World Cup 2014 Qualifiers: 6 Matches To Watch This Weekend
The club season takes a break this weekend as the international game returns to the world football spotlight.
Qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup resumes in earnest this weekend. European qualification begins, while other confederations around the world continue to knock out fixtures.
With so many matches set for Friday and Saturday, it's hard to know what to look for. Here are six matches to keep tabs on this weekend.
Denmark vs. Czech Republic
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When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. ET (all times ET)
Where: Parken Stadion, Copenhagen, Denmark
TV: Stream (all TV listings based on American listings)
Why to watch: Both these teams will harbor hopes of winning UEFA Group B. Problem is, Group B also includes four-time World Cup champions Italy.
In UEFA qualifying, only group champions and a few runners-up qualify automatically for the World Cup. The rest of the runners-up will head to the playoffs.
That makes this a key match for both Denmark and Czech Republic, a couple of nations that expect to qualify regularly for major tournaments.
Striker Nicklas Bendtner was not called up to the Danish squad, so that would seem to rule out a repeat incident of underwear-based advertising. But the Denmark team still has plenty of big names, including Daniel Agger, Christian Eriksen and Dennis Rommedahl.
For Czech Republic, aging talisman Tomas Rosicky is still out, but Petr Jiracek returns to the midfield after a strong showing at Euro 2012.
All in all, this should be an entertaining UEFA qualification match.
Jamaica vs. USA
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When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
Where: National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica
TV: beIN Sport
Why to watch: Jamaica and the United States are tied atop Group A in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying. The top two teams advance to the final round.
That makes this a pretty straightforward match for both teams. A win would be excellent for either, but a draw is not disastrous.
The U.S. will bring a somewhat under-strength squad to Kingston, with Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley both missing due to injury. Clint Dempsey is in the squad, but after his extended transfer showdown, he hasn't played a competitive match in months.
In four previous World Cup qualifiers away to Jamaica, the U.S. is winless with four draws (via USSoccer.com). Can Jurgen Klinsmann—who last month led the U.S. to its first-ever victory in Mexico—deliver another breakthrough away win?
More importantly, can the U.S. take control of its own World Cup-qualifying destiny?
Argentina vs. Paraguay
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When: Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Where: Mario Alberto Kempes, Córdoba, Argentina
TV: beIN Español
Why to watch: Lionel Messi is in Argentina's squad. That's actually enough reason to watch.
Even beyond Messi, though, there's plenty to like about Argentina. The strikers they have available could almost fill out a European All-Star squad: Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria (both Real Madrid) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG).
This All-Star team is third in CONMEBOL qualifying, two points behind leaders Chile—albeit with a match in hand. The top four teams in the table qualify for the World Cup automatically, with the fifth-placed team heading to a playoff against a nation from Asia.
Paraguay is one point off the bottom of the table.
Victory at home should be well within Argentina's grasp, and it should help consolidate their spot in the top four.
Netherlands vs. Turkey
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When: Friday, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Philips Stadion, Eindhoven, Netherlands
TV: ESPN Deportes
Why to watch: The Dutch were the biggest disappointment of Euro 2012. Widely included among the pre-tournament favorites, the Oranje squabbled, lost all three matches, squabbled some more and crashed out at the group stage.
Manager Bert van Marwijk is out, and so is former captain (and Van Marwijk's son-in-law) Mark van Bommel.
Louis van Gaal is in as manager again. He led the team from 2000-02, a run that included a semifinal berth at Euro 2000 (on home soil) and a failed attempt to qualify for World Cup 2002.
This time, Van Gaal has the services of a talented group of players including Wesley Sneijder (the new captain, though sadly not Van Gaal's son-in-law), upcoming midfielder Kevin Strootman and world-class attackers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.
RvP recently completed a high-profile move from Arsenal to Manchester United, and he hasn't stopped the scoring binge he started last season in North London.
Will he have more in store to help the Dutch kick off their reclamation project? Turkey could represent the toughest challenge to Van Gaal's team in Group D, which also includes Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.
Costa Rica vs. Mexico
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When: Friday, 10:05 p.m.
Where: Estadio Nacional, San Jose, Costa Rica
Why to watch: These are the top two teams in Group B of the CONCACAF's semifinal round. Both should qualify easily for the final round.
Still, both teams have enough star power to make this match worth watching.
Costan Rican defender Bryan Oviedo recently signed with English Premier League club Everton. Forward Bryan Ruiz should be abundantly familiar to Fulham fans.
Meanwhile, the Mexican squad features striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez of Manchester United, Olympic final hero Oribe Peralta and midfielders Andres Guardado (Valencia), Angel Reyna (Monterrey) and the exciting Marco Fabian (Chivas).
Expect Mexico to excite, but also expect them to receive a tough test from the hosts.
Wales vs. Belgium
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When: Friday, 2:45 p.m.
Where: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales
Why to watch: In addition to Wales and Belgium, UEFA's Group A includes Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Macedonia. Simply put, this might be UEFA's most balanced group.
Let's be frank. Wales will struggle to qualify, even with young talents like midfielder Joe Allen and attacker Aaron Ramsey in the squad.
Belgium, on the other hand, might just be ready to surprise. Check out the EPL All-Star roster that manager Marc Wilmots has at his disposal: Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Marouane Fellaini (Everton), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele (both Tottenham Hotspur).
Either this team is eye-poppingly good, or they're about to disappoint. Either way, they should be exciting to watch.