European WC Play-offs: Croatia, France, Greece and Ronaldo all qualify

November 20, 2013 in International by William Kent

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All the teams that were supposed to qualify qualified. Ronaldo scored a hat trick, France over turned a two goal deficit and Croatia won with 10 men - excitement was everywhere. Unless you were watching England, then you were probably more tempted to paint the wall and watch it dry for your evening’s excitement.

Iceland v Croatia

For the neutral, this really was the game to be watching (unless you actually enjoy watching England inevitably lose, which I doubt). Iceland, with a population size similar to Coventry’s, could’ve been Brazil’s fairytale team – however just it wasn’t to be. And it just had to be Croatia to ruin it again, didn’t it.

After the stalemate in Iceland, Croatia secured their spot next year with goals from Mario Mandzukic and Darijo Srna, winning 2-0 on aggregate, despite having Mandzukic sent off after 37 minutes. The game itself was a feisty affair featuring 37 fouls and 26 shots, living up to its hype of being an intriguing match.

Iceland’s golden generation may not even make a World Cup, which would be a massive blow after achieving nothing in international football. The squad consists of players such as Aron Gunnarsson, Gylfi Sigurdsson as well as having Eidur Gudjohnsen still knocking about – the squad actually does have a lot of talent.

Romania v Greece

With Greece holding a 3-1 lead, it was down to Romania to ruffle the feathers of Fernando Santos’ side and at first it didn’t look that much of an impossible task especially on home soil.

Romania dictated the game, with 67% possession and 11 shots to Greece’s four, despite actually being 1-0 down at half time after suffering further damage with Mitroglou punishing the hosts. This extra goal added to the existing two goal deficit proved to be one step to far for the Romanians - an impossible mountain to climb. However, they did manage to pull one back with a typical Sunday league style own goal, the kind of own goal when a team mate punts the ball into another team mate, which then rebounds into your own net. Classic.

With the game ending 4-2 on aggregate, Greece qualify for just the third time in their history.

France v Ukraine

It was always going to happen. France overcame a 2-0 deficit from the first leg and turned the tie on its head winning 3-2 on aggregate. First half goals from Mamadou Sakho, Karim Benzema were then followed by the most brutal finish – a Ukraine own goal from Oleg Gusey just 15 minutes from time.

Ukraine were also reduced to 10 men when Yevhen Khacherid was sent packing following a second yellow just moments into the second half and from then on it was always going to end badly. A second half with a man down against a side like France with all the momentum, it was all of a sudden now Ukraine needing a miracle. This miracle never arrived and France qualified.

I’m glad in a way. France will offer a lot more in terms of entertainment value next year, whether that be on or off the pitch, than Ukraine would’ve. Now I’ve said that, England will probably lose to France in the final – you heard it here first!

Portugal v Sweden

With the contest delicately poised at 1-0, Portugal pushed on from their first leg victory, with Cristiano Ronaldo slotting home three times during the second half - cancelling out an Ibrahimovic brace which had the visitors trembling for a moment. You just can’t help but admire the pure brilliance of Ronaldo, time and time again he digs his team out of trouble.

Whilst the World Cup will be undoubtedly be worse off without the Zlatan, it would’ve been an even worse tournament without Ronaldo. Sweden, arguably the biggest team not to qualify, will have to wait until the next Euros for a chance on the big International stage.

However, you can’t win a World Cup with just one player, with the difficulties Portugal have faced just to qualify highlighting this. Players such as Joao Moutinho and Nani will have to pick up their club form to even consider becoming a serious threat of winning the World Cup.