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Update: UEFA WC qualifiers, September 3rd 2005
by Mike Gibbons
Here comes the Autumn (some of you I believe call it Fall) and cunningly interwoven with the group stages of the Champions
League are the final four rounds of qualifiers in the UEFA region, followed by the playoffs in November. The hosts of the big
shebang next year were in action today, but Germany continue to mystify, losing to Slovakia after being so impressive in the
Confederations Cup and a recent 2-2 draw with Holland.
And on the rest of the Old Continent, this happened…
(Netherlands 25, Romania 22, Czech Republic 21, Finland 13, Macedonia FYR 8, Andorra 5, Armenia 4)
Romania 2 Czech Republic 0
Armenia 0 Netherlands 1
Andorra 0 Finland 0
Romania leap-frogged the Czechs tonight with an impressive but too-little-too-late win in Constanta. The Czechs still have
two games in hand over Romania, whose goals were scored by Adrian Mutu, a bare two and a half weeks after he netted a
double against Andorra. It makes you wonder what Romania may have achieved in this group had he actually concentrated
on football rather than shove cocaine up his nose.
The showdown in this group will be in October when the Netherlands visit the Czech Republic. Van Basten’s men took
advantage of the Czech slip tonight with a one-nil win in Armenia thanks to a goal from a defiantly back in form Ruud Van
Seven team groups always throw up a number of dead rubbers at the end of the series, and this group is no different, with the
Finns unable to break down Andorra and drawing 0-0.
(Ukraine 24, Turkey 17, Greece 15, Denmark 13, Albania 12, Georgia 9, Kazakhstan 0)
Georgia 1 Ukraine 1
Turkey 2 Denmark 2
Albania 2 Kazakhstan 1
Well, they’ve made it; the Ukraine have finally figured out that if they want to avoid the all too familiar heart-break of losing in
the play-offs then the best way to go about it is to win the group. After a one-all draw in Georgia they can light the cigars,
pour a couple of stiff drinks and retire to their armchairs whilst the rest of the continent scraps like hell for the remaining
twelve places. Ruslan Rotin scored to set them on their way, a strike later cancelled out by a last minute equaliser, not that
anyone in the Ukraine would care at this moment.
That result would have allowed Turkey to close the gap, but they failed to beat a Danish side that drew level at 2-2 in injury
time in what may yet prove a crucial result for Morten Olsen’s team. Substitute Soren Larsen was the hero, although with
Turkey still to play a now-qualified Ukraine and Albania, the pursuit by Denmark and Greece may be in vain. In the other
match in this group Albania brushed aside Kazakhstan 2-1.
(Portugal 23, Slovakia 18, Russia 18, Latvia 14, Estonia 14, Liechtenstein 5, Luxembourg 0)
Estonia 2 Latvia 1
Russia 2 Liechtenstein 0
Portugal 6 Luxembourg 0
Latvia’s pursuit of a play-off place virtually ended with a 2-1 defeat in Estonia, which should now leave Slovakia and Russia
to fight it out. Russia recorded a routine win over Liechtenstein with both goals from Alexander Kerzhakov. The match also
marked the return to international football of Yegor Titov, he of the famous drugs test failure and subsequent one year ban
after the play-off with Wales for Euro 2004.
The automatic qualifying spot looks almost certain to be going to Portugal, who unloaded six goals into hapless Luxembourg
in this round, including another two for Pauleta – the Paris St Germain forward is now just to behind the 41 goal national
record of Eusebio.
(Switzerland 13, Republic of Ireland 13, France 13, Israel 12, Cyprus 4, Faeroe Islands 1)
France 3 Faeroe Islands 0
Switzerland 1 Israel 1
I mean honestly – you pen a 2,000 word article about how great Zidane is and why he made the right decision in retiring from
international football, and what does he do? Gets his two friends Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele and decides to return
to the fold to save France from the potential humiliation of not qualifying, that’s what. The nerve.
What impact the return of Zidane and friends will have (Thierry Henry likened the return of Zizou to having God in your team)
will be easier to judge on Wednesday when France face their crunch match with the Republic of Ireland. In this round they
disposed of the Faeroes in France with miniscule fuss, aided by a pair of goals from Liverpool forward Djibril Cisse. All eyes
Thus far in this group every match between the top four teams has ended in a draw. When Alexander Frei put Switzerland in
front after five minutes against Israel, it seemed finally that this trend would be broken, but as sure as night follows day Keisi
stole in to equalise fifteen minutes later, and another level score was guaranteed. The top four really are falling over
themselves not to win this group, but Israel now have the Faroes home and away, and should the culture of draws continue
between the Swiss, French and Irish, Israel could well be on the direct plane to Deutschland.
