Nov 13, 2013, 11:49 AM EST
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.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:36 AM EST
Which one of Major League Soccer’s new start will make the biggest impact? There are plenty of familiar faces, but also a few new ones looking to make a name for themselves.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:19 AM EST
He will stay as owner and has appointed his 23-year-old grandson as his successor.
Mar 3, 2015, 9:16 AM EST
It’s going to be a grind, but can the Union make the playoffs? They have the talent.
Mar 3, 2015, 8:09 AM EST
Can Tim Sherwood pick up his first points with Aston Villa on the third try? Midweek Premier League action!
Mar 2, 2015, 11:16 PM EST
It’s been a tough run for Southampton, but it’s not the first bump in the road this season.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
RVDV to SKC? Bild says they’re making their play, and offering lots of cash.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
Reports of racist abuse are up 70 percent, which is actually a good thing, because it’s being reported more than ever before.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
John Terry knows he’s fighting every year for a new contract at Chelsea, and it’s inspired the best form of his career.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Chicago has only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons, but with some big offseason signings, the Fire could cause problems in the East.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:41 PM EST
Sherwood’s putting all his eggs into Tuesday night’s derby basket, for better or for worse.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
The title race was minutes from being OVER; it’s still probably over. Tevez’s goal was an absolute beauty.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Last season’s worst team in the West has a new stadium and high hopes for 2015.
Mar 2, 2015, 4:21 PM EST
Jerseys, jerseys, jerseys! More new jerseys!
Mar 2, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
Where and how to watch every single PL game on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
The 23-year-old German defender was attempting to win a loose ball, and instead struck a strong ball past his keeper.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
After finishing with the fewest points in MLS last season, the only way to go is up for Montreal.
Mar 2, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
Why wait for the season that might not happen, when we’ve got all the answers for you right now?
Mar 2, 2015, 2:14 PM EST
The captain has been out since Feb. 10, while Ibe was hurt in last week’s Europa League dismissal by Besiktas.
Mar 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Bocanegra will work with MLS Atlanta president Darren Eales, who has worked with Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:36 PM EST
The Daily Mail had reported that three cops cars stormed a Premier Leaguer’s apartment earlier Monday to make the arrest.
- 2015 MLS Season Preview: Top 10 Newcomers 0
- Tuesday Premier League Preview: New managers square off in Midlands derby 0
- PHOTOS: LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire unveil new 2015 jerseys 1
- WATCH: Midweek Premier League TV schedule – Week 28 0
- 2015 MLS predictions: Cup winners? MVP? Lampard or Gerrard? Kaka or Giovinco? 2
- MLS Atlanta makes shrewd hire, bringing in Carlos Bocanegra as technical director 0