In his TFN debut, Matt Davies runs through every single World Cup Qualifier taking place over the international break. Time to once again take a step down the road to Brazil 2014…
All times are GMT.
Russia v Luxembourg – 15:30
Perennial underdogs Luxembourg head to Kazan to face a Russian team going through a slight crisis after rolling over meekly to Portugal and losing away in Northern Ireland in their last qualifiers. Fabio Capello will hope to return to winning ways though, and qualification is still in their hands. A win will put Russia top of their group, and while Luxemburg have a respectful 3 points from 6 games, it could be a bump to earth after drawing away in Azerbaijan last time out. Home win.
Kazakhstan v Faroe Islands – 16:00
This game will most likely slip under the radar – both teams field players who wouldn’t really be classed as stars, and neither have sprung any surprises in qualification so far. The trip to (far) eastern Europe will likely do no favours for the Faroese and it seems probable that they won’t get anything in this fixture. Home win.
Czech Republic v Armenia – 17:00
The Czech Republic play as a solid unit, with a more than capable back five. Gone are the big names from the last decade (with the exceptions of Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky); they will aim to stifle the opposition into submission, as they did when they reached the second round in Euro 2012. Armenia’s stock is most definitely on the rise this qualification. A great result beating Denmark 0-4 away in the last round proves that point, and in £21.5m Dortmund signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan they have one of the rising stars in European football. They are a pacey, open team that will look to use their speed to their advantage. A win for either team would put them in a good position for second place, but I can see the Czechs just edging this one. Home win.
Norway – Cyprus – 18:00
Norway haven’t really impressed this qualification, with a lack of firepower up front hindering them in a big way. However, the lack of consistency in group E still provides them with a good chance to get a playoff place, particularly if they can get the win here. Cyprus have impressed at times in the group, but they’re unlikely to get anything away in Oslo. Home win.
Macedonia v Wales – 18:00
All eyes on this one. The most expensive (and what felt like the most drawn out) football transfer in history makes his debut (probably, but not for 90 minutes) as a Real Madrid player (for Wales). Gareth Bale’s fitness could be instrumental if Wales can get the win here having scored 5 of the last 8 Welsh goals, and no Joe Allen means less presence in midfield – Aaron Ramsey has been on good form for Arsenal, and will need to maintain it for Wales to get three points. Macedonia are bottom of the group, but Goran Pandev has real quality and is the danger man here. Draw.
Romania v Hungary – 19:00
Both teams have been in good form so far and are currently above Turkey in the fight for a playoff spot. This is a return fixture to the match in March that was played in an empty stadium, finishing 2-2. The enigmatic Adrian Mutu is still the poster boy for Romanian football, but Gabriel Torje, on loan at Espanyol from Udinese, is a rising quantity. Hungary have only lost to the Dutch in their group so far, and I can see that stat continuing. Zoltan Gera bears a heavy burden in the team but a host of promising youngsters are coming through. Draw.
Ukraine v San Marino – 19:00
Ukraine are in good form, and look like favourites to finish top of their group. Providing they can get a result against England on Tuesday, their fate will be in their own hands. Yarmolenko is a favourite of Football Manager players and he’s proving that rating for club and country. He’s definitely one to watch should they proceed to Rio. San Marino have played at a level that their ranking suggests, and it’s not exactly likely to change this weekend. Probably the safest result of the day. Home win.
Turkey v Andorra – 19:00
Turkey need to gain ground on others in their group, and hosting minnows Andorra should provide them with three points. It may be too late for them to progress though as their run in includes a trip to Romania and a home game against The Netherlands. Andorra are one of only two teams not to have scored a goal in qualification; I think most neutrals would like them to at least get one, but it’s looking extremely unlikely now. Home Win.
Malta v Denmark – 19:00
Denmark need to bounce back from defeat at home to Armenia and should do away in Malta. Goals need to come from somewhere though, and with the third best player in the world suspended from international games for drink-driving and the injury of Cornelius it’s hard to see. Expect to see something from a set-play. Away win.
