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Update Sep 5, 2004
Update Sep 11, 2004
Update Nov 24, 2004
Update Mar 26, 2005
Update Mar 30, 2005
Update Jun 4, 2005
Update Jun 8, 2005
Update Sep 3, 2005
Update Sep 7, 2005
Update Oct 8, 2005
Update Oct 12, 2005
Preview Nov 8, 2005
Review Nov 16, 2005
Update: UEFA WC qualifiers, October 12th 2005
by Mike Gibbons
And so it ends. Well, sort of. There is still the matter of the play-offs to sort out, but the group stages of the European qualifiers are over, with ten teams qualified and a further six into the play-offs to scrap it out for the three remaining places. The 2006 hosts were again in action tonight in yet another friendly international, this time against China – if you discount the Confederations Cup (which I do) Germany have not kicked a ball in competitive anger since they were embarrassingly turfed out of Euro 2004 by the Czech Republic’s reserve side. Tonight’s 1-0 win over the Chinese courtesy of a Torsten Frings penalty was yet another unconvincing effort by Klinsmann’s team, who may yet need that home advantage and all the ‘good fortune’ therein.
So, as I’m sure Jurgen and friends are wondering, who’s coming to visit?
(Netherlands 32, Czech Republic 27, Romania 25, Finland 16, Macedonia FYR 9, Armenia 7, Andorra 5)
Netherlands 0 Macedonia FYR 0
Finland 0 Czech Republic 3
Andorra 0 Armenia 3
The Czech Republic booked their place in the play-offs tonight with a victory in Finland, all without the injured Milan Baros and Jan Koller, the latter of whom may miss the tournament altogether should they qualify such is the severity of a recent knee injury. Tomas Jun scored early to settle Czech nerves and the win was later sealed with goals from Tomas Rosicky and Marek Heinze.
The Dutch had already qualified before tonight, which explains a lacklustre showing at home to Macedonia, although they maintained their unbeaten record in the group and have dropped fewer points than any other team in the European section. In all, coach Marco Van Basten (you may have heard of him; not a bad player by all accounts) has not lost in his 16 games in charge, and if as seems likely they are not seeded for the World Cup they will be the most dangerous team bubbling underneath.
In the other game in this group Armenia won comfortably in Andorra to lift themselves off the bottom of the group.
(Ukraine 25, Turkey 23, Denmark 22, Greece 21, Albania 13, Georgia 10, Kazakhstan 1)
Greece 1 Georgia 0
Kazakhstan 1 Denmark 2
Albania 0 Turkey 1
All three games in Group 2 kicked off simultaneously, with Greece and Denmark still able to overtake Turkey and make the play-offs should the Albanians be able to prevent them from winning. Greece did their part with a 1-0 him win over Georgia with an early goal from Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Denmark beat the group whipping boys Kazakhstan with a couple of quick goals after half time from Michael Gravgaard, his second in two games, and Jon Dahl Tomasson. With just over half an hour left there was no score in the Albania-Turkey game, and Denmark were headed for the play-offs…
…and then Metin Tuemar scored for Turkey, who held on to their lead until full-time to edge into the play-offs. So there will be no World Cup for Greece or Denmark, winners of two of the last four European Championships, but there will be the opportunity for Turkey to try and emulate their third-place finish in Japan/Korea.
As for Albania, a note of congratulations, the 13 points they have accumulated is a national record for any qualifying campaign they have entered.
(Portugal 30, Slovakia 23, Russia 23, Estonia 17, Latvia 15, Liechtenstein 8, Luxembourg 0)
Portugal 3 Latvia 0
Slovakia 0 Russia 0
Luxembourg 0 Estonia 2
Russian money might be able to buy you the Premiership, but wealthy oil barons cannot buy you a World Cup spot – at least not yet. Slovakia advanced to the play-offs at the expense of Russia tonight with a 0-0 draw keeping them ahead in second on goal difference, in a match where most of the chances fell to the Slovaks. Russia were strangely ineffective given the stakes, although it may go some way to explaining Slovakia’s superior goal difference.
In Porto the big question was whether Pauleta could equal/break the Portuguese scoring record of the great Eusebio. As it happens he did both, equalling the record with a goal on 19 minutes and breaking it two minutes later, taking his tally to an impressive 42 in 77 games. Hugo Viana, one of the forgotten men of Portuguese football, added a late third goal.
Estonia nudged themselves into fourth spot with an away win over Luxembourg, who kept up their 100% record by losing their twelfth game. Both goals were scored by Andres Oper.
(France 20 Switzerland 18, Israel 18, Republic of Ireland 17, Cyprus 4, Faeroe Islands 1)
France 4 Cyprus 0
Republic of Ireland 0 Switzerland 0
Already without Henry and Trezeguet, France suffered an early blow in Paris when Patrick Viera had to be substituted through injury. With Djibril Cisse having a nightmare in front of goal who else should step up to calm French nerves but Zinedine Zidane, the returned king. He scored after 28 minutes to open the way for a comfortable victory, further goals following from Wiltord, Dhorasoo and Giuly.
