World Cup Qualification for Europe begins on Friday as teams begin looking forward for Brazil 2014. Europe is broken down to nine groups with each ranging from five to six. Each team will face each other twice with the team with the most points automatically qualifying for the Brazil. The second place from each group will then be drawn in a two legged playoff for the final four spots of qualification.
Group G is a group that can see anyone win automatic qualification. Greece, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Latvia, Liechtenstein and Lithuania will all try to win qualification from September 2012 to October 2013.
Lets now take a closer look at these teams.
FIFA Ranking: 31
Head Coach: Safet Susic
World Cup Qualifications: None
Bosnia-Herzegovinia narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification losing to Portugal in the playoffs after finishing second to Spain in Group E. Bosnia again failed to reach Euro 2012 after again losing to Portugal 6-2 on aggregate after a scoreless draw at home.
Key Player: Edin Dzeko
The Manchester City striker will need to score plenty to help his country advance out of this group. Edin scored 4 goals in Euro 2012 qualification.
Bosnia defense is very suspect at times. In their last five games Bosnia has conceded 11 goals going 0-1-4 in the process.
Schedule: Bosnia begins its qualification on the road against Liechtenstein and then returns home to face Latvia. Bosnia's fate will probably come down to back to back games against Slovakia in September of 2013.
FIFA Ranking: 148
Head Coach: Hans-Peter Zaugg
World Cup Qualifications: None
Getting positive results in friendlies or qualification matches haven't come often for Liechtenstein. They finished last in World Cup Qualifying in 2010 with a mere two points. In 2012 Euro Qualifying Liechtenstein finished last but did win a match against Lithuania.
Key Player: Mario Frick
Frick is the most capped player and goalscorer.
Weakness: Overall talent
There is not much talent on the roster. Opposing sides should have no trouble containing and overpowering their less capable players.
Schedule: After alternating home and away games will then be home for three straight before ending the qualification round with three straight on the road.
FIFA Ranking: 42
Head Coach: Vladamir Weiss
World Cup Appearances: One (2010)
Slovakia shocked many by knocking Italy out of the World Cup in South Africa. They reached the round of 16 where they were defeated by eventual runner-ups Netherlands 2-1.
Slovakia also appeared in the World Cup as Czechoslovakia. With 8 World Cup appearances and one second place finish in 1962, the Slovaks are no strangers to the World Cup.
Key Player: Marek Hamsik
The Napoli midfielder who helped his club win the Italian Cup in May 2012, struggled with the national team to find the score sheet. In 10 games in Euro 2012 qualification Marek didn't find the back of the net.
With no set No. 1 quality striker for Slovakia to rely on, Slovakia will need Hamsik to be at his creative best.
Schedule: Slovakia opens up with 4 of its first 5 games at home. Slovakia will end with two straight on the road.
FIFA Ranking: 70
Head Coach: Alexander Starkovs
World Cup Appearances: None
Latvia finished a respectable third place in 2010 World Cup Qualifying. They followed that up by finishing a disappointing fourth in Euro 2012 Qualification.
Key Player: Aleksandrs Cuana
Cuana is off to a great start for CSKA Moscow. In his first seven games of this season, Alexandrs has two goals and 2 assists.
During Euro 2012 qualifying Cuana added four goals in nine games. His improvement game by game should help Latvia move forward.
With the exception of Cuana, Latvia midfield is weak at best. Getting the ball from the defense and turning into offense is a struggle. Latvia played 12 people in the midfield in qualifying.
Schedule: Latvia opens playing Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovakia in a row with two games on the road. If Latvia is able to survive that stretch it has 3 of its next 4 games at home.
FIFA Ranking: 85
Head Coach: Csaba Laszlo
World Cup Appearances: None
Lithuania has yet to qualify for any World Cup since breaking away from the Soviet Union back in 1990. In 2010 their qualifying campaign started with several wins but faltered down the stretch and finished a disappointing fourth.
Key Player: Marius Stankevicius
The Lazio defender has been a steady player for the Lithuanian side. His veteran presence along with Tomas Danilevicius and goalkeeper Zydrunas Karcemarkas give them a solid trio to build around.
There is not much talent coming through the ranks of Lithuania. The veteran team can still pull a surprise result here and there.
Lithuania opens up with four of its first five games on the road before ending with three straight at home. Opening up against Slovakia and Greece will probably put Lithuania desperate for points against Liechtenstein.
FIFA Ranking: 12
Head Coach: Fernando Santos
World Cup Appearances: 2
Greece finally returned to the World Cup in 2010. After getting its first victory vs Nigeria, Greece was then eliminated by Argentina ending their dream. Its a much better result then the 1994 World Cup team. That team was totally outclassed losing all three games and without scoring a goal.
Key Player: Kostas Mitroglou
After a impressive season with Atromitos in the Greek Super League, Kostas finally will be given the chance to be Greece's #1 striker. The current Olympiakos player netted his first national team goal vs Denmark. With the team in transition from the old to youth, Mitroglou will need to score for Greece to get to Brazil.
Greece lacks a true #1. No one has done enough to be intrusted as the starter. Greece does have a future star in Stefano Kapino who lead the Greece under 19 to the final. Until he is ready, Greece will have to rely upon uncapped Panagiotis Glykos, twice capped Orestis Karnezis or World Cup goalie Alexander Tzorvas to get them a victory.
Greece's World Cup qualification begins with a tough road test in Latvia before returning home for two games. After that Greece will play its next four games on the road and then finish with three straight home games. Greece will play Bosnia twice and and Slovakia once in its first five games. If Greece is able to survive the early schedule, they should make up points and get either the automatic or runner up spot.
This group is wide open because of the scheduling. With some many scheduling quirks teams can make a run for the top spot. Here is how I see it before the qualification begins:
1) Greece Plenty of up and coming talent should get Greece to Brazil. Young starlets like Kyirakos Papadopoulos, Costas Fortounis, Charis Mavrias and Sotiris Ninis will be the face of the team for the next five years.
2) Slovakia Marek Hamsik and Martin Skrtel are two elite players that will get Slovakia into second place and into a playoff spot. Hamsik will need to contribute more on the score sheet to get Slovakia to next round.
3) Bosnia-Herzegovina Edin Dzeko can carry this team to another playoff by himself. He will need help by his defense for them to get to Brazil. Right now, this team is in hurting. Without a win in its last 7 games Bosnia will need to find better results quickly if they are to qualify.
4) Latvia This is a team that will be tough to beat in Latvia. Latvia is a veteran team that can pull an upset or two if not careful.
5) Lithuania Still capable of pulling a surprise at home but not much expected from this team.
6) Liechtenstein Bottom feeders that has a chance to get out of last place with the struggles of Lithuania.
Let me know what you think