Wednesday, October 7, 2009

World Cup Qualification: UEFA Group 1 - Matchday 9

Current Situation

Denmark are top of the group with 18 points. Sweden trail with 15 followed by Portugal and Hungary with 13 each. Albania and Malta have been eliminated. In the first tiebreaker, goal differential, Denmark are +11, Sweden +6, Portugal +4 and Hungary +4.

Saturday Denmark host Sweden while Hungary travel to Portugal. Wednesday's matches are very important as well - Denmark play at home against Hungary while Sweden and Portugal host Albania and Malta respectively. We can expect Sweden and Portugal to win, probably big, Wednesday. It would not even be out of the question for Sweden to win by 5+ goals given the potential importance. Unlike some of my previous scenarios where I assumed high scorelines didn't happen, I don't think that can be done.

Here are the scenarios. They are pretty messy at this point, obviously it will become much more clear Saturday night.

Denmark will automatically qualify if one of these happens:
- they win against Sweden
- they draw against Sweden and get at least a draw against Hungary

They could also get in other ways with some help. If they draw against Sweden and lose to Hungary then they could finish top if their goal differential remains higher than Sweden and, if necessary, the winner of Portugal - Hungary. Same goes for a loss to Sweden and a win over Hungary - they would then only need to beat Sweden in the tiebreakers.

The Danes could actually be eliminated from the competition. That can happen only if Portugal - Hungary does not end in a draw. If that happens and Denmark lose both matches then they will be eliminated assuming Sweden and Portugal beat their weak opponents. It can also happen if Denmark get a draw and a loss, in either order, and lose the tiebreakers to Sweden and/or Portugal and/or Hungary.

Sweden can only make it automatically with help or by winning tiebreakers with Denmark. If they win Saturday then they can get in with a better result than Denmark get Wednesday or by winning the tiebreakers. Right now they are down 5 goals on goal differential, but they go to down 3 with a 1 goal win and down just 1 with a two-goal win Saturday. That plus the much weaker opponent Wednesday means it is far from impossible to catch Denmark in goal differential. A win Saturday plus a 5-goal win over Albania would likely be good enough for automatic qualification. The Swedes could also get in with a draw against Denmark and a Denmark loss Wednesday. Again, they would need to beat Albania by a large margin.

If Portugal-Hungary does not end in a draw then Sweden may need two wins or 4 points in their two matches plus winning the tiebreaker in order to make the playoff. Should Sweden get a draw and Portugal win Saturday we will have what I think is an unfortunate situation Wednesday where Sweden and Portugal will be trying to pile on as many goals and win by as much as possible trying to get the edge in the goal-differential and goals-scored tiebreakers. That possibility is certainly the downside of basing the first set of tiebreakers on results from the group as a whole instead of head-to-head results, though in this case it wouldn't matter because both matches between Portugal and Sweden were 0-0 draws.

Portugal need to win and get some help. They can still win the group with two wins but it's not likely. The most likely way for that to happen would be for Denmark - Sweden to end in a draw, for Hungary to win in Denmark next Wednesday and to win the tiebreaker over both Sweden and Denmark. Portugal's fate depends a lot on the Denmark - Sweden outcome. If Denmark win then Portugal would make the playoff round with two wins. If it's a draw then Portugal could get in with two wins, but would likely have to win the tiebreak with Sweden. In this scenario they would be going into Wednesday at least even on goal differential with more goals scored. If Sweden win then things are more complicated. Even with two wins they would need either for either Sweden or Denmark to get a draw or loss in their last match. In both cases the opponent would have nothing to play for. If you are Portuguese you should definitely be cheering for Denmark.

Hungary's situation is very similar to that of Portugal. It is slightly better if you just ask what happens if certain results happen - the Hungarians are at least in the playoff round with two wins if Sweden beat Denmark Saturday.

Group PLM Predictions

The PLM gives Denmark an 83.7% chance of winning the group, Sweden 11.8%, Portugal 3.4% and Hungary 1.1%. The most likely second-place team is Sweden according to the model. The Swedes have a 45.6% chance of finishing second and making the playoff, Portugal 33.1%, Denmark 11.5%, and Hungary 6.1%. Adding them up, Denmark have a 95.2% shot at either winning the group or reaching the playoff, Sweden 57.4%, Portugal 36.5% and Hungary 7.2%. This group has just under a 4% chance of having the worst second-place team.

Saturday's Matches

Denmark - Sweden (20:00 local, 2:00 PM Eastern United States)

First off, if you didn't follow Euro 2008 qualifying, you definitely want to check out what happened the last time these teams met in Copenhagen. The hotly contested match was 3-3 in the 88th minute when the referee awarded a Sweden penalty and sent off Christian Poulsen after talking to the linesman, who saw Poulsen strike a Sweden player in the midsection. A fan then ran onto the pitch in an apparent attempt to attack the referee, though he was stopped by a couple nearby Danish defenders. The four referees got together and decided to abandon the match. Here is a youtube link, here is the wikipedia page about the incident. I'm sure both of these sides would love to severely damage the other's qualification chances.

Form and Injuries

Form probably doesn't mean much given that these teams last played nearly a month ago. Sweden have won 3 matches in a row since losing 0-1 to Denmark in June. Denmark have two draws in their two matches. Their last match was particularly bad as it was a 1-1 draw at Albania. They could have all-but sealed a trip to South Africa with a win so the draw is certainly bad news.

For injuries, there is little to report. Daniel Agger has not played a match since playing in Sweden for Denmark due to a back injury. He was expected to play, but sat out training yesterday. It seems unlikely that he'll go 90 minutes if he does play.

PLM Predictions

The PLM predicts a match that is likely to be low-scoring. It gives Denmark a 48% chance to win, Sweden a 17% chance with a draw happening 35% of the time. The most likely scoreline according to the model is a 1-0 win for Denmark which will happen with 20% probability. I'm inclined to think that Denmark will struggle to keep Sweden from scoring, so I'll make a 1-1 draw my personal prediction.

Portugal - Hungary (19:45 local, 3:45 PM Eastern US)

The obvious place to start is with injuries, which unfortunately Portugal have a lot of. Cristiano Ronaldo missed the epic Sevilla win over Real Madrid because of an ankle injury suffered in the Champions League match against Olympique Marseille in the midweek. News reports indicate that he will be ready to play, but we shall see. By the way, he may be cursed and never play again. There are similar injured but should play reports for Bosingwa and Tiago. Despite his name, Duda is less doubtful and much more likely to both play and be closer to 100%.

I have been unable to find any sort of injury report for Hungary.


The PLM predicts that the Portuguese should win. They are given a 70% chance, Hungary a 7% chance and the remaining 23% being the likelihood of a draw. The most likely outcome is 2-0 to Portugal. I personally think the model overrates the probability of a draw. The reason for that is that a draw serves neither team. If the score is even near the end I think we can expect to see a lot of attacking football from both sides. It is much more likely than usual for there to be a goal that breaks the deadlock. The injury situation for Portugal is certainly not good, even if they get all four players mentioned above to play. The model does not take that into account, and I think in particular overrates them offensively for that reason. I think these factors somewhat cancel out on the Portugal side so they are probably around that 70%. I'd guess Hungary are more like 20% to win, with about a 10% chance of a draw which would practically eliminate both teams. I'll make 1-0 Portugal my just-for-fun prediction.

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