Shipped from Abroad, Europe: Favorites start down paved World Cup qualifying paths

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For many of Europe’s giants, the world’s easiest qualifying path to Brazil 2014 began on Friday. Only in UEFA will you see road teams win qualifiers 8-1 and 5-0 in the tournament’s final phase. In other regions, those results would be left in the preliminary rounds.

But in Europe, a huge number of teams (53) are spread thin over an exhausting number of groups (nine) to compete for too many World Cup spots (13). The result is a primrose path of some of the top seed, the beneficiaries of a watered down qualifying processes more useful as a display of teams’ quality while they pile up FIFA rankings points.

The Statements

  • [GROUP E] Two goals within a minute of each other just after halftime gave Switzerland a 2-0 victory over 2010 World Cup-qualifiers Slovenia. Nineteen-year-old Granit Xhaka got the opener, potentially a sign Swtzerland’s youth are ready to make an impact this cycle.
  • [GROUP F] The Fabio Capello era of Russian soccer got off to a very Capello start. Goal in the first half. Goal in the second. Russia opens with a 2-0 home win over Northern Ireland.
  • [GROUP G] Bosnia and Herzegovina romped through Liechtenstein, 8-1. Vedad Ibisevic and Edin Dzeko each had hat tricks for a team which, drawn into Greece’s group, will have designs on finishing first.
  • [GROUP H] England pasted Moldova 5-0 while their Tuesday opponent, Ukraine, had the day off. Already without the services of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll, England will be without John Terry in London on Tuesday, the Chelsea captain having picked up an ankle injury.

The Upsets

  • [GROUP B] Despite two goals from Pablo Osvaldo, Italy was drawn in Bulgaria. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, but with Denmark and the Czech Republic in their group, the Azzurri has one of the more pothole-ridden paths to Brazil.
  • [GROUP E] Iceland winning 2-0 at home over Norway isn’t an earth-shattering result, but Norway was the top-seeded team in one of the weakest UEFA groups I can remember. Iceland was ranked sixth.
  • [GROUP F] Israel’s already losing their chance to take advantage of any Portugal or Russia slips, disappointing with a 1-1 draw at Azerbaijan.

The Questions

  • [GROUP B] The Czechs got a very valuable draw in Denmark. In all likelihood, those two teams will be competing for second in Italy’s group. Now, if the Czech Republic can get a win on Mar. 23 in Prague’s return leg, they’ll be in the drivers seat for a playoff spot.
  • [GROUP C] Germany won 3-0 at home to the Faroe Islands, but against one of the worst teams in the confederation, the group favorites disappointed, being up only 1-0 at halftime. Joachim Löw wants his team to play with more intensity without the ball. It appears the new style will be a process.
  • [GROUP C] In the same group, Ireland needed 89th minute and stoppage time goals to win at Kazakhstan, a result that has to make Austria and Sweden feel better about their chances to snag second place.
  • [GROUP D] The Netherlands did not look good against Turkey, the match providing a good example of how easy some of these groups can be for the top teams. The Dutch replicated their Euro 2012 form but still posted a 2-0 victory over the group’s second-best team. Ho hum.
  • [GROUP F] Portugal gave up the first goal to Luxembourg on their way to a 2-1 victory. It’s almost as if they’re shooting for the playoffs.
  • [GROUP I] Didier Deschamps would have probably liked a more resounding victory to open qualifying, but Abou Diaby’s 20th minute goal was all he got in his competitive debut with France, downing Finland 1-0 in Helsinki.

The Results

  • Group A: Croatia 1-0 Macedonia; Wales 0-2 Belgium; Scotland 0-0 Serbia
  • Group B: Malta 0-1 Armenia; Bulgaria 2-2 Italy; Denmark 0-0 Czech Republic
  • Group C: Kazakhstan 1-2 Ireland; Germany 3-0 Faroe Islands
  • Group D: Estonia 0-2 Romania; Andorra 0-5 Hungary; Netherlands 2-0 Turkey
  • Group E: Albania 3-1 Cyprus; Slovenia 0-2 Switzerland; Iceland 2-0 Norway
  • Group F: Luxembourg 1-2 Portugal; Russia 2-0 Northern Ireland; Azerbaijan 1-1 Israel
  • Group G: Liechtenstein 1-8 Bosnia and Herzegovina; Lithuania 1-1 Slovakia; Latvia 1-2 Greece
  • Group H: Montenegro 2-2 Poland; Moldova 0-5 England
  • Group I: Finland 0-1 France; Georgia 1-0 Belarus

The Standings

First place qualifies for Brazil 2014. The top eight second place teams do into playoffs to determine the four remaining qualifiers. Records are list games played, points, goal difference (GP/Pts/GD).

