We took a look earlier at Groups A-C. We’ll now move forward and see what Groups D, E, and F have to offer.
Unfortunately for UEFA fans, there will be no games played in Group D in June. The associations decided a 6 month break in the middle of qualifying was somehow best for business. So instead of taking a look at individual games, we’ll just take a look at the teams themselves.
Netherlands: The Dutch have won all 6 games in qualifying after going undefeated in their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. They still play the bottom two teams in the group, and they shouldn’t have any problem grabbing Group D’s automatic qualifying spot. They should be able to lock it up in September. There was actually a scenario which Netherlands finished 2nd, but this seems beyond unrealistic. They have the highest probability of qualification right now of any team in Europe.
Romania: Despite currently sitting 3rd, xCRO likes Romania more than Hungary. Romania still has 3 home games, and their only road game is at winless and goalless Andorra. Their match against Hungary on 9/6 is massive. With a win, they’re clearly the favorite to claim 2nd place. Even a draw wouldn’t be all that bad as Hungary still must travel to Amsterdam. 2nd is probably their best bet at this point.
Hungary: The Hungarians do not have an easy path. They host Andorra, but as mentioned before they travel to the Netherlands and Romania. We think they only have about a 20% chance of reaching the 2nd place play-off. They must have at least a point at Romania, but if they are able to somehow get all 3, they’ll be in great shape.
Turkey: If the match against Latvia was any indication, Turkey is in serious trouble. They’re in serious trouble of finishing no higher than 4th. Only 1.2% of our scenarios projected Turkey reaching the play-off. The schedule is tough and they’re far back in points. The road seems long and arduous, so I’d be shocked if Turkey is able to make any noise. They’re on borrowed time.
Estonia: After surprisingly reaching the play-off for Euro 2012, the Estonians surely had high hopes for World Cup qualifying. With all 6 points against Andorra thus far, Estonia’s chances are very slim. They need to somehow beat the Dutch if they want to stay alive. Like Turkey, they’re on borrowed time.
Andorra: Andorra might not even have to play a game to be eliminated. If Romania-Hungary doesn’t end in a draw, they’re out. If Andorra doesn’t win at Turkey, they’re out. For all intents and purposes, they’re out. It’s just a formality at this point.
This group seems totally out of whack. Switzerland looks like they’re in the driver’s seat despite only being 2 points clear of 2 other teams with 5 games to play. Our rankings clearly are coming into play here as both 2nd place teams, Iceland and Albania, are much further down the table. But what has happened to Slovenia? They were in South Africa! They have a legitimate chance of finishing dead last in their group despite being in Pot 2. Norway being placed in Pot 1 was pretty ridiculous, but I guess Group E is your shining example of why the FIFA Rankings are pretty much worthless.
Albania v. Norway – Tirana, Albania
If Albania truly wants to make a run at Brazil, you can be sure the flares will be ablaze in Tirana on the 7th. This team certainly is for real, and in all likelihood Norway and Iceland will be their only competition. Albania actually came away victorious in the reverse fixture, so they know they have Norway’s number. Norway must feel somewhat fortunate to be in this position after scoring a 94th minute winner against Slovenia. These teams are playing very similarly right now, and the result will show it in this one.
Iceland v. Slovenia – Reykjavik, Iceland
The fighting puffins couldn’t care less that they came out of POT 6!! To put that into perspective, FIFA had them ranked #48 of 53 teams in UEFA when the draw was made, yet they are in 2nd place in Group E with an excellent chance of at least reaching the 2nd place play-off. I’m on board. Everyone likes an underdog, and it doesn’t get much better than this. Slovenia must be left wondering how they’ve ended up in this position. They would’ve expected their fortunes to be reversed at this juncture, but it was not meant to be. Iceland won in Slovenia in March, and they’ll keep that momentum going to put Slovenia on the brink of elimination.
Prediction: Iceland by 2
Switzerland v. Cyprus – Geneva, Switzerland
Our predictor is certainly a little ambitious in this fixture. Switzerland and Cyprus played to a goalless draw in Nicosia, which at least gives the Cypriots some hope. Cyprus isn’t completely out of this thing yet, but they face a very tall task. The Swiss are all the way at #13 in our rankings, while Cyprus is down at #148. Cyprus is terrible away from home, and then trend will most likely continue.
Prediction: Switzerland by 5
The big boys get a little bigger after this round.
It looks like a 3 horse race, with Russia way out in front. They’re only a point ahead of Israel and Portugal right now, but they have 2 games in hand on each of them. The schedule got totally out of whack with the Belfast Blizzard, so it’s a little difficult to see how things really stand. Thankfully xCRO is here to sort it all out. 3 of Portugal’s final 4 games are at home, so they obviously have far better odds than Israel.
Azerbaijan v. Luxembourg – Baku, Azerbaijan
This is probably the most meaningless UEFA game in June. Each of these teams has virtually no shot of even claiming 2nd place, but the games must be played. The only real downside to this game is for Israel. 6 of their 11 points are against Luxembourg, so if they reach the 2nd place match and Luxembourg is last, they could miss out as the 9th team. They won’t get much help here.
Prediction: Azerbaijan by 3
Portugal v. Russia – Lisbon, Portugal
Russia was able to grab a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture, but this is a great opportunity for Portugal to stake their claim as the clear 2nd team in this group. Portugal has seemed to struggle with quality opponents lately while Russia continues to squeak by with narrow victories and has yet to allow a goal in qualifying. If Russia is able to grab even a point here, they are going to win the group. Portugal would love to have the 3 points and get an edge on Israel, but it is a very tall order.
Not much will get settled in this group in June. Portugal may end up taking over 1st place, but they are unlikely to stay there. It should come down to Portugal and Israel for 2nd place. The schedule is still very unbalanced.
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