European Play-Offs Preview

November 15, 2013 in International by Louis Baxter

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Portugal v Sweden

Portugal seem to be perpetually incapable of topping their qualifying group, so finding themselves in the play-offs is merely a matter of routine at this point. Their opponents this time are Sweden. Perhaps a preferable draw to France but in a way the two teams mirror each other somewhat. Both lodged in the 2nd tier of European teams; both reliant on a single genius at the centre of things in Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic; whilst being sparse for quality across the full 11. Portugal can claim to be a superior team then Sweden perhaps, with the experienced professional psychopath Pepe in defence and Manchester United’s Nani on the opposite wing. But their midfield looks particularly weak, With Monaco’s Joao Moutinho the only player who could be considered elite, and the fact that they still have to start Helder Postiga up front speaks volumes to their lack of quality strikers. Sweden meanwhile don’t have too much going for them right now outside of Ibrahimovic, so you imagine the plan will be to contain the Portuguese and then hope Zlatan does something suitably Zlatanish.

Looking at their squads, you understand why they’re in the play-offs, but Portugal should have the muscle to see themselves past Sweden here, with their home leg very important. Portugal to win.

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Iceland v Croatia

Iceland are on the verge of making national history in the next week. They have never qualified for a World Cup finals thus far in their history, and are only 180 minutes away from breaking that duck. Standing in their way are the out of form Croatia, whose place in the play-offs was largely secured in the early rounds of qualifying, with poor later results perhaps hitting a a nadir with the defeat to Gordon Strachan’s Scotland. Iceland certainly could have gotten a more difficult draw, and will no doubt be hoping that Gylfi Sigurdsson and the now 35 Eidur Gudjohnsen have the games of their lives.

On paper Croatia should still be too strong, with the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic in their ranks. But you never know. I’d put my money on Croatia though.

Greece v Romania

Since their reality defying conquering of Euro 2004, Greece have had the annoying habit of being brilliant in the qualifying rounds and dreadful at the tournament. Taking the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it attitude to progress, Greece have become the premier Park The Bus extraordinaires of international football. Despite scoring only 12 goals in a group that contained Liechtenstein, Latvia and Lithuania (Compared to Bosnia’s 30) they stacked up the 1-0′s and here they are, faced with a weak looking Romanian side, and only two more clean sheets from the promised land. Romania has suffered a harsh footballing recession since the golden era of Gheorgie Hagi and pals, and have a team that looks startlingly low on quality.

You’d have to back Greece here, looking forward to them stinking up another group stage. Greece to win.

France v Ukraine

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Ukraine found some late form in their qualifying group, the stand-out a 4-0 win away to Montenegro that eventually helped them displace their Eastern European neighbours in the play-offs. And while they failed to oust England and win their group, they played out two draws with the eventual group winners and proved themselves plenty resolute, if a little lacking in attacking flair. France should win this, with the likes of Franck Ribery and an in-form Samir Nasri, but the France national side hasn’t had a great decade. Between all the in-fighting and under-performing, you get the sense that this French side maybe diving under its potential, and not qualifying for the last cool World Cup in a decade might be seen as the final bottle job. The pressure’s on them, but you have to think they’ll have enough. Right?

France to win.

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