Group A consists of hosts, Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.
Barring a complete disaster it’s hard to see Brazil not coming top of the group, in all probability with a full quota of 9 points from 3 wins.
Although Mexico have a fair enough record against La Selecao it’s hard to see them troubling Brazil on their home turf. Mexico struggled to the World Cup after a poor qualification campaign: in the end they only secured a play off spot in last minutes of their last qualifier and still needed the gringos to help them. In their play-off they dispatched New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate.
Although Mexico can count on the likes of Andrés Guardado, Javier Aquino and the mercurial Giovanni Dos Santos in their ranks the main bulk of the squad comes from Mexico’s Premier League. Javier Hernandez will be the main attacking threat but his appearances for a poor Mancester United have been fleeting and this must be a concern. Mexico have plenty of experience in their squad but it remains to be seen if coach, Miguel Herrera brings along the likes of Marquez, Dominguez and and Salcido.
Mexico have a rich World Cup history befitting a nation with a population well over 100 million. They suffered as a result of poor referee decisions in South Africa tumbling to Argentina in the last 16 matching their progress in 2002 and 2006.
I can’t honestly see them doing any better this time round, indeed it may be a struggle to come out of the group in second.
Colombia 5 Bolivia 0
“El Cafeteros” were the first to start on Friday afternoon and they wasted no time in slapping aside Bolivia in Barranquilla. Torres, Valdes, Gutierrez, Falcoa and Armero each grabbed a goal to bolster their 2nd place position and condemn Bolivia to 2nd bottom.
Paraguay 1 Uruguay 1
In Montevideo, Luis Suarez had looked to have sealed a win with a late volley in 82 minutes. However, Benitez struck 4 minutes late to steal a valuable and unlikely point.
Argentina 3 Venezuela 0
In Buenos Aires it was business as usual as Gonzalo Higuain claimed a brace and a Messi penalty in between. The Argentinians consolidated the pole position, 4 points above Colombia.
Peru 1 Chile 0
Jefferson Farfan was the hero in Lima as he struck in the 87 minute against Chile. The Peruvians have had a rotten campaign but this rare win sees them rise above the bottom dwellers and reintroduce them to the 5th place battle.
Croatia vs Serbia (Friday 5pm)
Away supporters have been banned from this Group A grudge match but it shouldn’t lessen the atmosphere.This will be the first Balkan derby since the bitter conflict from 1991-1995 and the tie goes well beyond just football.
Croatia share the lead with the top of Group A with the fashionable Belgians and will enter the match as heavy favourites. A defeat more or less confines Serbia to the realms of Group dunces along with Scotland and Wales.
It remains to been seen if it “kicks off” at kick off.
Czech Republic vs Denmark (Friday 7.30pm)
Both teams need to get their act together if they are to catch up with Italy at the summit of the group. A draw does neither team any good, while a win re-energizes their faltering campaigns.
Poland vs Ukraine (Friday 7.45pm)
Both teams failed to set the heather alight as hosts of Euro 2012 and have to step up to claim a play off spot. Montenegro top Group H with England 2 points behind.
Montenegro vs England (Tuesday 8pm)
The Baltic minnows will relish the chance to bloody the nose of the English and cement top spot of the group.
France vs Spain (Tuesday 8pm)
The battle of the giants in group I is surely the tie of this months International dates. Both teams are tied with 7 points after 3 games but should have 10 points after their respective home games against Finland and Georgia. Spain have to slip up at some point, hopefully in the Stade de France.
The English may have droned on about “Football coming home” in Euro 1996 but in reality the spiritual home of football and the World Cup is Brazil.
It is has been a long held belief that the Brazilians have an unmatched, style and grace to their game, in tempo with their Samba beats. Some call it “Jogo bonito”, most simply football as it should be.
Brazil have qualified for every World Cup since its inception in 1930 and made an indelible mark every time. The Brazilians are synonymous with the World Cup. A World Cup without them is unthinkable while a tournament in their back yard will not doubt be amazing.
Every football fan has their special, Brazilian World Cup moment stretching back decades.
The more aged love to recall Pele’s goal in Sweden 54’ or his saved header against Gordon Banks during Mexico 70’. Brazil’s 4rth goal in the World Cup final in 1970 is regarded by many as the best ever: the free-flowing dribble of Jairzinho, lay-off by Pele then daisy cutting screamer by Carlos Alberto encapsulating Brazil in one fluid passage of play.
While the seventies and eighties were lean in terms of success we still got to see Zico, Careca and Socrates waltz around hapless, defences and 86’ they were part of a wonderful game against France in the quarter finals.
In the nineties we had the Bebeto and Romario baby-cradle celebration at USA 94’ and Ronaldinho’s cross come chip over the ponytailed David Seaman in 98.