Latvia v Lithuania – 19:10
A derby is always a spicy affair, but this Baltic one isn’t exactly going to result in much. Neither are in much of a position to qualify so it’s difficult to get excited about this game, but it should be interesting to see how Marians Pahars handles his first full-international game as manager. Draw.
Bosnia and Herzegovina v Slovakia – 19:15
Bosnia are in fine form, are undefeated, and look good to get to their first major final – It’s unfortunate that they have come up against Portugal in the playoffs at the last two qualifications. They have a glut of talent all over the pitch and though Dzeko seems to be a starter for Man City under Pellegrini, Ibisevic is one of the form men in Europe right now for Stuttgart. Slovakia have their own form player in Hamsik but their defensive core is starting to show signs of age. This could be a close one. Home win.
Georgia v France – 19:15
Georgia have impressed at times in qualification but France are chasing Spain for top spot. Since the performance in South Africa (which some would say was at times selfish, but mostly embarrassing) results against top opposition have been poor, but it’s still hard to see anything other than a tough night for Georgia. Benzema continues to hold his place at Real Madrid and Giroud looks like he is beginning to find his feet at Arsenal. Away win.
Slovenia v Albania – 19:30
Slovenia are always dark horses, but they lack a cutting edge this time around. They have youth on their side though so expect a better performance in two years. Albania have been a surprise package so far and sit in second place, but it feels like something needs to give in this group and the next two games will likely define who gets the playoff spot. Not in this one though. Draw.
Switzerland v Iceland – 19:30
The Swiss are favourites to qualify automatically from this group, and though Iceland have impressed and still have a good chance of a playoff spot, it could be too much for them in this qualification period. Expect the Icelandic side to give everything, but their style doesn’t suit playing against the Swiss, who will look to stifle them as they do to most teams. Shaqiri gives them a creative output that could be essential to giving the Swiss the edge in close matches, and at 21 looks like a future leader. Home win.
Estonia v Netherlands – 19:30
It would take a huge collapse for the Dutch to fail to qualify from this group having won all of their previous games. The team looks solid for the future too, with players like Strootman, Willems and Fer hoping to bring success. It’s a tough group to get second in, and this game could see Estonia fall out of the running for it – they overachieved in Euro Qualification in 2012 by reaching the playoffs. Away win.
Finland v Spain – 19:30
Having dropped points in the first fixture, Spain will look to take a step closer to automatic qualification by beating a stubborn Finland in the return. Spain have looked a little lacking up front, and have relied on their wide forwards to get the goals – if they hope to win back to back world cups, they’ll need to get Soldado firing on all cylinders. Finland still have a chance in this group but need results to go their way and to beat France away along with this game – very unlikely. Away win.
Northern Ireland v Portugal – 19:45
After a great result away in Russia while other home nations were celebrating birthdays in August, Northern Ireland welcome the group leaders. Portugal need to maintain pressure on Russia but never underestimate what a big victory can do for a teams confidence – the Northern Irish are starting to click and have a squad of young hungry players like Billy McKay and Martin Paterson. I think it could be close but Portugal will slightly take it, but Northern Ireland are ones to watch for the future. Away win.
Liechtenstein v Greece – 19:45
Liechtenstein have scored in all but one of their home games so far this campaign but look unlikely to get anything in Vaduz. This Greek side are beginning to show signs of age but there are players who look like they could step up to the plate in a campaign or two away – I fully expect Greece to get to the playoffs, but this may be a qualification too far for the likes of Karagounis and Salpingidis. Away win.
Ireland v Sweden – 19:45
I have a feeling this might be a tale of two strikers. Robbie Keane has one of the best records in international football, having scored 59 in 127 games. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 44 in 91 games. Both are the wrong side of 30, and both have had their respective media talking about long term replacements that haven’t come. To quote another Swedish export – the winner takes it all. The group is finely balanced in regards to second place and with both teams on 11 points, it should be a great contest. Draw.
