Tension mounts in World Cup qualifying
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Nerves, as well as sinews, will be stretched across Europe, Africa and the Americas on Tuesday as qualifying for the 2014 World Cup nears completion. France, England and Uruguay are among teams at risk.
Nerves will be stretched across Europe and the Americas on Tuesday as the long process of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup completes another stage.
Some countries have already secured their tickets to Brazil ahead of the final round of group matches across the three continents. But Spain, England, France, Russia and Portugal are among the nations whose fates have not yet been decided.
Europe, which will send 13 teams to the World Cup, divides qualification into nine groups. The winners advance automatically. The worst second-place team is then eliminated and the other eight stage a one-round knockout for the four remaining spots.
Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Italy are all certain to win their groups.
Spain, the defending champions, enters its last game, against Georgia with a three point lead over France. That means France’s primary focus against Finland is to win solidly to improve its world ranking and win a higher seeding in the playoff.
Russia also has a three-point lead entering its last game in Azerbaijan. Portugal, which plays Luxembourg, could grab first, yet the way Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to seek a yellow card in the last minute of a draw with Israel on Friday, ensuring he will miss the game on Tuesday and be certain to play in the next game, suggests Portugal is resigned to the playoffs.
Far tighter and tenser are the battles between England and Ukraine and Bosnia and Greece. England has a one point lead over Ukraine. While the English face an old nemesis, Poland, Ukraine plays the worst team in Europe, San Marino. The English know Ukraine will almost certainly win and that they cannot afford to slip. Nor can Bosnia which travels to Lithuania while Greece is at home to European minnows, Liechtenstein. Even if Bosnia wins, Greece could take first in the unlikely event that it makes up the 18 goal difference.
In several groups, the battle for second, and a playoff berth, is unresolved. Bulgaria, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Armenia are engaged in a battle for second place in their group, knowing that their four-cornered fight could mean that the one that comes out on top will have the fewest points of any second place team and miss the playoffs. The same applies to Turkey, Romania and Hungary who are also fighting for one playoff place.
In South America, the single qualifying group was reduced to nine teams because Brazil qualified automatically for the World Cup as host.
Chile or Ecuador?
Argentina has won the group, Colombia is sure to finish in the top four. That leaves the last two places between Chile and Ecuador, who meet in Santiago, and Uruguay which is three points behind. Even if Uruguay crushes its old enemy, Argentina, it will be forced into the playoffs again if Chile and Ecuador draw.
Uruguay has qualified for the last two World Cups through the playoffs. That did not prevent it reaching the last four in South Africa. This time, the fifth place finisher in South America will face a team from the Asian region, Jordan, which has never qualified for the World Cup. More familiar teams, Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea, have already taken Asia’s four guaranteed places.
In the Caribbean, Central and North American region, Costa Rica and the United States are already sure of qualifying. Honduras occupies the third guaranteed place and is three points ahead of Mexico. Honduras plays away to the bottom team in the group, Jamaica. Mexico visits Costa Rica and is probably contemplating a much longer trip. Fourth place will mean a playoff against New Zealand for a spot in the World Cup.
The African region has also reached the playoff stage. Three of the four ties opened on Sunday. Nigeria won, 2-1, in Ethiopia. Burkina Faso won, 3-2, at home against Algeria. Tunisia and Cameroon drew, 0-0. Ghana and Egypt play on Tuesday. The return legs are in November, along with all the other playoff games around the world.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)