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Preview Nov 8, 2005
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Update: UEFA WC qualifiers, October 8th 2005
by Mike Gibbons
And just like that, eight teams from
Europe have qualified. One of which, the mighty Germany, is of course by virtue of hosting the gig next year, but you have
to wonder if they would have qualified had it been staged anywhere else, so abysmally are they playing at present. As this
round of qualifiers was being played they went down 1-2 in Istanbul to a Turkey team merely going through the motions
before their decisive game in Albania on Wednesday. Oliver Kahn has been getting on the back of his players for their
inability to play without Ballack and rent-a-quote Beckenbauer has been voicing his dissatisfaction with the coach Jurgen
Klinsmann and his preference for spending more time in his home in California than in Germany. Not a happy ship.
Still, they have nine months to put it right. For others, this batch of qualifiers put an end to their hopes.
(Netherlands 31, Romania 25, Czech Republic 24, Finland 16, Macedonia FYR 8, Andorra 5, Armenia 4)
Czech Republic 0 Netherlands 2
Finland 0 Romania 1
The Dutch made up for the disappointment of missing out on the 2002 World Cup by qualifying in style with an away win in
the Czech Republic. It could have been different though after Milan Baros won a penalty for the Czechs on the half hour,
only for Edwin Van der Saar to make a good save from Rosicky’s spot-kick. The Dutch then broke immediately up the field
and Rafael van der Vaart slotted home a cool finish to give the Dutch the lead, and defender Barry Opdam thundered in a
header seven minutes later to leave the Czechs reeling.
To make the play-offs the Czechs will now definitely have to win away in Finland, as Romania did the very same in this round
to nudge one point ahead of them, although they have no games left to play. Adrian Mutu continued his literal rehabilitation
with a first half penalty that gives the Romanians a glimmer of hope.
(Ukraine 25, Turkey 20, Denmark 19, Greece 18, Albania 13, Georgia 10, Kazakhstan 1)
Denmark 1 Greece 0
Georgia 0 Kazakhstan 0
Ukraine 2 Albania 2
Denmark breathed a little life into their qualifying hopes in this round with a one-nil win against European Champions Greece
courtesy of a Michael Gravgaard header from a corner. A disaster of a result for Greece, but fuel for the fire for all those
nay-sayers who thought they didn’t deserve to win Euro 2004. I do find such people odd – surely qualifying from your group
and winning all subsequent knock-out games up to and including the final is deserving enough?
If Turkey win in Albania on Wednesday they will take the group play-off spot. Denmark will be hoping they drop points as
they should surely win in Kazakhstan. In the other games in this group tonight the Ukraine feigned interest in what was still
happening with an entertaining 2-2 draw with Albania. The other game in this group was a 0-0 draw between Georgia and
Kazakhstan. In my last column I used the number of words on the FIFA website match report for the goalless
Azerbaijan-Austria game (a whopping 79) as a litmus test for how dull the game was. Georgia and Kazakhstan has no match report.
(Portugal 27, Slovakia 22, Russia 22, Latvia 15, Estonia 14, Liechtenstein 8, Luxembourg 0)
Portugal 2 Liechtenstein 1
Slovakia 1 Estonia 0
Russia 5 Luxembourg 1
Portugal have now qualified for the finals although it was not without a fright as they scraped past Liechtenstein 2-1 at home
after being 1-0 down. Pauleta equalised with his 40th international goal (one behind the record of Eusebio) and then Nuno
Gomes popped up four minutes from the end with the winning goal. Portugal’s aggregate score against Liechtenstein in this
campaign is 4-3, and with 8 points in this group we should all doth our caps to the underdogs from Liechtenstein, who have
made good progress since their induction to international football. Incidentally, Portugal coach Luis Felipe Scolari has
announced his intention to leave his post after the World Cup.
Slovakia stay marginally ahead in the race for the play-off place although they left it a bit late against Estonia, coming through
with a 77th minute goal from Peter Hlinka. Russia tuned up for their crucial clash with the Slovaks by drubbing Luxembourg
5-1 – a good time to find goal scoring form as nothing less than a win on Wednesday will get them into the play-offs.
(Israel 18, Switzerland 17, France 17, Republic of Ireland 16, Cyprus 4, Faeroe Islands 1)
Switzerland 1 France 1
Cyprus 0 Republic of Ireland 1
Israel 2 Faeroe Islands 1
The Republic of Ireland barely kept their hopes alive by scraping past an inspired Cypriot team with an early goal from
Stephen Elliott and an inspired goalkeeping display from Shay Given, who saved a 15th minute penalty and pulled off
numerous other acrobatic stops. The Irish will have to play a far sight better than this when they visit Switzerland in a win or
bust encounter on Wednesday, already without Roy Keane they have now also lost Damien Duff to injury for that game.
Drawn games have stunted the progress of all four top teams in this group and it was almost inevitable tonight that the Swiss
and French would continue the trend. Without Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet it looked like France would struggle up
front but Djibril Cisse gave them the lead early in the second half only for it to be cancelled out by Ludovic Magnin ten
minutes from time. France have Cyprus at home to finish so should at least make the play-offs, but Switzerland will now be
under pressure at home to the Republic.
Israel finished their campaign by going to the top of the group after beating the Faeroe Islands 2-1, although their fate is no
longer in their hands and they will need a freak set of results on Wednesday to make it even to the play-offs.
(Italy 20, Norway 15, Slovenia 12, Belarus 10, Scotland 10, Moldova 5)
Italy 1 Slovenia 0
Norway 1 Moldova 0
Scotland 0 Belarus 1
Hope is given with one hand and snatched away with the other. A calamitous defensive mix-up at Hampden Park after six
minutes allowed Sampdoria forward Vitaly Kutuzov to walk into the area and apply a cool finish that knocked Scotland out
of play-off contention. Belarus leapfrogged Scotland into fourth, but everything in this group is academic now.