This signaled Brazil’s return to form with tournament wins in 94 then 2002 and following. Both these wins were marked by the “original” Ronaldo, his apparent pre-final collapse in 94’ redeemed by his performance in Japan and Korea.
Personally, from a Tartan point of view I recall Jim Leighton’s needless parry into Muller’s path in 1990 and Tommy Boyd’s bundle into his own net in the opening game of France 1998.Both classic examples of Scottish football suicide against Brazil.
There will not be any Scotland/Brazil World Cup moments for some time.
32 teams will compete for the 20th World Cup in Brazil, firstly in 8 groups of 4 then breaking into 16, the quarters, the semi-finals then the final on Sunday the 13th of July.
This is a breakdown of the probable competitors in at Brazil 2014 (in my opinion).
Europe (UEFA): 13 places
Europe garners the most qualification spots and already the cream is rising to the top. Spain will not receive an automatic qualification spot as holders but their passage to Brazil is a certainty. Similarly Holland, England, Italy and Germany will breeze their way to Rio without much hassle.
Current form team Belgium will face stiff resistance from Croatia but should eventually take 1st place in Group A while Sweden and Portugal should overcome most of the 2nd placers to progress.
Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia, Greece, England and Spain
4 extra places: France, Portugal, Croatia and Sweden are arguably the best of the runners-up but they may be pitched against each other in the play-off draw.
Africa (CAF): 5 places
The ten winners of the current groups will play in 5 fixtures: home and away to determine qualification. It is hard to predict the qualifiers at such an early stage but the completion of the current African Cup Nations should give us a clue to the strongest teams on the continent. That being said powerhouses such as Egypt and Cameroon missed out on this year’s tournament but will probably claim a qualification spot.
Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Zambia and Egypt (providing the country does not slide into anarchy and they get their national league in order).
Asia (AFC): 4 or 5 places
Japan, South Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan
Japan, South Korea and Australia have been perennial qualifiers in recent tournaments. With a healthy amount of their players competing in some of Europe’s stronger leagues they should confirm their qualification with little problem. Uzbekistan has been the surprise team in the qualifiers so far.
A 5th place team will have to battle out a play-off with the COMNEBOL 5th place team. This will probably be a hard task to complete as the South American teams are of a far higher level.
South America (CONMEBOL) 4 or 5 places (+ Brazil qualified automatically as host nation for a total of 5 or 6 places)
Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela
Hosts Brazil takes an automatic spot and shall be joined by 4 teams automatically qualifying and the 5th place team who must play off against 5th place from the Asian Football Confederation. In reality this means an extra team for South America as any team from the COMNEBOL zone is more than capable of overturning the likes of Qatar, Iran or Iraq.
The surprise teams of this campaign have been Ecuador and Venezuela both of which have hurt the big guns home and away. Although Ecuador made 2002 and 2006, Venezuela have never graced the greatest tournament so far and will be eager to make history. Paraguay usually claims a spot but has had a hellish campaign thus far and already out of the reckoning.
North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF): 3 or 4 places
Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and Honduras
Mexico and the USA will be fight it out with each other for top spot, leaving Costa Rica and Honduras to battle for the automatic 3rd place. 4th place will, in all likelihood, have to play-off against New Zealand which is a far better team than previous decades.
Oceania (OFC): 0 or 1 place
New Zealand will have to play-off with the 4th place CONCACF team for their berth in Brazil. They managed it last time round over a limited Bahrain but will have to step it up this time around. They left South Africa, 2010 undefeated after recording draws against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.
After a poor start, Colombia got their campaign back on track in dramatic fashion on Tuesday. Following on from their excellent 4 – 0 win against Uruguay on Friday “El cafeteros” turned over Chile 3 – 1 in Santiago.
Colombia’s Falcoa celebrates
Despite going behind just before half-time through Matias Fernandez, Colombia rallied in the second half with goals from Rodriguez, Falcoa and Gutierrez. Both teams finished the match with ten men.
Uruguay eventually managed to scrape a draw against Ecuador, thanks largely to a totally inept refereeing display form Carlos Amarilla. The Ecuadorians had the measure of their hosts for the majority of the game and deservedly went ahead through a Felipe Caicedo penalty in 9 minutes. Edison Cavani restored parity in 67 minutes for Uruguay but not before Ecuador was denied a stone-wall penalty.
Caicedo for Ecuador
Christain Benitez had raced forward upon goal but when he rounded the keeper he was crudely, bundled to the ground. A penalty and goal-keeper red card seemed obvious but the referee opted to book Benitez for diving. To rub salt into their wounds the referee also sent off Ecuador’s captain and talisman Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United winger now automatically misses the next two games.
