The international break is upon us and that means the focus in the soccer community is on World Cup qualifiers as opposed to the club teams. Six teams have already qualified: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Netherlands, and the hosts, South Africa automatically qualify.
Some of the traditional soccer giants are struggling and some are in top form. Number one ranked Brazil is coming off winning the Confederations Cup and number two Spain is getting closer in the rankings. Mexico won the Gold Cup and El Tri most recently beat the United States 2-1 at the Estadio Azteca.
The main focus will be on Argentina vs. Brazil. El Clasico faces the Albicelestes against the Samba Kings in a match that the world will tune into. This is the best rivalry in South America and without question one of the best in the world.
Although Argentina and Brazil will get everyone buzzing, it is not the only important game on an exciting day of qualifying. Here are some other games you should tune into.
Denmark vs. Portugal (2 P.M. ET)- Soccer fans, we could see a World Cup without Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal is struggling in Group 1 and only has nine points. A matchup against first place Denmark is on schedule for Saturday. Denmark is in great position with 16 points. Hungary has 13 points and is in second place in Group 1, which qualifies them for a November playoff. Portugal and Hungary will meet two times in the next three matches. And the Portuguese will end its qualifying at home against Malta.
Hungary vs. Sweden (2 P.M. ET)- Sweden and Portugal are tied with nine points. Obviously, Sweden doesn’t have the star power that Portugal possesses, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in to this game at some time while you watch Denmark and Portugal. The Swedes could be in trouble as Zlatan Ibrahimovic could miss this crucial matchup with a sore knee, but his countrymen believe he will play. The good news for Sweden is that it has the easier road to second place. After Hungary, Sweden will be away at Malta and Denmark before ending with Albania at home.
Slovakia vs. Czech Republic (2:30 P.M. ET)- Sure, not as intriguing as the Denmark vs. Portugal matchup, but you should follow this one as well. The Czechs are ranked 18th in the newest FIFA rankings, but that is not helping its qualifying. With only eight points and trailing first place Slovakia and second place Northern Ireland by seven and five points respectively, the Czechs are in a bad position. Slovenia is in third place in group three with 11 points and Poland have 10.
France vs. Romania (3 P.M. ET)- For the most part, this is the same situation as above. France looks to at least make the November playoff. The French trail Serbia by five points and the two will meet in Serbia on Sept.9. But, a chance to watch Les Bleus should rarely be turned down. Domenech will have to make interesting selections with his starting XI, as a French newspaper asked 25 former players which center forward he should start. Andre-Pierre Gignac received over half of the votes, followed by Benzema’s 32 percent, Anelka’s 8 percent, and Thierry Henry not receiving a vote. Gignac was the top scorer in Ligue 1 last year, Benzema admits he has to raise his game to establish himself as a starter, Anelka is more of a withdrawn striker, and Henry likely would play on the left wing (probably why he didn’t get any votes). Either way, Domenech has plenty of talent to choose from.
Spain vs. Belgium (4 P.M. ET)- Spain led group five by six points and will likely finish in first place and qualify for the World Cup fairly easily. Still, you should never turn down a chance to watch Spain. Vicente del Bosque roster includes some of the world’s best with Xavi, Torres, Villa, Fabregas, and many others. Spain should defeat Belgium, but tune in to see beautiful soccer.
USA vs. El Salvador (8 P.M. ET)- Bob Bradley’s team is coming off a disappointing result in the Estadio Azteca against Mexico. The States currently have ten points and are in third place in CONCACAF, two points behind Costa Rica, tied with Honduras, and one ahead of Mexico. The last time these teams faced off the U.S. rallied to earn a point, scoring two goals in the final 18 minutes. El Salvador has five points and with four games remaining, its chances are slim. But an upset over the United States in Utah could boost El Salvador into a late run to qualify for a top four spot, where the fourth place team in CONCACAF faces the fifth place team in South America in a playoff. The American’s will be without Onyewu due to yellow card suspension. American born Arturo Alvarez will suit up for the second time with El Salvador. A win would put them in a good position to qualify. A tie would not be terrible, but a loss would mean the US would have to get positive results in Trinidad & Tobago, Honduras, and at home against Costa Rica. Key stat to remember is that Bob Bradley is 7-0-0 in home qualifiers.
Argentina vs. Brazil (8:30 ET)- This is a must-see matchup on Saturday. El Clasico is of special importance this year, as Argentina is struggling to qualify. Maradona’s team is currently in fourth place, but a loss could drop them to fifth. The fifth place team plays the fourth place team from CONCACAF in a two game playoff in November. Argentina should be there by the time the 2010 World Cup comes around, but any time these two giants get together the world enjoys. Messi traveled back to Argentina, forgoing Barcelona’s first La Liga match, in order to train with his teammates. Brazil is ranked number one in the world and are the favorites to win in South Africa as of now. Maradona possesses one of the most talented rosters in the world, but has not produced results.
With a loss to Brazil at home, the soccer legend could get the sack. Messi, Kaka, Aguero, Robinho, Diego Milito, Luis Fabiano, Mascherano, and Maicon. This list goes on with world-class players that both sides possess. Again, Maradona snubbed Gonzalo Higuain, but the youngster still wants to represent Argentina instead of France. The action is also coming from legends of both countries as Pele and Maradona are in a war of words. Maradona has recently stated “I was a better player than Pele” and that Argentina has better players than Brazil. Also, the Argentina icon has stated he wishes he were 20 years younger so he could play against Brazil. Pele has fired back saying that whatever Maradona says cannot be taken into consideration. Argentine starlet Lionel Messi has said that Argentina can beat Brazil comfortably. Messi’s teammate and friend at Barcelona, Dani Alves has noted that “Once the ball starts rolling there is no friendship.” The two terrorize the right flank against every opposition Barca faces, but Saturday will be different as the two will be wearing different jerseys and playing against each other.
Costa Rica vs. Mexico (10 P.M. ET)- It is amazing that Mexico can be even in contention with Costa Rica, if they win on Saturday. But a loss could separate the two teams by six points. El Tri is playing good soccer as of late, but a matchup against Costa Rica in Estadio Saprissa could slow Javier Aguirre's side down. The turf at Saprissa Stadium is never easy to play on, but Mexico has won six of its last seven matches. Costa Rican captain Walter Centeno is injured and may not be available to start. A loss for Costa Rica could put Los Ticos behind the United States and Honduras should both win. A loss would also mean that Costa Rica would be tied with Mexico with 12 points and three qualifiers remaining.