Qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Group I has taken a somewhat predictable route so far, but the dust does look far from settled. This is the smallest of the groups in the UEFA qualification zone and two of the five spots in the group are occupied by two of the stronger European sides, France and the current European and World Champions, Spain. The Spaniards are looking to retain their world title which they won back at South Africa 2010 and following the drawing of the UEFA qualification groups, there were installed as firm favourites to win the group.
That went without saying really, as France were their only main challenges in the battle for top spot. With Spain beating France comfortably at Euro 2012 in the quarter finals, things were expected to be straightforward for the Spaniards. However, France had different ideas and held the Spanish to a 1-1 draw in the first of the two group meetings. That will keep France in with a good shot of taking top spot from Spain, if Les Bleus score a victory back on home soil against the best side in the world.
So there could be plenty of interest in this group until that France v Spain clash, which will be the game which decides the outcome of the group. So with France and Spain on equal points after their opening three matches each, things fortunately have been kept interesting instead of being all one-sided from the Spaniards. The rest of the quality in the group doesn’t look capable of coming anywhere near to the class of not of Spain, but France as well.
Georgia and Belarus found themselves trailing well behind the top two having each played a game more than the two powerhouses in Brazil 2014 qualification Group I. So it is going to be nothing more than a straight duel between France and Spain for top spot. The second placed team will have to go through a qualification knockout round in order to progress and it would be a surprise to see Spain in that situation. France of course went the play off route in controversial fashion against the Republic of Ireland to make it to the 2010 World Cup.
Group G in World Cup 2014 qualification from the UEFA zone looks fascinating and one that could be drama filled all the way to the end. What makes this group so very interesting is that there is no stand out side and there are three nations in the running to take top spot in the group. If you are looking for competitiveness, then this is the group. Any one from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and Slovakia all look to have genuine shots at claiming a place in the top two in Group G. So everything is up for grabs in this one.
Bosnia and Herzegovina along with Greece posted the same records from their opening four matches of group qualification, taking three wins and a draw each. The draw was between the two sides, a 0-0 played out in Greece, so the stakes are going to be high for the reverse fixture there. That could have a massive bearing on who gets the automatic qualification spot to head to Brazil 2014 and who has to go through the knockout qualification round. The difference between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece is that the former have produced so much more in front of goal and their prominent goal difference could go along way.
They have a contrast in style to the Greeks who are pragmatic, very hard working and try to deny space to opponents as much as possible. They don’t have as much to offer going forward, as Bosnia and Herzegovina do. Will that hurt them in the long run? The Greeks are unlikely to go out and win by big margins, even against the minnows of the group, and that is where the difference in qualification could lie. The goal scoring power that Bosnia and Herzegovina have is almost like having an extra point on the board.
Slovakia still have the quality in their ranks to mount a challenge for the top. They have already lost against the Greeks though, which was a blow, but they do still have two games to come against Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the return leg against Greece. So Latvia have a massive part to play in Group G and its outcome yet. They will be down the pecking order behind Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but they have the potential for a massive upset. Making up the group, Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein remain firm outsiders.
There is the general sense that the action is far from done in Group F of the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualification in Europe. The Russian powerhouses have been making up for a dismal Euro 2012 by running straight out of the blocks, rattling of four wins in a row without conceding a single goal. You can’t ask for a much better start on the road to a World Cup than that. The natural power, technical ability and flair of Russia really should see them coast the rest of the way to book their place at Brazil 2014. So are the Russians likely to be deposed from the top of the group after their early form? It is highly unlikely and they will remain outright favourites to take the automatic qualification spot.
However, the race behind them looks as if it is going to be massively interesting. Israel and Portugal both opened with the same record after four games, making the scrap for second spot very intriguing. What makes it even more interesting is that they still have to face each other twice in the group and they will be big matches. Those are really the only two who are likely to get themselves in the frame for a place at the 2014 World Cup. Israel showed a tremendous eye for goal over the early qualification stage, helped by big wins over Azerbaijan and Luxembourg. They did lose against Russia, but yet so did the Portuguese.
Portugal just about qualified for the 2010 World Cup after a near disastrous qualifying campaign but then bowed out in the round of sixteen at the finals, knocked out by Spain. A struggle through the qualification process was the same for the Portuguese as they eyed a place at Euro 2012. They only came through a play off to reach the finals after finishing second in their qualification group. To their credit they took the most of their chance, playing some enterprising football and losing in the semi finals, again to Spain.
So there looks to be a great battle ahead between Israel and Portugal for the qualification spot behind the Russians. Making up the group, Northern Ireland, who did earn themselves a tremendous 1-1 draw in Portugal against the odds, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg all look to be falling well short of the quality needed to push for a place at Brazil 2014.