Wednesday, September 9, 2009

UEFA Update - 9/9

England and Spain are now officially through. Overall the day was a bit strange and featured a few teams getting disappointing results against inferior opponents. I flipped back and forth between Italy - Bulgaria and England - Croatia in the first half and watched the second half of Serbia - France. Italy apparently failed to impress last week against Georgia, but they looked very good in the first half from what I saw. Granted, Croatia have some pretty bad injury problems but they did not look good against England. Serbia - France was entertaining, end-to-end stuff.

Group 1
Malta 0 - 1 Sweden
Albania 1 - 1 Denmark
Hungary 0 - 1 Portugal

Denmark getting just a draw put this group back into play. Sweden are 3 points back and drive over the bridge to Copenhagen next month. Denmark are still heavy favorites because Sweden need to beat the Danes and get a better result the last matchday, but it's certainly a lot more likely than it should be. Portugal got a key win to put themselves into decent position for second. 2 points back from Sweden, they host Hungary and then Malta so 6 points is fairly likely. That puts the pressure on Sweden to not only get a result in Copenhagen but to win.

The battle for first or second will go down to the wire. Should be an interesting week next month for this group.

Group 2
Israel 7 - 0 Luxembourg
Latvia 2 - 2 Switzerland
Moldova 1 - 1 Greece

The Greeks shot themselves in the foot by not getting a win against Moldova. Instead of being 2 points clear of third-place Latvia and only 1 back of Switzerland, they find themselves 3 back of the Swiss even on points with Latvia. Latvia make the trip to Athens October 10th. Had Greece pulled off a win today, a draw would have sufficed to ensure them a playoff spot, but now if they draw it will come down to goal differential. The Swiss finishing even in Latvia and they are now in position to all but lock up the group next matchday with a win over Luxembourg.

Group 3
Czech Republic 3 - 0 San Marino
Northern Ireland 0 - 2 Slovakia
Slovenia 3 - 0 Poland

The results speak for themselves. Slovakia are now 5 points clear of Slovenia with just 2 matches to go. Northern Ireland are also even with Slovenia but have played an extra match. The Czechs are two points back even in matches with Slovenia. The schedule is important and favors Slovenia in the race for second. They play San Marino the last matchday. Given that they are already 5 goals ahead of Northern Ireland in goal differential, that effectively eliminates the Northern Irish. A draw for Slovenia against Slovakia in their next match would also guarantee a finish ahead of the Czech Republic for all intents and purposes. The Czechs still have life, though, barring a miracle result for San Marino, they need to win out (home against Poland and home against Northern Ireland) and have Slovakia beat Slovenia to make the playoff.

Group 4
Liechtenstein 1 - 1 Finland
Germany 4 - 0 Azerbaijan
Wales 1 - 3 Russia

The Germans and Russians did the job and have set up what I think will be the best qualifying match in any confederation. The Germans travel to Moscow October 10th. Right now they sit one point clear of Russia and both should win their last match so the group winner will be Russia if they win and Germany if they get a win or draw. These are two very strong teams and it should be great for the neutral viewer.

Group 5
Armenia 2 - 1 Belgium
Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 - 1 Turkey
Spain 3 - 0 Estonia

Bosnia-Herzegovina put themselves in great position by not losing to Turkey. They are now 4 points clear and a win over Estonia in a month puts them into the playoff. Spain have now officially qualified.

Group 6
Belarus 0 - 0 Ukraine
Andorra 1 - 3 Kazakhstan
England 5 - 1 Croatia

Despite the race for second being a zero-sum game, it certainly feels like both the Ukraine and Croatia had a bad day. Assuming Croatia win their last match, in Kazakhstan, the Ukraine will now need a win in both of their last matches to make the playoff. They face England at home a month from tomorrow and then 4 days later play at lowly (but highly as well) Andorra. The short of it is that they're almost certainly in the playoff round if they can beat a nothing-to-play-for England at home and almost certainly out if they get anything less.

England have now officially qualified.

Group 7
Faroe Islands 2 - 1 Lithuania
Romania 1 - 1 Austria
Serbia 1 - 1 France

It was looking good for a while, but in the end France failed to break the deadlock. The draw puts Serbia in control, 4 points clear with just 2 matches to go. France host both the Faroe Islands and Austria so it's pretty likely that they get 6 points. Serbia are currently ahead by 8 goals on goal differential, so they'll need two or more points from Romania at home and Lithuania away.

Group 8
Montenegro 1 - 1 Cyprus
Italy 2 - 0 Bulgaria

There's good news and bad news for Ireland. The good news is that the Bulgaria loss puts them 5 clear in second with just two matches to go, one of them a should-win at home against Montenegro. They are now very likely to make the playoff round. That's also the bad news. Italy getting the win put the azzurri 4 points clear of the Irish and since they finish at home against Cyprus, even a win for Ireland in Dublin next month means they won't be winning the group.

Group 9
Norway 2 - 1 FYR Macedonia
Scotland 0 - 1 Netherlands

Scotland needed a win and got a loss. Norway are now scoreboard watching, but with just 10 points they are an overwhelming favorite to be the worst second-place team.

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