Norway secured the play-off spot in this group thanks to a goal from striker Sigurd Rushfeldt, yet another goal in this round
headed in from a corner. They are still in the hunt but given some of the teams likely to be in the play-offs will have to
seriously improve on their form so far to make it to Germany.
The automatic qualifying spot unsurprisingly goes to Italy, Cristian Zaccardo netting a late goal that punctured the play-off
challenge of Slovenia once and for all and sent Marcello Lippi’s team to the Finals. The Italians look to be progressing nicely
towards Germany next year, although this relatively weak group makes it hard to judge whether they could be categorised as
one of the outstanding favourites for the title.
(Poland 24, England 22, Austria 12, Northern Ireland 9, Wales 5, Azerbaijan 3)
Northern Ireland 2 Wales 3
England 1 Austria 0
I’ll start this group by offering my sincerest apologies to anyone who may have read the reaction to England’s result on
Saturday without knowing the score; England did not, as you may have interpreted, lose 5-0 to American Samoa. They
actually beat Austria 1-0, after playing with ten men for a third of the match, to qualify automatically for the finals (thanks to
the Dutch victory over the Czechs later that day).
David Beckham was once again the big story for a bloodthirsty media to get their teeth into after being sent off on the hour for
two ‘offences’ that the referee, with whom Beckham has some previous, laughably construed as bookable. Has the standard
of refereeing hit such a nadir that you can book a player for winning a clean header and then be hoodwinked by a pathetic
dive to the floor to send the same player off? Anyway, I digress. Frank Lampard, to whom Beckham has ceded penalty
responsibility, slotted one away after 24 minutes and England held on comfortably, bar one scare, to qualify. Cue hysterical
Earlier in the day in Belfast the high on life Northern Irish team played out a cracking game against Wales. The Welsh
stormed into a surprise 2-0 through goals from Simon Davies and Carl Robinson and also missed a penalty through John
Hartson in a frenetic opening half. Northern Ireland came flying back at them in five hectic minutes after half time, Keith
Gillespie scoring his first international goal for 11 years and then Steven Davis equalised soon after. Ryan Giggs, a menace
for the entire game, curled home a free-kick to give Wales their first victory in this group, the winner of which will be decided
when England play Poland on Wednesday.
(Serbia & Montenegro 19, Spain 17, Bosnia-Herzegovina 16, Belgium 11, Lithuania 9, San Marino 0)
Belgium 0 Spain 2
Lithuania 0 Serbia and Montenegro 2
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3 San Marino 0
Spain, with San Marino at home to finish, grabbed themselves a crucial 2-0 win in Belgium. A friend and I were recently
musing on their lack of a goal scorer but Fernando Torres snuck in for two in three minutes to leave Belgium with the reality of
missing their first World Cup in almost a quarter of a century.
Torres, Raul and friends will be looking for goals against San Marino on Wednesday, and the province gave up three on
Saturday against Bosnia-Herzegovina, all to Elvir Bolic, who will be looking to make a name for himself again on Wednesday
when he returns to Belgrade, where he once played for the mighty Red Star team of the early nineties. Bosnia-Herzegovina
need to win to overtake their bitter rivals.
Serbia and Montenegro kept control of the group in this round with an away win over Lithuania, one of the goal scorers
Kezman warning the Bosnians to expect a cauldron of an atmosphere in what would be a super-charged match anyway,
World Cup place available or not. Shin pads will be not so much an accessory as a necessity on Wednesday.
(Croatia 23, Sweden 21, Bulgaria 14, Hungary 13, Iceland 4, Malta 2)
Croatia 1 Sweden 0
Bulgaria 2 Hungary 0
Croatia qualified for the World Cup today by beating Sweden, a 56th minute penalty from Darijo Srna sparking scenes of
jubilation for a team who disappeared under a hail of objects thrown by their fans after their derisory draw with Malta last
month. They can win the group outright if they win in Hungary on Wednesday. Hungary were overtaken by Bulgaria in this
round after a 0-2 defeat in Sofia, Berbatov and Lazarov on target for the hosts.
Sweden however only need a point to seal the second automatic play-off spot, which in turn would go to Croatia if they
finished ahead of them in this group. The only team that can catch the Swedes to this spot are the Czech Republic. If, as the
rules tell us we must, we take away the Czech results against the seventh team in their group (Armenia), they are three points
behind Sweden, both teams have the same goal difference, yet the Czechs have scored more goals. Therefore, if Sweden
lose their final game at home to Iceland and the Czechs win in Finland, the Czechs will qualify outright and Sweden will be in
Bizarrely, if this scenario played out the Czechs could still be scuppered by the result of Andorra-Armenia match – and who
would’ve thought this fixture could determine a World Cup place! Should Armenia win, Andorra will drop to become the
seventh placed team in the Czechs group. The Czechs have beaten Andorra twice as well, but by bigger margins, so when
you discount these results Sweden are three ahead of the Czechs still but with a plus five goal advantage in their favour.
Therefore, should Iceland beat Sweden 1-0, the Czechs would need to win by four in Helsinki.
There is, as you may have noticed, another mathematical possibility. If the Czechs don’t win against Finland, Romania will
finish second in Group 1. Having finished their campaign, the best record they could muster for second place would be 21
points, currently what Sweden are on, if you discount their results against Armenia, whom they would need to finish bottom.
Even then, such is the goal difference they would be relying on Iceland routing the Swedes 8-0 on their own turf to put
Romania through. In other words, it isn’t going to happen.
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