Wednesday, September 02, 2009

WCQ Preview (9/5 - 9/9)

I want big teams to miss out, which helps the USA next year. What to watch for:

1) Argentina gets tested. Currently 4th place in CONMEBOL, they'll first face Brazil at home. Given the recent form of both teams, that's not an easy match even though they've won it the previous two qualifying cycles. Then, they'll go to Paraguay, where they haven't won (in wcq at least) since 1998. They have a loss and a draw in the past two cycles.

Current Table:

Brazil 27 19
Chile 26 9
Paraguay 24 7
Argentina 22 4
Ecuador 20 -2
Uruguay 18 7
Colombia 17 -4
Venezuela 17 -7
Bolivia 12 -11
Peru 7 -22

Anything less than 3 points and things are looking a bit iffy for finishing in the top four and getting an automatic berth. Their final two games are vs Peru (easy win) and at Uruguay (not so easy). They could be left needing a result in that final match. The Uruguay matches have been meaningless for them in the previous two cycles, but that's not the case now (they've use the same fixture list since 2002 qualifying). Previously, both times Uruguay got a result to clinch 5th place.

Uruguay will probably have something to play for once again. If they win at Peru and vs Colombia, and lose at Ecuador, then they'll be on 24 points. I think 2/3 is pretty realistic there. If we assume an Argentina win over Peru, then that's 25 points for the Argentines plus whatever they get against Brazil and Paraguay. If they only get two points or fewer, then Uruguay (who already has a better goal differential) should be able to overtake them on the final day with a win. So that's why I say Argentina must get at least 3 points in the coming two fixtures.

Playing Honduras or Mexico wouldn't be easy for them. They'd still be overwhelming favorites, as it's extremely rare for a big power not to qualify. But the chance is there (even to finish 6th), and Americans plus anyone else who wants their team to have an easier path in the World Cup should be cheering for Argentina to fail (and also for Ecuador and Uruguay win their games). I also would love to see Maradona silenced (yeah right).

It's not too unrealistic to have the following table going into the 18th and final round of matches:

Brazil 34
Paraguay 31
Chile 30
Argentina 27
Ecuador 25
Uruguay 24

Ecuador plays at Chile, if you're curious.

2) Who claims second in UEFA Group 1?


Denmark 6 16 11
Hungary 6 13 6
Portugal 6 9 4
Sweden 6 9 4
Albania 8 6 -4
Malta 8 1 -21

Assuming all Albania & Malta games are wins:

Denmark 7 19
8 15
6 13
7 12
Albania 10 6
Malta 10 1

That leaves the following matches:

5-Sep Denmark vs Portugal
5-Sep Hungary vs Sweden
9-Sep Hungary vs Portugal
10-Oct Denmark vs Sweden
10-Oct Portugal vs Hungary
14-Oct Denmark vs Hungary

Everyone has Denmark pegged to finish first, and why not with three home matches against their closest competitors. It's probably much worse for Portugal to face them first, because qualification is not assured yet.

Hungary will be judged this week. They need at least 4 points from the two home matches. If they finished second, that would be an upset for the ages. Portugal and Sweden are neck and neck, assuming Portugal wins on 10/10 vs Hungary. They have the same two fixtures (at Denmark and at Hungary), so it'll all come down to who plays better. Three of those four matches in the coming week, so things should be a lot clearer once it's over.

The best result IMO is Portugal missing out. Ideally Hungary would finish second, but Sweden's not bad. Also, if they seed teams in the playoffs like in 2006, then Sweden's low FIFA rank (currently 24th in UEFA) means that they probably wouldn't be seeded. They'd certainly be a tough match for say, France or Germany.

3) Speaking of France, possibly the most important game left in all of qualifying is Serbia vs France on 9/9. Assuming Serbia takes care of business later on, a draw should mean France is consigned to the playoffs. They would probably still have at least a 66.6% chance of winning once there, but this is probably the biggest chance for a seeded team to miss out this cycle.


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