Articles related to UEFA 2006 WC qualifiers:
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
Review: UEFA WC qualifiers, Play-offs Nov 12 & 16 2005
by Mike Gibbons
So it’s over then. After 282 games and 796 goals over 15 months, the qualifying for the European section is over and the thirteen teams to join the hosts Germany from the UEFA region are confirmed. Over this last week the play-offs for the remaining three places were contested between Spain and Slovakia, Turkey and Switzerland, Norway and the Czech Republic.
Whilst these contests were taking place there were a number of high profile ‘friendly’ matches taking place between some of the favourites for next years’ tournament. Germany and France played out a listless nil-nil draw that served little other than to highlight just how much both teams need to improve before next year, whilst Italy scored an impressive 3-1 away win against an admittedly depleted Dutch team. The real treat of the night though was in Geneva, where Argentina and England reignited their rivalry with a fantastic exhibition of football that culminated in a late 3-2 victory for England with two Michael Owen goals, but in truth could have gone either way. If that was a taster for the World Cup, I want it to start tomorrow.
And now those playoffs in full…
12 Nov - Spain 5 Slovakia 1
16 Nov - Slovakia 1 Spain 1
Spain have their growing Merseyside contingent to thank for effectively ending this tie in the first leg. Luis Garcia scored twice in the opening twenty minutes to give Spain a seemingly unassailable advantage, before unwittingly playing a suicidal back pass that allowed Szilard Nemeth to sneak in and grab the all important away goal for Slovakia just after half time.
The real turning point of the game was when Garcia ‘drew’ a rather dubious penalty from the referee after 65 minutes. In the heated protests Marian Had picked up his second yellow card and was dismissed by a pen-pushing jobsworth of a referee who obviously can’t understand why Slovakia’s first, maybe best and who knows maybe only chance of qualifying for a World Cup crashing on the rocks of a poor decision could cause such outrage.
Anyhow, a penalty it was and Fernando Torres made it 3-1, and down to 10 men Slovakia crumbled. Garcia completed his hat-trick 14 minutes later before being replaced by club-mate Fernando Morientes who soon added a fifth.
With the tie effectively over, both teams went through the motions four days later in Bratislava. Slovakia did manage to score early in the second half through Filip Holosko but this was cancelled out twenty minutes later by David Villa and the game finished at 1-1. So Spain have made it – prepare for seven months of ‘dark horses’, ‘this could be their year’ and other generic pre-tournament comments about Spain before they have another crack at shedding the cloak of underachievement that has weighed them down for years.
12 Nov – Norway 0 Czech Republic 1
16 Nov – Czech Republic 1 Norway 0
As predicted, he returned. Out of the phone box in his cape and onto the pitch came the talismanic captain Pavel Nedved to guide his country through to their first World Cup since the break up of the old Czechoslovakia. In his eagerness in Oslo the former European Player of the Year was booked, but not before he and Poborsky had set up Vladimir Smicer to put the Czechs ahead.
The Czechs then withstood the predictable arial bombardment from the Norwegians to take a useful away goal lead back to Prague. Without two key forwards in Koller and Lokvenc the Czechs aren’t as clinical as the team that blasted 35 goals in the group stages, but their midfield as ever remains a useful source of goals. Tomas Rosicky obliged yet again in Prague, scoring after 35 minutes following an extended build-up of pressure with a right-footed volley.
This did force Norway out of their shells and they created several chances to retrieve the seemingly lost cause, but Petr Cech proved why he is one of the current top 3 goalkeepers in the world with fine saves from John Carew and Stefan Iversen. At last the Czech Republic have made it to a World Cup. By far the most eye-catching team at Euro 2004, I consider it a fantastic boost for the tournament next year that finally they may be able to transpose some of their form in previous European Championships on to the World Cup.
Karel Bruckner called this the biggest achievement of his career, and although he insisted he way only coming back to ease the team through the playoffs Nedved must surely not be able to resist his one and only chance to play at a World Cup. The Czechs won’t be seeded come the draw in a few weeks time, and take it as a given that this is one team the seeded nations will definitely want to avoid.
12 Nov – Switzerland 2 Turkey 0
16 Nov – Turkey 4 Switzerland 2
And so to the third and easily most dramatic tie in these playoffs. I said in my preview that this was the toughest one to call, although after 91 minutes of this 180 minute tie it was beginning to look embarrassingly one sided.
In the first leg in Zurich the Swiss nailed down the perfect home result in these circumstances – win the match and don’t concede a goal. The Swiss scored four minutes from the end of either half, Phillipe Senderos in the first and substitute Valon Behrami in the second, to leave Turkey with an uphill task in Istanbul, and animosity already brewing with the Turkish manager branding the referee ‘immoral’.
An absolute cauldron awaited the Swiss for the second leg. No country does an intimidating atmosphere quite like Turkey and both teams kicked off in a cacophony of noise at the stadium. The Turks were hoping for the early breakthrough that would set them up for a night of total pressure as they chased the goals that would get them into the finals. Instead they deviated from the script somewhat by giving away a penalty in the very first minute for handball by Alpay. Alexander Frei converted, and the Turks now had to score four to get through.
Both teams missed a couple of sitters before Tuncay Sanli finally equalised on 22 minutes. Fourteen minutes later he was there again to give Turkey the lead and put real hope back into an evening that had looked all but over. Straight after half-time it was Frei’s turn to miss an easy chance for the Swiss and almost immediately Turkey won a penalty at the other end, duly converted by Necati Ates. 3-1, and the impossible was now starting to look probable.
Pouring forward, the Turks left wide open spaces at the back and with only six minutes left Marco Streller got on the end of a long clearance for the killer goal of the tie. Sanli scored and completed the most unsatisfying World Cup hat-trick since Belanov in 1986 as injury time dawned, but there was too little time for Turkey to produce another goal and Switzerland had qualified for Germany on away goals.
Not that the story ends there. All hell broke loose at the final whistle and the Swiss players left the field under a deluge of flying debris, to the ‘safety’ of the tunnel where it subsequently kicked off between the opposing coaching staffs and players, and allegedly (so say the Swiss players) the Turkish police. Swiss player Stephane Grichting had to go to hospital and have a catheter inserted in him so bad were his injuries.
Sepp Blatter (who is Swiss, not that it matters in such circumstances) has leapt on this and been a model of indignation, promising to act and act tough, and has even gone as far as to threaten Turkey with expulsion from the 2010 World Cup…the usual hot air really. I’d file this one under the category ‘Believe It When I See It’ – as the saying goes, heavy words are so lightly thrown.
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