UEFA WCQ Playoffs Outlook
UEFA is the most important confederation to keep an eye on from an American perspective, as those teams will be the toughest come 2010. If any of the top teams fail to qualify, then it helps us immensely. That's because if all the strongest teams make it, then you're looking at the Netherlands and Portugal in that second pot, which means a 25% chance of drawing one of those two plus a seeded team.
So it's definitely in our best interests to have the worst teams qualify that possibly can. Many of the teams are virtual locks (Denmark, England, Spain) to finish first, so I'm going to look at who's likely to finish second.
Sweden blew their chance to take a grip on second by losing at home with Denmark. I actually like Portugal's chance to finish second now, as long as they don't lose away to Denmark. That's unfortunate from our point of view. Both teams are now equal in the standings and because Portugal's a better team, you have to put them as favorites for the runner up spot. The best option would be to have Hungary pull off a few draws and hold them off, but that's unlikely.
Two important games here: Switzerland is at home against Greece (9/5) and Israel (10/14). If they beat Greece then they should end up qualifying automatically. I expect that to happen, but maybe we would be better off if it didn't. Switzerland is one of those teams that always plays top teams tough, even if they don't win most of the team. I think they would be a much harder playoff matchup for say, Germany or France than Greece would be. Israel is pretty much done for.
The biggest mess of them all. As I wrote above, Slovakia seems likely to take first. There's a very good chance the second place team here will miss out on the playoffs, along with group 9's. I feel the Czech Republic is still the most likely team to get second. Further analysis here. I would feel much more confident about meeting Poland in 2010 given our history with them.
If Russia beats Germany at home on 10/10, then they will likely qualify automatically and leave second place for the Germans. A draw would probably send Russia to the playoffs instead. Can you bet against Gus Hiddink?
Bosnia is very close to being a lock. Turkey must beat Bosnia away on 9/9. Bosnia and Milan target Dzeko are likely to be fodder in the playoffs.
Ukraine has the upper hand here on Croatia. Remaining schedules:
Croatia: @ Belarus, Belarus, @ England, @ Kazakhstan
Ukraine: Andorra, @ Belarus, vs England, @ Andorra
Not only do they play Andorra twice, but they also get England at home instead of away. Ukraine really should take second here.
France will probably get second unless they win at Serbia on 9/9. Getting Germany and France in the playoffs is huge, especially if it's possible that they could meet each other. No one knows if the playoffs will be seeded into top four and bottom four based on FIFA rank like they did four years ago. With Platini, I would say there's a decent chance they don't do that. But I wouldn't be surprised to see them continue to protect the top teams, unfortunately.
Ireland should have second place pretty much locked up, unless Bulgaria beats Italy away on 9/9. Ireland could even get first if they could beat Italy at home on 10/10. Now that would be something.
The key matchup here is Norway vs Scotland in August. If Norway wins, they should get second. Scotland will likely get 2nd with only a draw, but even then may not make the playoffs. They really need to beat the Netherlands on the final matchday, when they have nothing to play for.
Likely Playoff Teams
(with possible pots for the draw)
You can see how much not seeding it would help in terms of bigger teams missing out. None of the bottom four would be a favorite against any of the top four.