Chile 1-3 Colombia
Uruguay 1-1 Ecuador
Paraguay 0-2 Venezuela
Peru 1-1 Argentina
Paraguay tumbled to another defeat realistically ending their qualification chances for Brazil 2014. This is all the more surprising with consideration that they have qualified for the last 4 World Cups and improved each time. Salomon Rondon grabbed a gaol either side of half time for Venezuela to earn a precious away win.
In Lima, Peru recorded a credible draw against group favourites Argentina. The hosts had already missed a third minute penalty before took the lead in 22 minutes through Eintracht Frankfurt’s Carlos Zambrano. Argentina’s Higuian got the equalizer just before half-time.
CONMEBAL Qualification table
Team P W D L GF GA Pts
Argentina 7 4 2 1 15 6 14
Colombia 7 4 1 2 12 6 13
Ecuador 7 4 1 2 8 7 13
Uruguay 7 3 3 1 15 11 12
Chile 7 4 0 3 12 13 12
Venezuela 8 3 2 3 7 8 11
Peru 7 2 1 4 9 13 7
Bolivia 7 1 1 5 7 12 4
Paraguay 7 1 1 5 5 14 4
This month’s double header results have left Bolivia and Paraguay rooted to the bottom of the table adrift of everyone else. With 4 points separating the top 6 teams and only 4 automatic qualification spots there is all to play for.
Uruguay has suffered the greatest with a 4 – o humbling and a poor home draw and they must improve if they don’t want to slide further down the table. Similarly Chile has lost form after leading the table.
Colombia and Ecuador are the major surprises so far but again next month’s results should tell us much more.
Next month’s CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying fixtures.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2012
Argentina v Uruguay
Bolivia v Peru
Colombia v Paraguay
Ecuador v Chile
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2012
Bolivia v Uruguay
Chile v Argentina
Paraguay v Peru
Venezuela v Ecuador
Craig Levein has announced a depleted squad for the friendly against Australia on Wednesday. Of the original squad listed last week Graham Dorrans, Jamie Mackie, Phil Bardsley and James Forrest have withdrawn due to injury. These are in addition to Darren Fletcher (long term health problems), Scott Brown, Kenny Miller (match fitness due to move to USA) and Steven Whittaker. All of which are first team squad regulars.
Levein has drafted in late replacements in David Goodwillie, Ross McCormack and somewhat controversially Ian Black
Black was recently bought by 3rd Division dwelling Rangers and only last week Levein intimated that as Rangers players are playing at such a low level he will not be including them in his squads (the example of Lee Wallace was cited). It seems however that he has already changed his opinion.
Of the squad of 23 only Charlie Mulgrew (Celtic,SPL) Andy Webster (Hearts, SPL) and Ian Black (Rangers, 3rd Div) currently ply their trade in Scotland with the majority either playing for EPL or Championship sides.
Robert Snodgrass sealed a move to Norwich City from Leeds United last month to join Steven Whittaker (who opted to Norwich as a free agent after Rangers administration) and Russell Martin.
These players together with: Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney (Wigan), Barry Bannan and Alan Hutton (Aston Villa), Danny Fox (Southampton), James Morrison (West Brom), Charlie Adam (Liverpool), Jamie Mackie (QPR) and Steven Naismith (Everton) means that the bulk of squad will be EPL based , which it has not been seen since the halcyon days of the 80’s and early 90’s.
Much is expected of free scoring Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield) who has been attracting interest from many EPL teams. With Kenny Miller (Vancouver Whitecaps) still settling into his new life in the MLS Rhodes along with David Goodwillie (Blackburn Rovers) will be given the opportunity to shine.
Also with Alan McGregor now playing for Besiktas of Turkey it could be argued that the Scottish squad is now playing collectively at a higher level than the previously SPL based squads.
One thing that is for sure is that they must perform far better than their last friendly outing against the USA where they were thumped 5 -1. That end of season game did little to improve the already fragile confidence of the Scots who wilted in the Florida sun. At times it was embarrassing as a Scottish supporter to watch as the Landon Donovon led Americans waltzed around our defence on the way to any easy victory and a personal hat-trick.
Scotland Squad for Australia match:
- Goalkeepers: McGregor, Gilks, Marshall
- Defenders: Berra, Caldwell, Fox, Hanley, Hutton, Martin, Mulgrew, Webster
- Midfielders: Adam, Bannan, Black, Cowie, Morrison, Phillips, Snodgrass
- Forwards: Goodwillie, Maloney, Naismith, McCormack, Rhodes
The game should prove to be good preparation for Scotland’s upcoming home World Cup qualifiers against Serbia and Macedonia next month, before trips to Wales and Belgium in October. If Scotland are to stand any chance of qualification for Brazil 2014 they must hit the ground running and pick up at least 8 points from their opening 4 matches.
