With no domestic leagues this week, it’s all about World Cup qualifiers. Europe’s 9 qualifying groups didn’t fail to entertain with a couple of heavy 6 pointers and the major Croatia – Serbia encounter.
In a historic encounter between two teams who hadn’t faced each other since 1991, a win at home versus Serbia saw Croatia rise to Group A’s summit along with Belgium. Historical tensions between the two nations proved to be almost entirely gone, or at least that’s what one could infer from both sides’ players’ professionalism. Goals from current Bayern Munich player Mario Mandzukic, and the ex Bayern player Ivica Olic, saw Croatia secure all 3 points and take a step closer to a place in the 2014 World Cup. Wales‘ trip to Scotland was a short one, with only one point between them and Scotland, and a win being quite a boost for any of the two sides. Blackburn Rovers’ Grant Hanley opened the scoring for Scotland, but an Aaron Ramsey penalty and a Robson-Kanu header bagged the 3 points for Wales’ Chris Coleman. The only concern is Gareth Bale who came out injured at half time.
3 goals from Andreas Cornelius, Simon Kjaer and Niki Zimling grabbed all 3 points for Denmark when they visited Czech Republic. Denmark is now on level with Czech Republic in Group B with 5 points each with one match to be played. Italy remain on top of the group, despite having played one match less than Bulgaria.
Romania succeeded in returning with an important point from Budapest in their clash with Hungary, ensuring the two sides remain neck and neck in their quest for World Cup 2014 qualification from Group D. Vilmos Vanczak opened the match with a goal in the 16th minute making it 1-0 for the hosts. Adrian Mutu scored the equalizer in the 68th minute through a penalty. Only 3 minutes later, Hungary won another penalty and Balázs Dzsudzsák succeeded in netting the ball. Once more, Romania scored the equalizer but this time through Alexandru Mihăiţă Chipciu in the 92nd minute earning a very important point for his team in the rest of the qualifications. Netherlands recorded a 3-0 win over Estonia, keeping them comfortably on top of the group thanks to goals from Van Der Vaart, Ruben Schaken and Van Persie.
Slovenia hosted Iceland in Group E with no hopes for the hosts in the rest of the qualifications. Gylfi Sigurdsson scored twice for the visitors in the 55th and the 78th minutes keeping Iceland in competition with Albania on the 2nd place in the group. While Milivoje Novakovic scored Slovenia’s only goal in the 34th minute. Norway hosted Albania at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo but they failed to grab even a single point with Hamdi Salihi securing all 3 points for the visitors, but his teammate Andi Lila will miss the next match after receiving a red card.
Portugal secured a dramatic 3-3 draw with Israel in Tel Aviv, to ensure the two sides remain level on points in Group F in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Portugal started the match with a goal in the 2nd minute through Bruno Alves’s head. But the hosts replied by 3 goals, Tomer Hemed in the 24th, Eden Ben Basat in the 40th and Rami Gershon in the 70th minute. But Helder Postiga’s 72nd minute close range tap-in and Fabio Coentrao’s last gasp equaliser ensured both teams shared the spoils.
Two headed goals from Manchester City player Edin Dzeko saw him become the World Cup qualifier’s top scorer until now with 7 goals. A 3rd goal from his teammate Vedad Ibisevic helped his side Bosnia beat Greece 3-1 and go 3 points clear in Group G after 5 matches.
England thrashed San Marino with 8 goals to nothing to keep things tight in Group H, after Montenegro grabbed a late winner against Moldova through Mirko Vucinic to secure 1st place and a 2 point lead. Germany‘s trip to Kazakhstan assured their place at the top of Group C with the nearest opponent, Sweden, 5 points away. Die Nationalelf increased their huge goal difference to +12 after Schweinsteiger, Götze and Müller put 3 goals past Andrey Sidelnikov.
France took control of World Cup qualifying Group I as they punished Spain’s surprise slip against Finland by beating Georgia 3-1 at Stade de France to claim a two-point lead in the group. Goals from Olivier Giroud and the inspired Mathieu Valbuena either side of half-time were essential for Didier Deschamps’ side, who struggled to break down obstinate opponents for long periods of the opening 45 minutes. Franck Ribery added a fine third for les Bleus before Aleksandr Kobakhidze pounced to score a consolation. FIFA’s number 1 ranked team in the world were held to a surprise 1-1 draw at home against Finland as mentioned above, to drop to second place in Group I. Spain‘s domination led to the opener through Sergio Ramos, but Schalke’s Teemu Pukki equalized with only 11 mins to go.
It’s all even at the top of Group A, both Croatia and Belgium standing at the number 13. Belgium will entertain Macedonia at home, which is arguably a simple 3 pointer for the Belgians. On the other hand, Igor Štimac’s men will have to travel all the way to Cardiff, to maybe face a Bale-less side, after Chris Coleman stated that if Gareth’s not fit, he won’t be gambled. Wales‘ failure to keep any clean sheet at home, and Croatia‘s 1.6 goal per match ratio ensures goals galore.
Denmark want to close the gap on Bulgaria in Group B when they meet in København. However, Denmark still have a match in hand. Both teams have 2 wins, 2 draws and a loss in their last 5 matches. Their last head-to-head game goes back to October 12, 2012 when the match ended 1-1 in Bulgaria.
Ireland will host Austria at the Aviva stadium in Dublin in Group C competitions, with only one point separating fourth placed Ireland and second placed Sweden.
Netherlands‘ admirable defensive home record, and clutch on the top of Group D, could extend when they host Romania, Wesley Sneijder is set to miss the match due to a groin strain, with Adam Maher replacing him. Hungary look to continue trying to grab the lead in Group D and take one step closer to secure a spot when they visit Turkey. Turkey have only one win in their last 5 matches while Hungary have 2 wins in their last 5 matches but the last win goes back to 16th of October 2012.
Israel will have to travel to Belfast to meet Northern Ireland in Group F. The visitors still have a good chance in qualifying to the world cup, unlike the hosts who are playing with no big hopes in the rest of the qualifications.
With only a 2 point gap, who will top Group H? Roy Hodgson’s England will travel to Montenegro to face Mirko Vucinic and co. The last visit was a 2 all draw in the recent European Cup Qualifications, which was a tough point for England. A win for the Montenegrins could shake England’s hope in the direct spot to the World Cup.
It will be a showdown when Group I’s leaders France host the runners up Spain at the Stade de France in the French capital Paris. Les Bleus are on a 13-match unbeaten run in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers. However they have won just two of their last six encounters against Spain, losing four. On the other hand, Spain are on a 19-match unbeaten run stretching back to November 2011.