10 Bold Predictions Ahead of World Cup Qualifying
As we near the final stages of World Cup qualification, the 2014 stage is beginning to take some sort of shape leading up to the biggest sport spectacle on offer.
In the next phase of the competition, the thrill of the summer transfer window subsides somewhat as players from all over link back up with their national sides.
This coming week, most countries have two fixtures in which to stake their claim for progress in the competition, with qualification more than within arm’s reach for some.
That being said, here’s 10 predictions for just how the plethora of international action will unfold over the coming days.
1. Germany and Holland Ease to Rio in Style
So far in the quest for qualification, Germany and Italy have been fairly dominant in the way that they’ve gone about their business in Group C and D, boasting a gap of five and seven points over their nearest opposition, respectively.
This weekend, Germany play host to Austria who are yet to win a group match away from home before then travelling to infamous minnows, Faroe Islands.
Provided Sweden drop points at the Aviva Stadium, Di Mannschaft have the chance to open their lead up even more at the top of the group before capping things off in style in Torshavn next week.
For Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands, it’s two consecutive away trips over the next week, first to Estonia and then to Andorra, neither of whom should pose too much of an obstacle to the Oranje.
Two more wins will assure Holland of Group D’s top spot as the opportunity for early progress comes about.
2. Colombia Show Their Mettle
For several years now, Colombia have slowly showed themselves to be climbing back into the public eye, slowly building a very respectable squad under Jose Pekerman.
With only Lionel Messi’s Argentina beating their goal tally of 21, it’s the country’s attack which has been the highlight of their qualifying campaign, although Colombia also have the best defence in CONMEBOL’s ranks, too.
This week, fixtures against Ecuador and Uruguay beckon, two of the other teams who look likely to make their way to next summer’s finals.
While it will undoubtedly be tough, the pair of fixtures gives Pekerman’s outfit their chance to prove that they’re up to the task of once again competing on the biggest of stages.
With matters tight at the top of South American qualification, it’s the trip to Uruguay that poses perhaps the bigger test, but Colombia will be able to take at least one point away from their trip after beating Ecuador in Barranquilla this Friday.
3. Costa Rica and Mexico Pile Pressure on USMNT
In the fourth round of CONCACAF qualification, the United States have taken top spot but currently stand on shaky ground considering they’re just two points ahead of Costa Rica.
This week, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men face the most critical stage of their 2014 hopes, travelling to San Jose before coming back to Columbus where they’ll host Mexico next week.
Costa Rica have the ability to assume first place if they can come out on top of their Friday fixture, while Mexico are also capable of producing a trick or two north of the border.
It would be a surprise to see Klinsmann come away with more than three points after the two matches are through, with even one win from the two matches a tough ask.
4. Poland Give the Three Lions Reason to Roar
As things stand in Group H, Montenegro have taken advantage of any English lapses in concentration, and are currently at the top of the pile by two points, albeit having played a game more.
Roy Hodgson’s team play that game in hand this week and will want to ensure that they’ve assumed what they will feel is their rightful place at the summit of the pool.
Poland will help them in doing just that this week when the Montenegrins travel to Warsaw where, despite having lost 3-1 to Ukraine earlier on in qualification, Poland have the potential to nick at least one point from the group leaders.
England simply need to concentrate on their fixtures against Moldova and Ukraine and as long as six points is the end outcome, they’ll soon be back in pole position to go to Rio.
5. The Black Stars Headline CAF Progression
This weekend, Africa’s finest footballing nations will play the final fixtures of CAF qualification’s Second Round stage, with the 10 best sides proceeding to the next phase of matters.
Egypt, Algeria and the Ivory Coast have already qualified, leaving seven places open for the final round of qualifying.
The most tantalising fixture takes place in Kumasi, where Ghana play hosts to African Cup of Nations champions Zambia, where they will get revenge for their loss to the Copper Bullets earlier in the competition and head through.
Accompanying them should be Nigeria, who face a relatively tough task against Malawi, and Congo, who face Group E’s basement side, Niger. Tunisia and Cape Verde promise to set some sparks alight in a meeting of Group B’s first and second sides, respectively, while clashes between Senegal and Uganda as well as Cameroon and Libya also look very appetising.
6. France Take the Edge in Group I Race
Although Group I faces a handicap in having one less nation in it than every other UEFA qualifying group, the quality of France and Spain compensates for the lack of quantity in the pool.
With just a point separating the two right now, France are having to bide their time until their next encounter with the World and European champions before they can even think of first place qualification.
However, Les Bleus can at least bank on assuming first place in a week’s time, thanks to the fact that they play twice in the coming days, first against Georgia before travelling to Belarus, while Vicente Del Bosque’s men play just the once.
Didier Deschamps’ men have all the quality to see off both challenges and, if all goes to plan, will head home for club duty with a two-point cushion over the Spanish.
7. Chile Take Advantage of Venezuelan Plague
According to Reuters, this week saw 20 players from within the Venezuelan squad affected by a stomach bug ahead of what’s a very critical time in their 2014 qualification quest.
The mid-table sides are five points apart and unfortunately for Cesar Farias’ men, that gap is only bound to increase if a large enough chunk of his squad is unavailable.
Unfortunately, some players might still be unable to return from the illness just yet, meaning that Chile are likely to have an easier time against the Burgundy, although Venezuela’s stars may have recovered enough in time to host Peru next week.
8. Bosnian Goal Train Grinds to a Halt
The highest scorers in 2014 World Cup UEFA qualification, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been near unstoppable in front of goal over the last year.
Led by the 14 goals of Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, the Group G leaders have a goal difference of plus-20, 17 more than the nearest opponents have amassed.
However, two fixtures against Slovakia this week promise to curtail the side’s scoring ease like Lithuania, Latvia and Lichtenstein haven’t been able to.
The last time Bosnia failed to score in a World Cup qualifier was October 2012, but there’s a big chance of the same happening when pitted against a Slovakian line that’s been hard to break down at times of late.
9. Things Get Air-Tight in South America
Possibly the closest of all qualification formats, seven of CONMEBOL’s nine countries still have a (realistic) chance of making their way to Brazil next summer, with only five places available.
South America’s countries have as much reason as any to be excited for next year’s tournament, being that they’ll be more used to the higher altitudes than most, where oxygen can sometimes be a little harder to come by.
This week has more than its share of crunch matches, including Colombia and Ecuador’s weekend fixture, Chile and Venezuela’s close encounter followed by Colombia’s difficult trip to Uruguay.
Despite holding some of the world’s best talent, CONMEBOL’s constituents can sometimes be overlooked in the quality rankings, but will be among the most entertaining to keep your eye on over the course of this week’s qualifiers.
10. Italy Advance to the Finals
2006 World Cup champions and 2012 Euro finalists, Italy will take a giant leap towards Brazil 2014 when they beat Bulgaria on home soil this week, stretching their Group B lead to five points in the process. At least, that’s assuming that the Czech Republic can beat Armenia in their own backyard.
However, that all comes before the Azzurri seal the deal against Michal Bilek’s side, beating the Czech’s next week and reaching an insurmountable tally of 20 points.
Cesare Prandelli’s men have looked uncertain at points of their qualification bid, but will progress to Brazil this week with two games to spare, setting the path for another great Italian World Cup.