Whether France would win the group or be in the play-offs was down to the Ireland – Switzerland match (actually in Dublin and not, as suggested in my previous review, in Switzerland). This group has been all about drawn games and, like the unmasking of the villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon, you could see the outcome a mile off. The Irish mustered only a few chances whilst Alexander Frei was guilty of some glaring misses and the game ended in (drum roll) a stalemate. The draw puts the Swiss in the play-offs, which the Republic of Ireland have missed for the second tournament in a row, a statistic that could well accelerate the departure of manager Brian Kerr and a number of senior players. France, by virtue of winning the only game of twelve between the top four sides that wasn’t a draw, win the group and go direct to Germany.
(Italy 23, Norway 18, Scotland 13, Slovenia 12, Belarus 10, Moldova 5)
Belarus 0 Norway 1
Slovenia 0 Scotland 3
Italy 2 Moldova 1
This group was done and dusted on Saturday, so not much was achieved tonight other than a stratospheric leap by Scotland from fifth to third in the group, courtesy of a 3-0 thrashing of a dispirited Slovenia. The three goals by Darren Fletcher, James McFadden and Paul Hartley were the best goals scored by Scotland on the international stage in years.
Italy made changes, ten in all, from the team that beat Slovenia on Saturday. AC Milan front two Christian Vieri and Alberto Gilardino scored either side of a reply from Moldova’s Alexandru Gatan. The match was lit up by a virtuoso display from Alessandro Del Piero, who may yet have the chance to repair some of the damage done to his international reputation at major tournaments so far. Norway, who will contend the play-offs in November, eased to a 1-0 win in Belarus with a goal from Thorstein Helstad.
(England 25, Poland 24, Austria 15, Northern Ireland 9, Wales 8, Azerbaijan 3)
England 1 Poland 2
Wales 2 Azerbaijan 0
Austria 2 Northern Ireland 0
On paper there may have been nothing to play for, but the match between Austria and Northern Ireland was an aggressive encounter. Damien Johnson and Emmanuel Pogatetz were red-carded after a sickening challenge from the Irish player provoked a reaction, and the Northern Irish in general put in a number of, shall we say, ‘industrial’ challenges. In the midst of all this, a double strike by Rene Aufhauser settled the match. Wales also finished on a high, a free-kick and a superlative dribble and shot by Ryan Giggs giving them victory over Azerbaijan.
At Old Trafford England wrestled back the group leadership for good from Poland, in a match that may or may not (FIFA have been typically unclear on this) have a bearing on their seeding when the Finals draw is made. Although both teams had qualified they played an entertaining game, Michael Owen putting England in front before it was immediately cancelled out by a thumping volley from Frankowski. Then, as he has done so often in this campaign, Frank Lampard scored the crucial goal with just over ten minutes left. So England top the group, having dropped only five points and conceded five goals. Maybe they’re not so bad after all. Poland, as was confirmed last month, qualify outright as well.
(Serbia & Montenegro 22, Spain 20, Bosnia-Herzegovina 16, Belgium 12, Lithuania 10, San Marino 0)
San Marino 0 Spain 6
Serbia & Montenegro 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
Lithuania 1 Belgium 1
Spain were hoping to hammer San Marino and hope other results went their way, and they lived up to their end by hammering the minnows 6-0. Fernando Torres made it five goals in four days with a hat-trick after Antonio Lopez had opened the scoring inside the first minute. Sergio Ramos also bagged a couple for himself.
At the Marakana stadium in Belgrade there was a raucous atmosphere for Serbia and Montenegro’s decider with Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 50,000 fans whipped the atmosphere into a frenzy that occasionally spilled over as opposing fans threw flares and the police had to step in to calm things down. On the pitch Mateja Kezman scored for the home side after just seven minutes, a lead they held until the end, despite a sending off near the end held on to qualify outright, forcing Spain into the play-offs.
In a match that was almost the mirror opposite – nothing to play for, no atmosphere – Lithuania and Belgium finished disappointing campaigns with a 1-1 draw.
(Croatia 24, Sweden 24, Bulgaria 15, Hungary 14, Iceland 4, Malta 3)
Sweden 3 Iceland 1
Hungary 0 Croatia 0
Malta 1 Bulgaria 1
Sweden required only a draw to take the second automatic qualifying place, but didn’t exactly start in the right manner by slipping 0-1 behind at home to Iceland. A response was swift though, by half-tie they were in front thanks to goals by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson, and Kim Kallstrom sealed the victory in injury time.
Croatia ensured that they were group winners with a 0-0 draw in Hungary and Malta, after previously holding Iceland and Croatia to draws at home, frustrated Bulgaria, Etienne Barbara equalising an earlier strike from Chavdar Yankov, as the touchline-ban serving Stoichkov looked on from the stands.
And so it’s into the play-off hat you go for the Czech Republic, Turkey, Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway and Spain. The draw for the two-leg matches to determine the final 3 UEFA places is on Friday 14th October in Zurich, games to be played on 12 and 16 November. Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic are in one pot, to be drawn against Slovakia, Switzerland or Norway. Not an open draw – where’s the fun in that? – but capable of throwing up some intriguing ties.
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