Nov 13, 2013, 11:49 AM EDT
The playoff round in Europe’s World Cup qualifying procedure are a fantastic reminder that not only does Europe have just an unbelievably strong lineup of teams, but also how difficult it truly is to make the World Cup.
The following have already qualified: Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Russia, Netherlands, Bosnia, and England.
However, that leaves four more spots for European teams to snatch, and the matches to take place Friday are a treat.
First up is Iceland at Croatia at 2pm ET. The Croatians are the favorites in the tie, but the team is in a state of flux and with the first leg in Reykjavik, it’s a chance for Iceland to not only make a statement but put themselves in an envious position.
With Croatia losing their last two matches in the group stage of qualifying to Belgium and Scotland, manager Igor Stimac decided to resign after a tumultuous one year in charge. Niko Kovac has taken over, and the Blazers will look to follow the Berlin-born man’s half-German, half-Croatian playing mentality.
At 2:45 the other three matches get under way. These will no doubt be headlined by the matchup between Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Lisbon.
Both teams are coming off vastly different stories in their group stage travels. Portugal got what appeared to be a cake walk of a draw, but could not overcome a surprisingly strong Russia side and finished in second place by 1 point. Their 21 points was the second-most of any group-stage runners up.
Sweden, on the other hand, faced a very difficult draw with Germany, Austria, and Republic of Ireland all in the mix and surprised a few by qualifying for the playoff round, even coming back from 3 goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany in Berlin.
The Swedes have come out swinging in the press before the match, with Ibrahimovic saying that “we deserve to go to Brazil more” despite the Portugese being the favorites.
France hosts Ukraine in another exciting draw.
Les Bleus had a horrendous draw in the group stage, with the presence of defending champoins Spain in the five-team group making automatic qualification almost impossible.
However, their trek to the 2014 World Cup won’t be a guarantee either against a Ukrainian side that has kept seven clean sheets in a row. Seven!
France, despite boasting big attacking names like Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, and Ballon d’Or favorite Franck Ribery, have also held a strong defensive unit, allowing just two goals to Belarus in their last six matches dating back to June.
Finally, Greece has Romania in their path to Brazil as the Greeks only missed out on automatic qualification on goal differential having finished level on points with Bosnia.
The Greeks come into the match in Athens having kept a whopping 11 clean sheets in their last 12 matches, a 3-1 loss to Bosnia the only exception. Their outstanding defensive form is being led by Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who has taken the defensive leadership all on his own in the long-term injury absence of young star Kyriakos Papadopoulos.
The Romanians are no slouch, however, having pipped Turkey and Hungary for their spot in the playoff round.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT
The Houston Dynamo downed Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Sporting Park on Friday night.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT
Will Bruin’s close-range finish put Houston ahead of Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.
Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT
The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Brendan Rodgers liked what he saw in training from the club’s newest signing, but says the troubled Italian must change his ways at Liverpool.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?
Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.
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