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Podcast 34: World Cup Qualifiers – Europe

On this week’s show we focus on the World Cup qualifying matches that took place in Europe over the past few days.

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We are passing the half-way stage in the European section of the World Cup qualifiers with the groups starting to take shape. Most of the favoured teams have positioned themselves at or near the top of the group though one or two surprise teams may be making their way to South Africa in 2010.

Remember, the 53 teams are fighting for 13 places making this footballing region the most competitive. Each of the nine group winners automatically qualify, while the eight best runners up will play off to decide the remaining four teams. That means a team may come second in their group and still not qualify. Asia or CONCACAF it most definitely isn’t!

Group 1 may see a huge shock as Portugal lie in 3rd place seven points behind the leaders Denmark. Amazingly for a side filled with attacking prowess, Portugal have drawn their last three matches nil – nil including this weekend against Sweden. The Swedes are also struggling in fourth place but do have a game in hand over the Portuguese but it is increasingly looking like top stars such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo may not be going to South Africa.

Group 2 is turning into a two-horse race between leaders Greece and second place Switzerland. The Greeks took 4 points from Israel this week and look odds-on favourites to make the finals.

Group 3 is a much tighter affair with any one of five teams still in with a chance of at least a play-off spot. Northern Ireland may be top after their two home victories this week but second place Slovakia must fancy their chances after beating local rivals the Czech Republic away and seeing Poland and Slovenia drop points in Belfast.

Group 4 is a much clearer affair with Germany leading the group on 16 points, which is four more than their nearest rivals Russia though they do have a game in hand and Germany still have to play in Moscow.

Group 5 seems to be wrapped up with European champions Spain beating Turkey home and away this week. That result and the shock double victory for Bosnia over Belgium means that Spain lead Bosnia by six points and are almost certain to make it to South Africa.

Group 6 sees another team with a 100% record so far – England beat Ukraine at Wembley to stay five points ahead of Croatia and though they started the last European Championship qualifying campaign in similar circumstances this England team under Capello looks assured of its place in the finals in 2010.

Group 7 is a rather strange affair with all of the top teams taking points off each other. However, Serbia and France had a good week with the Serbs winning away in Romania and France beating Lithuania home and away. Two points separate them at the top with a crunch game in Belgrade to come that will decide the group winner.

Group 8 is a much more open affair with the three top teams all unbeaten so far. Italy lead by two from Ireland and then Bulgaria are in third a further five points behind though they have a game in hand. On paper it should be Italy but they will not fancy a trip to Dublin in the autumn if they are still only two points ahead.

Group 9 is all but sorted as the Netherlands have comfortably won all five of their matches to sit atop the table eight points ahead of Scotland in second place. In fact, this group is so weak I am tipping that only the winners will make it through.

The next set of games in the European section take place in June by when the picture of which teams will represent Europe in South Africa 2010 will be much clearer.

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