There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close. Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.
If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5). The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots. Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.
For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.
Portugal 1-0 Russia
Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F. The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table. Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.
Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine
A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate. Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.
England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground. Ukraine is one point back of England in third.
Moldova 1-1 Poland
Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England. Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.
Austria 2-1 Sweden
In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden. David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later. Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.
Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff. Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.
Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands
A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot. Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.
Albania 1-1 Norway
The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E. The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between. Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.
Iceland 2-4 Slovenia
A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E. The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down. Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.
The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).
Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia
Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost. A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.
Lithuania 0-1 Greece
A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G. All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand. They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.
Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute. Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute. They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.
Belgium 2-1 Serbia
Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini. De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.
Croatia 0-1 Scotland
Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler. Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.
Czech Republic 0-0 Italy
In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B. Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot. Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.
Finland 1-0 Belarus
Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second. Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.