While Group A does not contain any European powerhouses, in reality the likes of Croatia and Belgium have far better players than Scotland’s.
Croatia impressed at times in Euro 2012 and were unlucky not to progress from a group including Spain and Italy. They have a healthy mix of stars like Nika Jelavic (Everton), Luka Modric (Tottenham Hotspur) and Nika Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev) and must start as group favourites.
Belgium have not qualified for a World Cup since 2002 but currently have a slew of international stars in their side including Vincent Company (Manchester City and EPL player of the year), Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Ligue 1 player of the year) and Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal). However it remains to be seen if the Belgians can play as an international team as they do for their respective clubs.
Similarly Serbia have a host of players based in the strongest leagues in Europe. Although Dejan Stankovic has decided to retire Serbia can still count on Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United) and rising star Miralem Sulejmani (Ajax).
Group A: Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, SCOTLAND, Macedonia, Wales
It could be argued that Serbia, Scotland , Macedonia and Wales are of much the same level and Croatia and Belgium will fight it out for 1st and 2nd places. But a good start to the campaign could see the Scots push the other teams all the way.
Whether Craig Levein is the man to lead the Scots to Brazil is open to question. His handling of the Steven Fletcher affair and the infamous 5-5-0 formation against the Czech Republic have not inspired confidence in the rank and file supporters. Although he seems to be the darling of the Scottish press and seems eager to “talk the talk” there has been little to impress on the field during his tenure.
The coming international double header may provide the opportunity for some countries to move ahead and away from the pack. Uruguay and Argentina have only one game to play but as home ties should feel confident in extending their lead at the top of the table to 10 points.
However with Venezuela and Ecuador close behind and benefiting from two games they could overtake the current leaders and favourites.
Saturday June 2nd
Uruguay v Venezuela
Bolivia v Chile
Argentina v Ecuador
Sunday June 3rd
Peru v Colombia
Saturday June 9th
Bolivia v Paraguay
Venezuela v Chile
Sunday June 10th
Ecuador v Colombia
Venezuela faces a tough trip to Montevideo followed by a home tie versus Chile. La Vinotinto (The Burgundy) have never qualified for a World Cup but are currently enjoying their most successful period. After a best ever 4rth position in last year’s Copa America they now lay 3rd after 4 games.
With most of their players now playing in Europe Venezuela has a strong squad which includes the likes of Juan Arango (Borussia Mönchengladbach), José Salomón Rondón (Malgaga) and Nicolas Fedor (Getafe) in attack.
Allied to this they have an imposing centre half duo in Oswaldo Vizcarrondo (Club America), who scored the only goal in their last competitive match against Bolivia in November and veteran José Manuel Rey (Deportivo Lara).
Venezuela vs Bolivia (November 2011)
Indeed ring rustiness may be a factor in Venezuela’s coming games as they have only played friendly games this year and with mixed results (defeats against Spain, Costa Rica, the USA , Mexico and one win against Moldova).
These two difficult games will go a long way to determining Venezuela’s qualification even at this relatively early stage.
QUALIFICATION CURRENT STANDINGS
Team P W D L GF GA Pts
Uruguay 3 2 1 0 9 3 7
Argentina 4 2 1 1 7 4 7
Venezuela 4 2 1 1 3 3 7
Ecuador 3 2 0 1 5 2 6
Chile 4 2 0 2 7 10 6
Colombia 3 1 1 1 4 4 4
Paraguay 4 1 1 2 3 6 4
Peru 3 1 0 2 4 6 3
Bolivia 4 0 1 3 4 8 1
It’s hard to imagine a World Cup without Argentina and without the unnerving influence of Diego Maradona this time, La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue) should easily qualify for Brazil. Despite a disappointing World Cup and an even more disappointing Copa America on home soil, Argentina currently have a side to match any on the planet.
Captain and current World player of the year Lionel Messi again has had an impressive season with Barcelona. Although he has not managed to win any major trophies this year his goal tally has reached an unmatched 73 in all competitions. It only remains to see if he can replicate his club form as so far for Argentina he has largely disappointed.
With a triumvirate of Messi, Kun Aguero (Man City) and Higuaín (Real Madrid) and back-up in Tevez (Man City), Lavezzi (Napoli) or Milito (Inter) it is hard to match the attacking potency of Argentina.
Similarly in midfield Di Maria (Real Madrid), Pastore(PSG) Maxi Rodriguez (Liverpool) have the guile and creativeness to create while Mascherano (Barcelona) and Cambiasso (Inter) can provide the defensive cover for the likes of Burdisso (Roma) and Zabaleta (Man City).
Argentina must keep pace with leaders Uruguay and can ill afford another slip up at home alike against Bolivia in November. Too many home draws could mean all the difference in a tight qualifying group especially when the still have to visit the oxygen starved Andean nations.