European WC Playoff Preview Round 2


After rigging the draw by suddenly ranking teams following the completion of the group stages – thereby ensuring that none of the top sides would play each other – the first round went according to plan for Fifa and UEFA but barely. Here is a review of the four first round games and some predictions for tomorrow’s games.

Ireland vs. France (first match 0-1 to France in Dublin). In the first match the luck was definitely not with the Irish on Saturday. Ireland in blood and guts performance gave France fits but ultimately weren’t able to convert there few opportunities. The Irish striker Kevin Doyle put in an excellent shift and the Irish central midfield was everywhere and effectively neutered the French attack. That said, and as was recognized by the Irish announcers France’s athleticism and skill began to win out and while Nikolas Anelka’s goal was a fluke deflection, France, and especially Anelka were looking more and more dangerous. Anelka was the best player on the pitch, playing as a right wing/midfielder. He tracked back defensively with a purpose and was constantly a threat on the ball.

Ireland is definitely up against it and it seems doubtful that they can go to Paris and get a win. But a lackadaisical performance from France would not be a huge surprise and if Ireland play with the same intensity that they did in Dublin, an Irish upset is not out of the question. That being said Ireland really misses the creative midfield presence that Stephen Ireland provided. With Stephen Ireland this would be a much more dangerous team. In the end Ireland give it their all and get a goal, but France scores as well and a draw puts France in the world cup.

Portugal vs. Bosnia (1-0 to Portugal in Lisbon).
Really, Bosnia is not just up against Portugal they are also up against the crossbar and the left post. In the dying minutes Bosnia hit the crossbar on a header and saw the ball fall kindly to them only to see a shot that looked in hit the inside of the left post. Portugal was well Portugal. They created a lot of chances, played beautiful football but failed to convert on many of their chances. Bosnia led by American striker Ibisevic of the Bundesliga created a lot of chances and posed a real threat to Portugal. Going into this match up I thought Bosnia was a potential sleeper. I still think that’s the case. I think Bosnia goes through in an inspired performance.

Russia vs. Slovenia (2-1 to Russia in Moscow). The Soviets, err Russians (did you see those new uniforms), were absolutely cruising – it looked like they were going to get 3 or 4. But a late push from Slovenia got the crucial away goal and almost leveled the game. One has to think that Russia will advance on the backs of Arshavin, Zhirkov, Pavlyuchenko and Bilyaletdinov, but Slovenia has to have confidence after the way they finished the game. This could be a very interesting game, but I think the Russians pull through.

Greece vs. Ukraine (0-0 in Athens). After watching this game, is it possible that we can make it so neither of these teams make the World Cup? If you had no rooting interest, this game was an absolute snoozer. I mean I am not the only one to think this, the Olympic stadium in Athens was 2/3rds empty. How a country that enthusiastically supports their club teams and won the European championships in 2004 has an empty stadium for a World Cup qualifier is beyond me. Prediction: after another snoozer 0-0 draw, game goals to penalties in which a Shevchenko miss puts Greece through.

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