Italy has already qualified directly for Brazil, but there is much work to be done to clinch 2nd place. Only Malta has been mathematically eliminated, so Bulgaria, Denmark, Czech Republic, and Armenia are all competing for one spot. We think Bulgaria has the highest odds at 70.4% with Denmark behind them at 26.9%. Czech Republic and Armenia are each in a pretty bad position, as we believe the odds that either team advances is less than 3%.
Armenia v. Bulgaria – Yerevan, Armenia
This is the first World Cup Qualifier being played around the globe on Friday, and boy does it start out with some fire. Armenia must take all 3 points here to stay alive. Add to the fact that they are away to Italy on the final matchday, and you know they will be playing for their lives. Armenia has recent wins at Czech Republic and Denmark, but has yet to claim a home point in 2013.
Bulgaria, meanwhile, can ill afford to slip up in this one. They have Denmark breathing down their necks and they know that Denmark hosts Malta on the final matchday. Any missed points here could be a huge problem. We think Bulgaria shows their class and pulls through on the road.
Prediction: Bulgaria by 1
Denmark v. Italy – Copenhagen, Denmark
Just like Uruguay in South America, Denmark is going to benefit from the fact that they play the group’s toughest team after they’ve already qualified for Brazil. If Denmark grabs 3 points at home, they know a Bulgaria slip up will be all they need to basically be home free. Denmark’s prospects looked bleak after the embarrassing home defeat to Armenia, but they’ve been rejuvenated with strong work in September. We expect this to be a close low scoring affair, and wouldn’t be shocked if our predictor failed to account for Italy having nothing to play for.
Malta v. Czech Republic – Ta’Qali, Malta
The Czechs basically blew it already. They couldn’t break through against Italy in June and suffered a defeat in the reverse fixture in September. Sandwiched in between was an embarrassing home defeat to Armenia. More than likely, the result of this match won’t matter for Czech Republic as it seems highly unlikely they pass both Denmark and Bulgaria. The only thing you can do is take care of your business and hope for the best.
Prediction: Czech Republic by 1
If these results hold, both Armenia and Czech Republic will be eliminated. This would leave Bulgaria and Denmark to battle it out on the final matchday, with Bulgaria holding a massive advantage. The Group B second place team could be in a little bit of trouble. There’s no guarantee that the 2nd place finisher isn’t the last place 2nd place team and is also eliminated.
Bulgaria v. Czech Republic – Sofia, Bulgaria
Having a lead heading into the final 2 matchdays is a huge advantage. You always want to be able to control your own destiny. If things shake out as we project, the Czech Republic will take a meaningless trip to Sofia while Bulgaria will be looking to pounce. In fact, any slip up from Denmark against Italy will be a huge bonus to Bulgaria. Malta is going to finish last in this group, so 6 points will be removed from Bulgaria’s total for the 2nd place play-off. They need 3 points here no matter what.
Prediction: Bulgaria by 1
Denmark v. Malta – Copenhagen, Denmark
Depending on what happens on Friday against Italy, Denmark may be in pretty bad shape here. They also could be looking great if Bulgaria fails in Yerevan. One thing is for certain: Denmark needs a lot of goals here. They could end up in a position where they need to jump Bulgaria on goal differential, and boy are they behind. This will be an assault on Malta early and often. This match will be in little doubt from the start. Expect a decisive win.
Prediction: Denmark by 3
Italy v. Armenia – Naples, Italy
There is a slight chance Armenia could still be kicking at this point, but their hopes will surely be dashed in Naples. Italy is the superior side, and even with a potentially watered down side, they’ll be the team to beat. We expect Italy to take care of business at home.
Prediction: Italy by 3
Bulgaria, or Denmark could be in danger of missing out on the 2nd place play-off with their point totals. When Group B concludes, we expect the standings to look like this:
Our other UEFA group previews can be seen below. Thanks for reading!
Group A Preview (Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, FYR Macedonia, Scotland, Wales)
Group C Preview (Germany, Sweden, Austria, Republic of Ireland, Kazakhstan, Faroe Islands)
Group D Preview (Netherlands, Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Estonia, Andorra)
Group E Preview (Switzerland, Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania, Cyprus)
Group F Preview (Russia, Portugal, Israel, Azerbaijan, Northern Ireland, Luxembourg)
Group G Preview (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Liechtenstein)
Group H Preview (England, Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova, San Marino)
Group I Preview (Spain, France, Finland, Georgia, Belarus)