Saturday, October 08, 2005


Today might just be the most exciting single day of European soccer for the next four years. Eight teams might book passage today to the finals. All and all, it will be very thrilling to behold.

Ukraine v Albania
Switzerland v France
Slovakia v Estonia
Scotland v Belarus
Russia v Luxembourg

Portugal v Liechtenstein
Norway v Moldova
N. Ireland v Wales
Lithuania v Serb-Mont.
Italy v Slovenia

Georgia v Kazakhstan
Finland v Romania
Denmark v Greece
Czech Rep. v Holland
Cyprus vs. Ireland

Bosnia-Herz. v San Marino
Belgium v Spain
Bulgaria v Hungary
England v Austria
Israel v Faroe Isl.

Croatia v Sweden

In Group 1, the Netherlands could clinch the top spot with a tie or when over second place Czech Republic. Right now four points separate the two sides so the Czechs need to get a win in Prague and hope that Holland falls to Macedonia on Wednesday. If that doesn't happen, the Czechs might still get in as one of the best second place teams.

Group 2 is the only group where the first place spot is rapped up. If someone had told me a year or so ago that going into the final week of WCQs the Ukraine would be the only one with the trip to Germany assured, I would have laughed. Ha and has. Anyway, the excitement here comes from Denmark where Greece will need a win to leap frog over Turkey and into second place. Turkey does not play today, so they will just have to watch and hope from a far.

In Group 3, Portugal just needs to avoid a loss at home to Liechtenstein and they will have captured top honors. The second place battle is where most focus will be. Slovakia and Russia are tied with 19 points apiece. Slovakia will have to handle a stronger then expected Estonian side while Russia should win with ease against zero pointers Luxembourg. If both of them win, then it will all come down to Wednesday's match between the two in Slovakia.

Good old Group 4, or the hardest group in Europe. Switzerland and France meet today and if Les Blues walk away with a win, they will have take first place with them. This will not be an easy task as the Swiss have looked strong of late and France is without a few starters. Israel should be able to end their group play with a win over Faroe Islands. This will keep their dreams alive for a few more days. Ireland will need to get a result against Cyprus if they hope to get the second spot. If the Swiss and French tie, while Israel and Ireland win, these four teams stand just two points apart going into the last day. That would make for some fun.

In Group 5, Italy just needs a point to take it all. They are playing Slovenia at home. Slovenia is also looking for points as they are locked in a three-way race with Norway and Scotland for second. Both Norway and Scotland should be able to win today as they are taking on lowly Moldavia and so-so Belarus respectfully. The Scots still have hopes of glory, but they are going to need some help from other teams to make it so.

So is there anything interesting happening in Group 6 these days? To hear some people talk, England is on the verge of missing the World Cup. The reality is far different. Sure they were shocked in Northern Ireland, but that is not the end all be all. Chances are that both the number 1 and 2 from this group will get automatic qualification. Still, it is always from to win a group. Poland is off today, so England can make up some of the points ahead of the two sides clash on Wednesday. England host Austria and should be able to see them off. If they don't win, I'm sure the press will give them an easy pass.

Serbia and Montenegro are on top of Group 7 and looking to stay there. With a win against Lithuania they will all but be there. For Spain, they cannot lose to Belgium or they might just miss the cup for the first time in 30 years. For added fun, Bosnia-Herzegovina is still in the mix. If they get a win against bottom of the pile San Marino, then Wednesday's game against Serbia and Montenegro will be for a lot of marbles.

And in the end, we have Group 8 were the top two teams are facing off today. Croatia heads to Sweden to see who can claim the top spot. Much like Group 6, both sides will probably get automatic passes, but that does not take away the desire to win. Sweden have only allowed two goals during this qualifying run, so Croatia is going to need to find interesting ways of getting the ball into the net.

So that's the way Europe looks today.


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