01 April 2009

Never Happy

So England won...just - and yet my confidence has ebbed away - it was not an emphatic victory, but it was against the no.3 team, so the mathematics should give me hope

Still 5 games to go, a 5 point lead - our next games are Kazakhstan away and Andorra at home - Kazakhstan doesn't look too fun but surely Andorra are a guaranteed rout, and the Kazaks have been beaten by both Belarus and Ukraine at home so it should be fine - that will take us to the brink with 21 points and 3 games remaining

and yet I still worry - Croatia and Ukraine are both very good and will keep winning, if they could draw with each other again that would be very useful - I guess my fears are partly based on paranoia, but also a realisation that this group is clearly the best - we all knew Ukraine were the toughest third ranks and should've been in the second pot, so I guess it's not surprising - not dissimilar to Euro 08 qualifying I guess - with us and Russia the two scrapping it out, and us coming off worse (remember watering an artificial pitch?)

But realistically we should be fine - it just feels like there's no room for error, we may well end up with a 6 or more point cushion in the end

Then of course remember that we are probably the third most secure team in qualifying - only the Netherlands and Spain have it better, with the Netherlands only needing a point to secure 1st place, and Spain with a 6 point lead and 6 played

Speaking of the Dutch, we may as well look at Scotland in all its patheticness - as predicted, they got that win over Iceland, which is good - but because this is a small group and it's tight it's very precarious - Scotland have to welcome Macedonia and the Netherlands, and go to Norway - frankly that's only one likely win, and maybe a draw - even if the Dutch aren't really concerned (fortunately that will be their last, and almost certainly pointless, game)

Iceland arguably have it harder - Norway and the Netherlands are coming, and they have to go to Macedonia - I think they'll be lucky to get 3 points, so in actual fact Scotland are looking good for second

The problem lies in the fact that they are currently the lowest ranked of the second place teams - meaning they will be the ones to miss the play-offs - this is a group with very few results, the Netherlands has dominated a bunch of no-hopers, so there's very few points - now I do believe having a smaller group makes it harder - even though the bottom teams won't be counted in the other groups, it has made every game more important

Either way, the Scots, if they make it, will be at the bottom end of that second place table and so need to play all three remaining games like they are cup finals

(One possible chink of light may be the French, who unfortunately did win that double header against Lithuania and now look a bit safer - but only have three games left that will count for the play-offs, that is of course assuming Serbia keep beating everybody else)

Northern Ireland meanwhile produced two home wins, the best of the home nations - so you can't really fault that - but it's a damn tight group and Slovakia managed to beat the Czechs away - not good for NI, who have played an extra two games and face a serious threat from Poland, Slovakia and the Czechs - it's going to be very tight - you've got to say Slovakia are good for the 10 points off 5 they need to be assured of winning, but should NI get those last three wins they should be safe - big ask though (Slovakia at home, Poland and Czech Rep away) - I've got to admit I foresee yet another heartbreak as NI are screwed over by being in one of the toughest groups again

Wales are effectively out - they beat even my tepid prediction and lost to Finland at home, game over there

As for Ireland - well, they didn't make it easy for themselves by drawing with Bulgaria at home, after which I started working out likely scenarios - two wins off Montenegro and Cyprus are in order I think, and that's if Bulgaria win their 'easy' three and lose to Italy - and that will mean Ireland need to avoid defeat in Bulgaria in their next match, and their performance in Italy provided a potentially helpful, and unlikely, point - so it's hopeful

And that's it for the home nations - as for those other games I mentioned - well Spain won both against Turkey to pretty much guarantee qualification (Bosnia with a 4 point lead? seriously), Germany only won 4-0 and still need to watch out for Russia

That Slovak away win could be deadly for NI, Group 2 reamins boring and Portugal actually drew with Sweden! 6 points off five games for the gelled tumblers lot! They now have to go to Denmark and Hungary to have any chance of recouping that 7 point deficit and getting second, let alone first (I'm not getting my hopes up..honest)

France avoided embarrassment and got two 1-0 wins over Lithuania to battle it out with Serbia for the top spot (and they do actually look good for it, Serbia)

Australia meanwhile, beat Uzbekistan to almost be the first team in the World Cup but unfortuantely still need one more match (they are however guarateed a play-off) - will it be the Ozzies or the Dutch? My money is on the Ozzies, due to the time difference - Also the Japanese are also pretty much there - is it just me or has Asia got it a little too easy? Methinks they could do with dropping a berth, it has also taken away any sense of achievement for the Ozzies - they've been trying to big it up as a success like 2006 but it's just too easy to qualify now

I say this in all seriousness - but surely they should be giving even more representation to UEFA? Either increase the amount of teams in the finals, or give an extra one or two spots - take one off the Asians and one off the North Americans, for example - I know it's all about giving a chance to the useless teams from each confederation but do you think Wales ever get so much as a chance? These guys like Costa Rica and Iran are easily comparable to no-hopers in Europe - maybe I am being selfish but in Europe good teams will go out, in North America the US and Mexico are guaranteed, in Asia it's Australia, Japan and Korea, even South America gets useless teams like Ecuador in - European qualification is incredibly difficult compared to the rest.

Europe loses teams like Turkey, Ukraine, Czech Rep, Northern Ireland and possibly even Portugal - Europe struggled in 2008 with 16 berths (notably England) and the only real dead weights were the hosts...and France. Which is why the European championships are being increased - you risk the problem of the Euros becoming more representative than the actual World Cup - I know it seems unfair on the rest of the world - but think about it, we are only in this situation because of fairly arbitrary geographical distinctions - surely we could make it fairer by letting the whole world compete rather than squeeze the best area of football for the sake of everyone else, why not let Asia and Africa compete with Europe, and North with South America?

My two cents

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