Preview: 2014 World Cup – Qualifiers – Play-offs – UEFA
PORTUGAL – SWEDEN
The bad thing is that one absolute champion between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović won’t play in Brazil, and this is a awful news for the competition. Sweden has always been a very solid team, and Portugal has always had more class, and usually Portugal should be a little bit favourite, but this Portugal is a good team, but doesn’t look very convincing, and, moreover, when they play for for NT, Zlatan is more decisive than Cristiano, so the tie is very very very open.
The can field probably the best, or one of the best players in the world. They are a very technical team, but during WC Qualifiers showed they are missing something to be one of the top teams. They ended second in their Group behind Russia, and that can’t be considered a surprise.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).
Then a very good ball possession, few very good midfielders, such as Nani (Manchester United), João Moutinho (AS Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dynamo Kiev) and Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), and a quite solid defence, with Pepe (Real Madrid), Fábio Coentrão (Real Madrid), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce) and Ricardo Costa (Valencia CF).
They should be more concrete. They are missing a reliable GK, and, as usual, a top level central forward, Hélder Postiga (Valencia CF) and Hugo Almedia (Besiktas JK) are good, but they aren’t on the same level with mildfielders or wingers.
A very solid a balanced team, that mustn’t depend on just one player.
Zlatan Ibrahimović. He can solve several matches just by himself.
There isn’t a real weak point in the team. Kim Källström (Spartak Moscow), Rasmus Elm (CSKA Moscow) and old Anders Svensson (IF Elfsborg) are very good playmakers.
Zlatan Ibrahimović. He doesn’t help the team too much and sometimes his teammates have to run like they were playing one man down, but finally Zlatan’s presence brings more pros than cons. Maybe the defence can be a bit slow.
Prediction: Portugal 50% – Sweden 50%.
ICELAND – CROATIA
Croatia of course is favourite, but a “surpise” from Iceland wouldn’t be too big. It will be an interesting tie.
It’s a very interesting team. It’s true they reached this stage after a second place in an easy Group, but this squad is not to be underestimated, because several footballers are performing well in strong championship. It’s hard to believe how a Country with just a little bit more than 300.000 inhabitants could have formed so many good players, and this isn’t just a recent trend, in the past probably Iceland could have achieved more.
The attack. There are few YOUNG forwards who are monopolizing the top scorers rank in Holland: Johann Berg Gudmundsson (AZ), Kolbeinn Sigthórsson (AJAX) and, most of all, Alfred Finnbogason (Heerenveen), while old Eidur Gudjohnsen (Club Brugge), probably the best Icelandic footballer in the first decade of the new millennium, can still help, starting from the bench. Gylfi Sigurdsson (a regular starter for Tottenham Hotspur) and the fantasy of Emil Hallfredsson (Hellas Verona) can’t be forgotten.
The defence isn’t probably as strong as the attack and the mildfield.
Moreover this team could be not used to play for such a big goal, and few players could be a bit afraid.
They have a lot of talent in every area of the field and they should be favourite. Anyway, during the Qualifying Group, they started very well, but then had an awful descending trend in the final games, and, because of that, Igor Štimac resigned, and Niko Kovač was appointed as new Coach.
The midfield is full of talent with Mateo Kovačić (FC Inter), Ivan Rakitić (FC Sevilla) and, most of all, Luka Modrić (Real Madrid), who can provide several good balls to the grat scorer that Mario Mandžukić is.
The negative trend that has affected the team recently. The effect that the appointment of a new Coach will have on the team is still unknown.
Prediction: Iceland 30% – Croatia 70%
UKRAINE – FRANCE
Another very balanced tie. Ukraine maybe is a bit more organized, while France has more talent.
They qualified for Play-off Stage, and almost for Brazil, undermining England until the last matchday, without making too much noise. They conceded only 4 goals on 10 games, and scored 28.
Evgen Konoplyanka (FC Dnipro) is probably the best player in the team, and one of the best in Europe. He has plenty of class, fantasy, technic and can score several goals, while captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Zenit St. Petersburg) is still a quality playmaker, but he’s getting old. And now it’s time to explode for Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), he’s a good player, but can become great. The rest of the team is very solid and organized.
The new Andriy Shevchenko has still to be found. Ukranian Championship is full of foreign strikers, and the Ukranian ones have a lot to demonstrate at international level. The current best options are Marko Devic (Metalist Kharkhiv, born in Serbia) and Evgen Seleznev (FC Dnipro). GKs don’t look too reliable.
In the Group they showed to be not too far from Spain.
They have footballers of several ethnic groups, that give France the possibility to choose its squad among players with plenty of different features, and a winning mix can be found. Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Franck Ribéry (FC Bayern Munchen) and Karim Benzema are maybe the best top players in a strong group. Paul Pogba (Juventus) and Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid) are already more then bright prospects.
It’s very difficult to find big weaknesses in this team, maybe tactically they could be better.
Prediction: Ukraine 45% – France 55%
GREECE – ROMANIA
The worst, or the second worst, seeded team, against the worst, or the second worst, unseeded team, it should be a balanced tie, but anyway Greece is probably favourite because of its strong defence and because Romania reached Play-offs because both Turkey and Hungary wasted several points during their paths.
They had a wonderful qualifying Group and aren’t already in Brazil just because Bosnia had a better goal difference. Greece hasn’t big stars in its team, but it is a very hard team to be faced, they are very solid and organized, and hardly concede a goal (just 4 on 10 matches). Otto Rehhagel’s heritage is still very strong.
An iron defence. A great tactical organization and solidity, it’s very very difficult to score against them. Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Borussia Dortmund), Vasilis Torosidis (AS Roma), Panagiotis Kone (Bologna FC), Kyriakos Papadopoulos (FC Schalke 04, but he’s recovering from a serious injury), Georgios Samaras (Celtic FC) and Kostantinos Mitroglou (Olympiakos Piraeus) are key elements, while the technic of Georgios Karagounis (36, Fulham FC) can still be useful.
This so solid defence has a price to pay, the opportunities to score are quite rare (just 12 goals on 10 matches in the Group) and they have to be exploited, so prolific strikers are needed and there aren’t a lot of them in the squad: Georgios Samaras works hardly for teammates, but he isn’t a top scorer, so the hopes of Greece are on Konstantinos Mitroglou, that is having a wonderful Season with Olympiakos Piraeus (13 goals on 9 matches in Greek Championship so far) and will have to explode with NT as well.
Another solid team with no big star, in their qualifying Group they defeated Hungary and Turkey in the battle for second place behind Holland.
Team work. Stefan Radu (SS Lazio) and Vlad Chiriches (Tottenham Hotspur) are reliable defenders, while winger Alexandru Maxim (VfB Stuttgart) can become the star of the team. Ciprian Marica (Getafe CF) in the NT has a good goal scoring average.
Adrian Mutu, the Romanian player with more class, is in the descending part of his career and he isn’t always called up. There isn’t a top scorer of international level.
Prediction: Greece 65% – Romania 35%.