Cup of joy: Which superpowers will not be in Brazil next summer?
With now less than a year to go until the start of the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, attention is starting to focus on which nations will be competing in the global showpiece event as the qualification process heats up.
Some confederations have progressed further than others on the road to Rio—such as Asia, where Japan recently confirmed their place as one of the 32 participants—while others are still very much in the melting pot.
And so we at Bleacher Report are here to predict the six biggest casualties from across Planet Football who will not make it to next summer’s tournament.
Tuesday night’s qualifying results were not taken into consideration.
Great Dane: Olsen has much to ponder if Denmark are to make it to Rio next year.
Current position: 4th
Points behind leaders: 8
Prognosis: Touch and go
Five games left in qualification for Morten Olsen’s men, who currently trail runaway group leaders Italy by a massive eight points, albeit with a game in hand on the Azzurri.
However, perhaps more importantly for the Danes, they are also currently behind both second-placed Bulgaria and third-in-the-table Czech Republic in the race for the coveted runners-up spot that guarantees a berth in the playoffs.
And with a tough-looking qualifier still to come in their penultimate fixture in Copenhagen against the only team to have so far gotten the better of them in this campaign, Italy, Olsen and Co. had better not enter that matchup needing to beat the four-time world champions in order to finish second.
Plenty to ponder: Hamren and Sweden's World Cup hopes are very much in the balance.
Current position: 4th
Points behind leaders: 8
Prognosis: May need to win majority of their final five matches to squeak home into second spot
The Swedes are effectively now in a straight three-way fight with both Republic of Ireland and Austria for the runners-up spot in the group, and with it a place in the playoffs come November.
At present, Erik Hamren’s fourth-placed side trail both their higher-ranked rivals by three points, albeit with a game in hand on each nation.
However, with potentially awkward-looking qualifiers still on the horizon—such as in Dublin against Ireland—before they conclude their programme at home to leaders and serial tournament winners Germany in Stockholm on Oct 15, Sweden’s shock loss in Austria earlier in the campaign is looking more and more costly by the minute.
Pointing the way to Rio: Could next year's World Cup really take place without Cristiano Ronaldo?
Current position: 1st
Points behind leaders: N/A
Prognosis: Looks like coming down to a straight shootout with Israel for a place in the playoffs
Things may look rosy at present for the multi-talented Portuguese, but if you scratch a little below the surface, qualification for next year’s World Cup is far from certain by any stretch of the imagination.
Currently, Paulo Bento’s side have played two more matches than second-placed Russia and one more contest than third-in-the-table Israel. Were their two lower-ranked rivals to both win all those games in hand, then the table would look a lot different, with Portugal dropping down to third position and out of the running for Brazil 2014.
In fact, it is looking more and more likely that while Fabio Capello’s Russia will take top spot in the group, and with it automatic qualification for the tournament having already played the Portuguese both home and away, Bento and company’s destiny will all come down to their home encounter with Israel on October 11.
Fail to claim all three points in that nerve-racking contest, and Portugal can kiss next year’s World Cup goodbye.
Hodgson and England need a strong finish to win Group H.
Current position: 2nd
Points behind leaders: 2
Prognosis: May need to both avoid defeat in Kyiv and then win all their remaining home fixtures to take top spot, but failure to achieve that could the mean missing out all together on the playoffs.
England is currently sitting pretty in second place in the table with a game in hand on surprise leaders Montenegro. However, Roy Hodgson would be best advised concentrating on the fast-approaching Ukrainians coming up in the Three Lions’ wing mirror.
In fact, following Friday’s shock 4-0 thrashing of Montenegro in Podgorica, third-placed Ukraine now have their destiny very much in their own hands. If one looks at the remaining fixtures to play, things are starting to look very ominous indeed for Hodgson and Co.
For one thing, Ukraine have just one more qualifier left to play on the road, and that is at group whipping boys San Marino in their final contest of the campaign on October 15.
However, before that matchup, Mykhaylo Fomenko’s in-form side host both rivals England on September 10 and then Poland on October 11. Were they to take maximum points from those two encounters, England would be left to battle it out with the likes of Montenegro and Poland to even make it into the playoffs.
Les Bleus is the colour: But what chance do Deschamps and Co. have to add to their 1998 World Cup triumph next summer?
Current position: 2nd
Points behind leaders: 1
Prognosis: Dicey, especially when one considers some of the nations likely to be in the hat come playoff time next November.
Following their 1-0 home loss to world and European champions Spain at the Stade de France earlier this year, Les Bleus kissed goodbye any slim hopes they may have had of causing a monumental shock by qualifying ahead of La Roja as group winners on the road to Rio.
And that has now condemned Didier Deschamps’ men to the lottery of a two-legged playoff next November to guarantee their participation in next summer’s World Cup finals, which could mean a potential awkward-looking matchup against either England, Portugal or Croatia.
Painful process: Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are in danger of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Current position: 7th
Points behind leaders: 12
Prognosis: Need a miracle on present form
What a contrast for the 2011 Copa America winners, who now find themselves struggling to even make it to next year’s World Cup—which is being held on their own continent for the first time since 1978. And this, despite the fact that hosts Brazil are not even among the South American qualifiers competing against Oscar Tabarez’s side.
Where did it all go wrong? Well, put quite simply, on the road—where Uruguay have so far lost four of their five qualifiers to leave them three points behind fifth-placed Venezuela in the crucial playoff spot, albeit with a game in hand on their rivals.
And with tough-looking home fixtures still to come against runaway pace-setters Argentina and Colombia, Uruguay’s hopes of winning the World Cup for a third time in Rio next summer are looking bleak, at the very best.