(Italy 14, Norway 12, Slovenia 9, Belarus 7, Scotland 7, Moldova 5)
Scotland 1 Italy 1
Slovenia 2 Norway 3
Moldova 2 Belarus 0
When virtually all hope is lost, Scotland start playing football. Kenny Miller glanced the Scots in front against Italy and for a
good hour it did genuinely look as if the shock result of the day was about to unfold in a cacophony of noise at Hampden
Park. History echoed through the ages though and some comical defending was their undoing as they gifted the simplest of
equalisers to substitute Fabio Grosso. Walter Smith does seem to have fired the imagination of his players, yet Scotland fans
must rue that he wasn’t in charge for the start of the campaign.
In the closing pack behind the Italians, Slovenia and Norway put on the game of the day. After 180 seconds the score was
one-all, John Carew putting Norway in front before it was immediately cancelled out by Sebastian Cimirotic. Another goal
for each side followed before a last-gasp injury time winner from Morten Gamst Pedersen put Norway in charge of the
play-off position. In another surprise result Moldova put the brakes on the progress of Belarus with two goals from
(Poland 21, England 19, Austria 11, Northern Ireland 6, Wales 2, Azerbaijan 2)
Wales 0 England 1
Poland 3 Austria 2
Northern Ireland 2 Azerbaijan 0
For most of this year the prospect of England winning the World Cup next year has been talked up in pubs, bars, and offices
around the country, aided and abetted by a giddy national media. Denmark delivered a large spoonful of reality in
Copenhagen three weeks ago by thrashing England 4-1, a scoreline largely due to a hilariously inept goalkeeping
’performance’ from David James. And yet it left the age old question – are England actually any good?
From the one-nil win against Wales in this round, we are still none the wiser. A brilliant save from Paul Robinson and a lucky
deflected goal from Joe Cole were the two highlights of the match, which sparkled intermittently with the touch and technique
of Wayne Rooney. At 19 he is already the best player in this squad by some distance, and any chance of English success
next summer rests on his bulky shoulders. Forget Beckham; this is Rooney’s team now.
In Chorzow a fantastically entertaining game between Poland and Austria ended in a 3-2 victory for the Poles, who retain
leadership of a group which edges ever closer to our old friend, the Poland versus England final game decider. Smolarek,
Kosowski and Zurawski were on target in reply to two goals from Austrian substitute Robert Linz.
You may want to sit down before you read this next line – a team in the bottom three of this group actually won a game of
football. Both teams were ranked 116 in the world at the start of the game, so this was essentially a play-off for that outright
title. Northern Ireland took the spoils with goals from Elliott and Feeney.
(Serbia & Montenegro 15, Spain 13, Bosnia-Herzegovina 10, Lithuania 9, Belgium 8, San Marino 0)
Serbia and Montenegro 2 Lithuania 0
Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 Belgium 0
To retain any slim hope of appearing in their seventh World Cup in a row Belgium had to win in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The
situation was critical for the home team as well, and a goal from Sergej Barbarez stole the points for the hosts with barely a
whimper of response from the dejected Belgians.
Serbia and Montenegro set themselves up nicely for their crucial trip to Spain on Wednesday by keeping a record seventh
clean sheet in consecutive qualifiers against Lithuania, whilst at the other end Kezman and Ilic scored the goals that secured all
three points. A second string Spanish team laboured to a 2-1 victory in a friendly against Canada, as the first team rests for
the showdown in Madrid.
(Croatia 19, Sweden 18, Hungary 13, Bulgaria 8, Iceland 4, Malta 1)
Sweden 3 Bulgaria 0
Iceland 1 Croatia 3
Hungary 4 Malta 0
‘Is it the Eighth of October yet?’ is the pertinent question in this group, being the day that Sweden travel to Zagreb to sort out
who qualifies automatically. Everything up until then seems like target practice. The top three played the bottom three
tonight, with predictable results.
Bulgaria at least made Sweden play for an hour before they scored, eventually caving in to goals from Ljundberg, Mellberg
and Ibrahimovic. Iceland held a lead over Croatia at half-time with a goal from Eidur Gudjohnsen, before Bosko Balaban
netted twice and Darijo Srna added a late penalty. Hungary tuned up for their visit to Sweden on Wednesday with a four-nil
win at home to Malta.
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