The UEFA part of the journey to the World Cup Finals has just completed round eight for some groups and things are still very much up in the air for a number of groups. Only two nations have qualified (at the time of writing this blog post) and whilst most of the favourites will be there, I imagine that there maybe the odd big name casualty come round ten completion.
This group was always going to be an interesting one what with France, an Ibrahimovic free Sweden together with a doomladen Dutch side. The group had progressed to round six with some mixed results and going into round seven it was crucial for France not to drop points against the Dutch having lost to Sweden in round six. There was no sign of that problem happening as France crushed the Dutch 4-0 at the Stade De France. A Lemar double with a 90th minute goal turned a narrow win into a thumping win and a crucial boost to their goal difference which was now plus three ahead second placed Sweden’s plus eleven.
The victory for France turned out to be crucial as Sweden lost 3-2 away to Bulgaria. The Swedes lost their group lead after being unable to overcome a Bulgaria side who have blown hot and cold. The other game saw Luxembourg grab their first win in the group.
Round Eight was not a good one for France as they were held to a goalless draw at home to Luxembourg. Despite various attempts to break through Les Bleu could not do it. It gave the visitors four points from the round and off the bottom of the group.
The Swedes having lost to Bulgaria needed to keep in touch with France and that they did. Belarus were the hosts and their win over Bulgaria seemed an age away. They had nothing to play for apart from pride, but that seemingly went out the window when they found themselves 3-0 down at half time.
The Netherlands hosted Bulgaria in a must win game and having been previously hammered by the French, confidence might have been severely bashed especially with Bulgaria beating Sweden. It couldn’t have been more different. The Dutch won 3-1 with two goals from Davy Propper helped them to three crucial points especially with the French failing to win.
The final two rounds of games see Sweden host Luxembourg and will hope to do better than the French whilst Netherlands travel to Belarus and France travel to Bulgaria. These results will prove crucial given that in the final round, The Netherlands host Sweden and France host Belarus. Providing they win the previous game France should win the group. Given the three point advantage for the Scandinavians, they will hold advantage going into that final game.
Group B already has the top two already secured, it was just the matter as to who will win the group. The Swiss top of their group and are on a streak and yes I almost typed roll. They have a 100% record and don’t look like dropping a point anytime soon and with Hungary the next vistors to Switzerland, followed by the return match between them and second placed Portugal, it will be winner takes all.
Portugal in their next game travel to Andorra, who shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle. There could still be a twist in the tale come the final game. Portugal have the superior goal difference with a plus 24 compared to the Swiss plus 15 and with three points separating the two nations, should the Portuguese win, then it’s advantage to Cristiano Ronaldo’s team.
Group C is another group which has the top two already locked in. It is also a group with home nation participation in the form of Northern Ireland. Germany currently dominate the group with 24 points and a point from winning the group. Northern Ireland sit in second with a play off spot guaranteed and three points back. Their only dropped points being a 2-0 defeat against Germany and a 0-0 draw in the Czech Republic.
Game number nine sees the Germans travel to Northern Ireland and based on previous results, its three points for Germany but then we all know how shocks can be thrown up every so often. The final round of games sees Germany host Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland travel to Norway, who they previously beat at home.
Another group with home representation, sees a three way battle for the automatic and play off spots. Serbia currently lead with 18 points ahead of Wales (14) and Republic of Ireland (13).
Serbia have been in control of the group unbeaten with five wins and three draws. There win at the Aviva stadium put another dent in the Republic of Ireland’s qualification bid. The Serb’s look certain to win the group finishing up with a trip to Austria and hosting bottom placed Moldova in the final game. They could afford to draw in Vienna whilst beating Moldova. Anything else and their qualification hopes will be in other nation’s hands.
Home nation representatives Wales, had at one point looked like struggling to finish in the three let alone top two having drawn five of their eight games. As the Irish were losing, Woodburn of Liverpool was netting a 74th minute winner against Austria. Woodburn was involved once more as Wales moved second with a 2-0 win away to Moldova.
In the final round Serbia travel to Austria and should easily nail the automatic qualification spot with a win. Their result against Georgia though could be either. The Georgian side have been a difficult team to beat away from home with only the Irish managing to get three points from the game. Giving Wales record, it would be easy to suggest that they might only get a draw against the former Soviet nation, but having beaten Moldova they will be high on positivity going into that game. Anything less will give the advantage back to the Irish as they face Moldova in the penultimate game. The final game for both sees them face off in Wales in what will literally be a winner takes all game. Whatever happens though, it will be a noisy night in Cardiff.
Check out Part 2 coming soon featuring Groups E-I. Till then arrivederci, Auf Wiedersehen, au revoir and goodbye.