  • Group A: Belgium (1/3/+2), Croatia (1/3/+1), Serbia (1/1/0), Scotland (1/1/0), Macedonia (1/0/-1), Wales (1/0/-2)
  • Group B: Armenia (1/3/+1), Italy (1/1/0), Czech Republic (1/1/0), Denmark 1/1/0), Bulgaria (1/1/0), Malta (1/0/-1)
  • Group C: Germany (1/3/+3), Ireland (1/3/+1), Austria (0/0/0), Sweden (0/0/0), Kazakhstan (1/0/-1), Faroe Islands (1/0/-3)
  • Group D: Hungary (1/3/+5), Romania (1/3/+2), Netherlands (1/3/+2), Turkey (1/0/-2), Estonia (1/0/-2), Andorra (1/0/-5)
  • Group E: Switzerland (1/3/+2), Iceland (1/3/+2), Albania (1/3/+2), Cyprus (1/0/-2), Norway (1/0/-2), Slovenia (1/0/-2)
  • Group F: Russia (1/3/+2), Portugal (1/3/+1), Azerbaijan (1/1/0), Israel (1/1/0), Luxembourg (1/0/-1), Northern Ireland (1/0/-2)
  • Group G: Bosnia and Herzegovina (1/3/+7), Greece (1/3/+1), Lithuania (1/1/0), Slovakia (1/1/0), Latvia (1/0/-1), Liechtenstein (1/0/-7)
  • Group H: England (1/3/+5), Montenegro (1/1/0), Poland (1/1/0), San Marino (0/0/0), Ukraine (0/0/0), Moldova (1/0/-5)
  • Group I: France (1/3/+1), Georgia (1/3/+1), Spain (0/0/0), Finland (1/0/-1), Belarus (1/0/-1)

The Future

All games to be played on Tuesday.

  • Group A: Serbia vs. Wales, Belgium vs. Croatia, Scotland vs. Macedonia
  • Group B: Bulgaria vs. Armenia, Italy vs. Malta
  • Group C: Austria vs. Germany, Sweden vs. Kazakhstan
  • Group D: Romania vs. Andorra, Turkey vs. Estonia, Hungary vs. Netherlands
  • Group E: Cyprus vs. Iceland, Norway vs. Slovenia, Switzerland vs. Albania
  • Group F: Israel vs. Russia, Northern Ireland vs. Luxembourg, Portugal vs. Azerbaijan
  • Group G: Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Latvia, Slovakia vs. Liechtenstein, Greece vs. Lithuania
  • Group H: England vs. Ukraine, Poland vs. Moldova, San Marino vs. Montenegro
  • Group I: Georgia vs. Spain, France vs. Belarus

The Prognosis

  • Group A: Belgium vs. Croatia is Tuesday’s biggest game. If Belgium wins, they’re group favorites. If Croatia gets a result, they keep that mantle.
  • Group B: Italy are still the favorites, while the Czechs have taken an early lead in the race of the playoff spot.
  • Group C: Joachim Löw’s going to have a chance to see a lot of different players this cycle.
  • Group D: Still on course for Netherlands-Turkey one-two.
  • Group E: Switzerland’s the group favorite, especially after getting three road points Norway may not duplicate.
  • Group F: It’s still too early to tell if Russia or Portugal should be favored to win this group, but three points in Ramat Gan would make a strong case for the Russians.
  • Group G: We’re unlikely to learn more about Bosnia’s prospects to upend Greece or Slovakia’s chance to rekindle their 2012 form. The home teams should all have easy Tuesdays.
  • Group H: England vs. Ukraine will settle any questions as to who’s the group’s best team. Few doubt it’s England, with Ukraine set to battle Poland for second place.
  • Group I: Still Spain’s group to win, but France getting three points at their most dangerous threat leaves little doubt who will take second.