Get your ESPN3 ready! Lots of important Qualifiers on today. Here is a quick rundown:
CONCACAF (our region)
US has already qualified so they will send a less experienced squad out tonight against Jamaica. While the drama may be over for us, it is not for Mexico. While many perceive Mexico as the strongest of the CONCACAF squads, they are in danger of not qualifying. In the HEX (final 6 teams in CONCACAF), the top 3 qualify for the World Cup Finals in Brazil while the 4th place team goes to a playoff against Oceania (New Zealand has already qualified). With only 2 matches left, Mexico sits in 5th place. They host Panama tonight in a must win. They then travel to Costa Rica for their final game on October 15. Interestingly, Costa Rica has been dominant at home in their qualifications except for a blip against, guess who, Mexico in September. Mexico has changed their manager. Can they change their fortune?
Lost in this dialogue is Honduras. Honduras qualified for the 2010 Finals in South Africa — it was the first time they had qualified in 28 years. They are in good position to qualify again for Brazil. Honduras has a critical match at home today against Costa Rica and then travel to Jamaica.
UEFA (Belgium Fan Club Still Here)
Yes, this is Belgium’s golden generation — but when we adopted them, they had not qualified for a major tournament (Euros or WC) since 2002. Sometimes “golden generations” disapoint, but not so for Belgium thus far. With only 2 matches to play, they sit 5 points clear of Croatia, who was the group favorite on inception. Today, in a key match, they travel to Croatia. A draw here (or win), and they are through. A loss at Croatia would place the focus on their home match against Wales and Croatia’s away match to Scotland. This game is on RIGHT NOW!
Italy is solid with 7 points clear of Bulgaria. Denmark is 1 back of Bulgaria and looking for the playoff.
Germany has appeared unstoppable, but Sweden sits only 5 points behind. And, Sweden is home for its final 2 matches, against third place Austria with 14 points and first place Germany. But, if Germany beats Ireland today at home, they are through. Sweden likely playing for the playoff.
The Netherlands have wrapped up their place in the finals, but there is still a battle for the playoff spot between Hungary (14), Turkey (13), and Romania (13). None of them play each other in the final two matches and Romania looks to have the easiest ride as both Hungary and Turkey play the Netherlands.
The Swiss are only 5 points clear of Iceland and Slovenia. They travel to Albania today and a result there would punch their ticket. Iceland hosts Cyprus in a likely win before traveling to Norway. Norway could get in the playoff race with two results. The sports-mad country still has a shot.
Portugal sits 1 point behind Russia but gets the benefit of 2 home games. This is likely the last thrust from Portugal’s “golden generation” so we all want to see them in Brazil. They look sure for 6 points at home against Israel and Luxembourg. Russia, on the other hand, travel for their final 2 matches. They have the benefit of traveling to the 2 weakest teams, but they will need to get results away to keep their lead. The runner-up will go to the playoff.
Bosnia-Herz. and Greece are tied with 19 points each. BIH host basement dwellers Liechten. and travel to Lithuania, while Greece host both final matches against Liechten. and Slovakia. This one is one to watch. One of these teams will go to the playoff.
This is the Group that have all the English in a tizzy. England’s (16) impotence in qualification is written about daily. After 8 matches, they have failed to separate themselves from Ukraine (15), Montenegro (15), or Poland (13). Everyone is watching how Hodgson does in the final 2 matches, both of which are at home, against Montenegro and Poland. Will the play a 4-3-3 and dilute Rooney’s influence (he is not a lone striker). Or, will they still to a more conventional 4-2-2. Lots of opinions on England. If they blow two home matches to secure qualification, it may just be Armageddon. I mean, English coach? Italian coach? We are all tired of the excuses.
Spain and France are tied (14) atop the group but Spain has a game in hand. France hosts Finland (9) while Spain hosts Belarus and Georgia. Spain looks like good money to secure automatic while Lex Blues will have to go through a playoff.
CONMEBOL (South America):
The question in this group is who will be forced to play their way in in a playoff versus automatic qualification. CONMEBOL get 4.5 places (plus Brazil). Here is the table, with a max of 6 points remaining for most teams, watch the battle for 5th place.