World Cup Qualifying: 10 Things We Learned
This month's World Cup qualifiers had a few surprises in store for us.
Many of the matches went according to, plan but more than the usual amount made us do a double-take at the scoreline.
So before you start thinking about your club's fixture this weekend, let's take a look at some of the things we learned from this month's World Cup qualifiers.
You Never Know with Argentina
After Argentina's win over Venezuela on March 22, it seemed that the team had finally gotten it together.
But the Albicelestes obviously had second thoughts. The team drew 1-1 with Bolivia on March 26.
Alejandro Sabella's squad is loaded with great players like Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and arguably the world's best player Lionel Messi, yet the team is not convincing.
Just when it looked like Argentina was living up to its expectations, it disappoints with a draw.
How do we look at Argentina? Is it a great team or just a team filled with great players who cannot come together?
Portugal Is Struggling
Yes, Portugal won its qualifier against Azerbaijan on March 26. Is that enough to forget what happened on the 22nd?
No, it isn't.
What will Portugal fans remember from this month's World Cup qualifiers? The fact that the team failed to win its game against Israel.
How can there be any positives from the Azerbaijan game? Sure, the team won without its leader and captain Cristiano Ronaldo, but even with Ronaldo on the 22nd, it couldn't snatch a victory.
A lot of questions are surrounding Portugal. It should be a better team. A draw against Israel is unacceptable.
Spain Shows Different Sides
After the Finnish drew with the Spanish, a lot of questions were brought up about Spain.
Is it still a great team? Did other teams finally figure out the Spanish?
The French had the chance to see if they had. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't get through to Spain.
The Spanish did not do anything other than play their usual soccer. But questions need to be answered when it comes to this team.
This Spanish team is not as strong as the previous few, particularly up front. Fernando Torres is clearly no longer a viable option but neither is David Villa who was called up.
Vicente Del Bosque has to figure out what to do up front when World Cup 2014 rolls around. Who will he play? What are his options?
Playing the possession game has been working for Spain these past few years, but some teams are figuring it out.
This may not work in 2014.
Spain needs goals if the country wants to win another World Cup.
Belgium Could Be a Threat
Belgium has caught many people's attention over the past few months as players like Eden Hazard and Jan Vertonghen emerge as stars in the Premier League.
The Belgians are actually loaded with talent.
The team does not get much attention but will probably make a nice run at the 2014 World Cup.
Belgium currently sits on top of Group A which includes teams like Serbia, Scotland and Croatia.
Other teams should start paying attention to the Belgians. They should easily get into the World Cup and possibly make a nice run.
The team is in great form and winning its matches.
Balotelli Keeps Scoring
Italy played one qualifier and one friendly this international break.
Mario Balotelli scored in both games, including two against Malta.
Balotelli has been in exceptional form since leaving Manchester City. He has developed into a prolific scorer.
Balotelli is only getting better and seems to even have his childish ways under control.
An in-form Balotelli will do wonders for Italy in 2014.
Everyone Should Be Watching South American Qualifiers
Europe gets all the attention, but after this round of qualifiers, it's clear where the most interesting soccer is being played. South America.
The South American qualifiers are offering a lot of drama and surprising results.
Unlike Europe where there are nine groups, South America only has one.
Argentina is unsurprisingly leading the group, but without Brazil vying for one of the spots, the other teams are clawing each other to get to 2014.
The first four teams will qualify for the World Cup, and the fifth will play in a playoff match against an Asian squad. But the fourth position is up for grabs.
Any team can take it.
This is what makes South America qualifying the one to watch. It is close. It is nail-biting. And any team can beat the other.
England Is Unconvincing
When England beat San Marino 8-0, faith in the Three Lions ran high.
Okay, maybe not. Everyone knew that an 8-0 win over San Marino was expected, but England being second in the group to Montenegro wasn't.
The English had the chance to take sole possession of the group but failed to do so. Group leaders Montenegro managed to hold the team to a draw.
This is very disappointing for England. It was a chance to give the fans some pride in the team, but the team couldn't make it happen.
Yes, an 8-nothing win is impressive, but the only thing English fans will remember from this round of qualifiers is the disappointment against Montenegro.
Netherlands Keep Cruising
The Dutch have no competition in its group and keep winning.
The team will get to the World Cup without facing any difficulties. But this may not be a great thing.
Perhaps having no competition will backfire on the Netherlands but only time will tell.
It's great that the team is playing well and getting through the games easily, but you can't really judge the performances until you see it against better competition.
This probably will not be a factor in 2014 but only time will tell.
Germany's Injuries Keep Mounting
The Germans won both of their games against Kazakhstan this international break but Joachim Löw probably has a bit more on his mind.
It's a wonder Löw was able to field a proper team these past two weeks. His players have been falling left and right.
Veteran striker Miroslav Klose and defenders Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummels were out for these qualifiers with long-term injuries. But from the time the squad was announced for March 22 and 26, Löw has had to make extra changes.
Numerous players picked up small knocks over the week and a half they were with Die Mannschaft.
This may affect Germany in the long run.
Without a full and healthy squad at his disposal, Löw does not have a clear view of his current team's needs.
Germany is still winning without its injured stars but obviously needs to get healthy in order to address its weaknesses.
USA's New Defense Isn't Bad
When former captain Carlos Bocanegra wasn't called up to the United States squad, people thought Juergen Klinsmann was making a huge mistake, but Klinsmann clearly had a plan.
Although the back line was young and inexperienced, it did not show for the most part.
In the snowstorm game against Costa Rica, a game that almost required mistakes to be made, the defense was solid. Sure there were a few hiccups here and there but nothing cost the team.
Then came the much anticipated game against Mexico.
Klinsmann was asking a lot of his young defenders. He even threw in Matt Besler who only had one previous cap.
But the defense did not let him down. Despite DaMarcus Beasley's few slip-ups, everyone on the back line was solid and played a good game.
Even though Team USA was also without star goalkeeper Tim Howard, the team conceded no goals this international break. Brad Guzan was impressive.
This has to be considered a successful round of World Cup qualifiers for the Americans. This new defense may be a good sign for the future.
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