. Any result there, and with Turkey and Albania to come at home, must surely make the dream a reality.
Pretty soon it could all be about the play-off spot in this group, and the 0-0 draw in Istanbul between Turkey and Greece benefited neither
team. Denmark, who play Albania on Wednesday, have a game in hand and a chance to close the gap.
In the final game in this group Albania survived a late rally by Georgia to hang on for a 3-2 win.
(Portugal 17, Slovakia 14, Russia 14, Estonia 11, Latvia 10, Liechtenstein 4, Luxembourg 0)
Portugal 2 Slovakia 0
Russia 2 Latvia 0
Estonia 2 Liechtenstein 0
In one of the key games on the continent Portugal surged ahead of Slovakia at the top of this group with a win in Lisbon inspired by the
dancing feet of Cristiano Ronaldo, scorer of one of the goals. Luis Figo made his comeback as captain in this game, it will be interesting to
see where he plays next year after his departure from Real Madrid.
Russia moved shoulder to shoulder with Slovakia in the play-off spot with a 2-0 in St Petersburg over Latvia, courtesy of second half strikes
from Arshavin and Loskov. With money pouring into the game from private sources Russian football is on the way up, and they still have
Portugal to play at home. Barely staying in touch are Estonia, who have played one game more than the leaders, and beat Liechtenstein 2-0.
(Switzerland 12, Israel 11, Ireland 10, France 10, Cyprus 1, Faeroe Islands 1)
Republic of Ireland 2 Israel 2
Faeroe Islands 1 Switzerland 3
This group has been all about draws – the top four have drawn every game against each other and beaten the Cypriots and the Faeroes when
required, making this the tightest group in any qualifying zone anywhere. Like Irish manager Brian Kerr said, this can’t keep happening.
Well, it is. The Republic of Ireland stormed into a 2-0 lead in eleven minutes against Israel with goals from Robbie Keane and Ian Harte, so it
looked as though the trend would finally be broken. By half-time it was 2-2, and Israel doggedly held on until full-time. In their three
remaining games Israel play home and away against the Faeroes, so it really does look promising for them. The Republic are only left to rue
throwing away a lead against one of their main rivals for the third time, but should go top of the group after playing the Faeroes on
Switzerland took leadership of the group on Saturday but only after being given a fright when the Faeroes drew level with them after seventy
minutes. Two late goals from Alexander Frei got them out of trouble. France, now fourth and facing trips to Switzerland and Ireland, have it
all to do.
(Italy 13, Norway 9, Slovenia 9, Belarus 6, Scotland 5, Moldova 2)
Norway 0 Italy 0
Scotland 2 Moldova 0
Belarus 1 Slovenia 1
Scotland have thrown themselves a lifeline in this group by beating Moldova in a nervous encounter at Hampden Park with goals from Dailly
and McFadden. With a game in hand against Belarus on Wednesday, they could possibly move to within one point of the play-off spot, a
situation that looked remote under the charge of Bertie Vogts.
The top of the table game in Oslo produced a disappointing nil-nil draw, which will suit Italy perfectly as they maintain their four-point lead
over Norway and also Slovenia, who could only draw 1-1 in Belarus.
(Poland 18, England 16, Austria 11, Northern Ireland 3, Wales 2, Azerbaijan 2)
Azerbaijan 0 Poland 3
Whilst the cream of England’s reserves have been entertaining America, Poland seized the chance to take the leadership of Group 6 with a 3-0
win in Baku courtesy of goals from Frankowski, Klos and Zurawski that forced the Azeri coach Carlos Alberto to leave the stadium in
disgust. England do have a game in hand but Poland have the points on the board, as the edge ever closer to every Englishman’s nightmare,
a final game decider against the Poles.
(Serbia & Montenegro 12, Spain 12, Lithuania 9, Belgium 8, Bosnia-Herzegovina 6, San Marino 0)
Spain 1 Lithuania 0
Serbia & Montenegro 0 Belgium 0
San Marino 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina 3
Crucial top of the table clashes in Group 7; Spain eventually broke down the resistance of Lithuania with a thumping effort from substitute
Albert Luque in the second half. They have the opportunity to go top in their home match with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday.
Serbia and Montenegro missed the chance to stay top by missing a series of unbelievably easy chances against a poor Belgium team in
Belgrade. How much they will rue those misses is not yet clear, but it’s looking pretty ominous for Belgium who look set not to qualify for the
first time since 1978.
At the foot of the table Bosnia-Herzegovina easily brushed aside San Marino, aided by a pair of goals from Hasan Salihamidzic.
(Croatia 16, Sweden 15, Hungary 10, Bulgaria 8, Iceland 1, Malta 1)
Sweden 6 Malta 0
Bulgaria 1 Croatia 3
Iceland 2 Hungary 3
No change at the top of group 8, Croatia ended any lingering hopes of Bulgaria with a 3-1 win in Sofia with goals from Babic, Tudor and
Kranjcar. Staying hot on their heels are Sweden who completed the routine task of beating Malta 6-0 in Gothenburg courtesy of six different
goal scorers. One of these, Juventus star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has suggested this week that Sweden could win the World Cup next year. He’d
be better advised to focus on October 8th first, when his team travel to Croatia for what looks likely to be a group decider.
Hungary were also in action tonight and moved above Bulgaria with a 3-2 against a spirited Iceland team in Reykjavik, helped by two
penalties from Zoltan Gera.
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