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.
Nov 26, 2014, 3:10 PM EST
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Nov 26, 2014, 2:27 PM EST
The Zenit skipper earned three points for the home side as Benfica’s Champions League dreams ended in St. Petersburg.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM EST
Follow all the action from the UCL’s eight games on Wednesday, right here.
Nov 26, 2014, 1:13 PM EST
Former Reds’ goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar had some choice words for the struggling Simon Mignolet as Liverpool’s tumultuous season continues.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:29 PM EST
The Bayern star was outshone by Sergio Aguero’s hat trick in Munich’s 3-2 loss to Manchester City.
Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
Stoke City will be without their on-loan winger as the Nigerian international is sidelined with a thigh injury.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:45 AM EST
Rog and Davo scrutinize Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and welcome Kyle Martino to the pod.
Nov 26, 2014, 10:19 AM EST
Eight Champions League matches take place today as Arsenal and Liverpool both look to rebound from Premier League losses.
Nov 26, 2014, 9:25 AM EST
Spanish defender Sergio Ramos questioned some players loyalty to the national team, which didn’t sit well with Cesc Fabregas.
Nov 26, 2014, 8:35 AM EST
The Aston Villa striker will be looking for minutes as he heads down the ranks to the Championship on a one-month loan.
Nov 26, 2014, 7:45 AM EST
Four Premier League defenders found their way onto FIFA’s shortlist for the 2014 FIFPro World XI.
Nov 25, 2014, 11:15 PM EST
There were a lot of fouls in the first leg of Los Angeles and Seattle’s Western Conference final, and some were quite serious.
Nov 25, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Like many fun to watch goals, the magic of the shooter is magnified by the mistakes of the defenders.
Nov 25, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
“I think they have to accept we were too strong for them,” added Mourinho.
Nov 25, 2014, 9:16 PM EST
We’ll be following who else comes calling for the Princeton man.
Manchester United assistant Ryan Giggs thinks Chelsea’s the top dog, compares Louis van Gaal to Alex Ferguson
Nov 25, 2014, 8:05 PM EST
Giggs calls the Stamford Bridge club “head and shoulders above the Premier League” on the strength of their back four.
Nov 25, 2014, 7:13 PM EST
These will be hot in the summer. But are they hot now? What do you think?
Nov 25, 2014, 6:51 PM EST
Eleven players had their options declined on Tuesday, but Colorado says they could be back with the club in January.
Nov 25, 2014, 6:03 PM EST
Recapping all the action from around Europe after a pivotal matchday in UCL play.
Nov 25, 2014, 5:55 PM EST
Berahino scored in the next match after his arrest, but has since gone cold.
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