Poland v Montenegro – 19:45
After a great campaign two years ago that saw them get to the playoffs and a fantastic start to this one Montenegro are in danger of slipping to fourth in the group. Inconsistency has played a huge part in their downfall and the misery may continue in Poland, who are still in with a chance of qualifying if results go their way. The group is tight with points dropped everywhere. If Montenegro desire consistent qualification to major tournaments they must relieve the load from Vucinic and Jovetic – their lack of options are shown by deciding to call up only eight new players in the last 12 months. Home win.
Germany v Austria – 19:45
Amazingly Austria haven’t qualified for a major tournament from a regular qualification for 15 years, but this campaign represents their best chance. David Alaba is true quality and they play as a good unit home and away. Germany, understandably given their strength in depth, are one of the favourites not only to qualify but to win in Rio – expect Ozil to show that his £42.4m transfer to Arsenal is good value here, and in Miroslav Klose they have a player who while is closer to 40 than 30 is still prolific in international games. Home win.
Serbia v Croatia – 19:45
This Balkan derby promises to be a great match with both teams looking to prove their calibre. Although Serbia have a heritage in qualification campaigns (as both Serbia and Serbia and Montenegro) it is almost mathematically impossible for them to get anything from this group – the international retirement of Vidic and Stankovic has hit the team hard and they struggle up front. Croatia look shoe-ins for a playoff place and they have goals in the side from Bayern Munich’s Mandzukic. Obviously, this tie is pretty important to anyone in the Balkans. Aleksandar Holiga’s peice for FourFourTwo is a great read and should be viewed by anyone with any interest in this game. Away win.
Italy v Bulgaria – 19:45
Italy should progress fine from their group, but they still need to do a job at home to Bulgaria. Balotelli is happy once again but they have great pedigree running throughout the squad, and Prandelli isn’t afraid to tinker with a winning formula. They showed in Euro 2012 that they can shut teams out and they do the essentials tremendously well. On the other hand, Bulgaria have become an unknown quantity – they can look like world-beaters, or they can look toothless and naive. The retirement of Berbatov has hit them hard and they have yet to find a reliable replacement. Home win.
England v Moldova – 20:00
The first three games of the EPL have rendered the English squad threadbare. No Rooney, Wilshere and top scorer Sturridge mean that the burden falls upon ex-Macclesfield Town player Ricky Lambert’s shoulders. They have too much quality for a Moldovan side who can definitely score goals, but lack any real presence. Home win.
Scotland v Belgium – 20:00
Scotland have come good under Strachan – a fantastic victory against Croatia was followed by a good performance against England in August and they will look to move higher than 5th in their group, and the retirement of Kenny Miller opens the door for Jordan Rhodes to show his form on a global scale.. They must be wary of set pieces though, as the physical presence of Fellaini, Vertonghen and Benteke provides Belgium with another source of goals. Belgium have almost become the choice for fashionable football supporters, and they look world class at times. Captain Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen are out with injury but they should still have enough at the back to come away with 3 points. Away win.
Columbia v Ecuador – 21:30
Columbia look good to return to the world stage for the first time since 1998, in no part thanks to the trio of Falcao, Rodriguez and Zapata. Lying second in the group behind Argentina they look like a quality side at times, and they have a consistent spine through the team. Ecuador have been a surprise package this campaign, but the unfortunate death of Christian Benitez may hit them hard at an emotional level. Caicedo and Castillo may need to drag them through the remaining games. Home win.
Paraguay v Bolivia – 23:30
The two teams bottom of qualification meet this game week, with neither team looking anywhere near capable of mounting a challenge to the playoff place. Paraguay have been disappointing this campaign and the retirement of Santa Cruz has been catastrophic for Los Guaranies. Bolivia haven’t impressed either, and anything but a win will leave them wanting for another campaign. I can’t see anyone being happy come Friday evening in Asunción. Draw.
Chile v Venezuela – 01:30 (Saturday)
Both Chile and Venezuela are in with a chance of making it to Rio, with Chile needing realistically needing a point to assure them of at least the playoff spot. The Chilean squad is littered with both quality and solid players, from Isla at the back right through to Sanchez at the front. Vidal acts as the link between both parts and the system works well. I’d expect them to surprise a few in Rio. Venezuela are more suited to a defensive system where they can score the odd goal – they really need a result though here to surpass Uruguay in the table, and I can’t see it happening. Home win.
Peru v Uruguay – 03:30 (Saturday)
The final game in COMMEBOL this gameweek is a big one. Uruguay have struggled to translate their quality into results so far this campaign, and sit in the playoff position in qualification. All eyes will be on Suarez, but in my opinion Pizarro and Farfan hold all the cards for Peru. If they can link together and the team rally around them it could be very difficult. Suarez is serving his domestic ban for biting and though there are reports he has been training hard, his match fitness is a doubt. Draw.
Jordan v Uzbekistan (First leg) – 17:00
With Iran, South Korea, Japan and Australia all having qualified, there is one last piece of business in Asia. Jordan have surprised many by finishing above Oman and Iraq and they have found the net frequently, with a team comprising of mainly domestic league players. Uzbekistan have reached this level before, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts to qualify so far. The last time the two teams met in a friendly in 2012 Jordan won 2-0, and with two of the highest scorers in the competition, the home team seem the most likely to get a result here. Home win.
Ghana v Zambia – 16:00
This could be the game of the day. Ghana have world cup pedigree now after their exploits were halted by a certain controversial handball in South Africa, but they have been given a tough group this campaign. Zambia won the AFCON in 2012, but failed to qualify to defend their title and have a controversial decision to thank for them to still be in the running for qualification this campaign. The Zambian team are mostly locally based – in direct contrast to Ghana, who have recalled Michael Essien, Andre Ayew and Kevin-Prince Boateng to duty. Expect a lively one – only a win will be enough for Zambia to progress to the playoffs, whereas a draw would be enough for Ghana. Draw.
Mexico v Honduras – 02:30 (Saturday)
Mexico need a result here to prevent the unthinkable from happening against a team that have already beaten them in this campaign. They lie on the cusp of not qualifying for a world cup for the first time since 1990, and they have failed to score in any of their home games this round. The hexadecimal system in CONCACAF is more forgiving than the system in South America though, and if they get a result it would ease the pressure considerably. Javier Hernandez needs to thrive in this game as Honduras have no expectations to get anything here, and with an away trip to the US on Monday, a loss would spell a disaster for the Mexicans. Draw.
Panama v Jamaica – 03:00 (Saturday)
Panama are hardly renown as a footballing nation but a win against bottom of the table Jamaica could catapult them right into the mix and put pressure on Mexico and Honduras. A narrow loss to the USA in the final of the Gold Cup denied Panama a first trophy, but entry to Rio would be a massive step in the right direction. They seem to thrive at home having not lost there and Jamaica have really struggled this campaign, not winning a match so far. Home win.
Costa Rica v USA – 03:00 (Saturday)
Last, but by no means least, the USA travel to Costa Rica. This is a return game to a match playing in a snow storm in March that resulted in not only a 1-0 victory for the US, but a failed appeal to FIFA regarding the conditions. No doubt the USA expected a frosty response for the return match but the Costa Rican government have made it difficult for the visitors: delaying processing at airports, failing to secure a training ground for them, and a failure to supply any match balls to practise with. The local supporters have also taken to “welcoming” the US team at the airport with abuse and hyperbole. Both teams lie in good standing in regards to qualification, and a win for either would put them at the top of the group. The injury to the talismanic Jozy Altidore will be a loss for the USA but the return of Landon Donovan will lift spirits. Away win.