UEFA World Cup Qualifying: Four countries could book their tickets to Brazil

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The penultimate round of UEFA World Cup qualifying kicks off on Friday, October 11, with the final matches — and the ultimate winners and losers — to be played out on Tuesday, October 15. Just two countries have qualified out of Europe thus far: Italy and the Netherlands.

That means there are still eleven spots up for grabs. Seven groups are left to be decided, while eight second-place countries will qualify for the playoff round. As there are nine groups in UEFA qualifying, that means one second-place country won’t even get a second chance. Right now that country is Iceland, who have the same number of points as Bulgaria, but Bulgaria have the better goal difference. Of course, all could change over the final two rounds.

A few countries are this close to booking their trips to Brazil. Belgium and Germany are guaranteed at least a spot in the playoff round, while Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Spain and France will all take at least second place in their groups. As for the Friday night matches, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland and Germany could all clinch their place in World Cup 2014.

(MORE: What’s at stake in upcoming World Cup qualifying)

Now let’s take a closer look, group by group:

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Croatia-Belgium
Wales-Macedonia

With everyone else eliminated from Group A, Croatia and Belgium are now fighting it out to avoid the playoffs. Belgium, undefeated and on a six-game winning streak, are in a much better position than the hosts, and can qualify for Brazil by taking just a point. The visitors are without Vincent Kompany and Christian Benteke, but considering their wealth of attacking options, it’s highly likely they’ll manage at least a draw.

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Armenia- Bulgaria
Malta-Czech Republic
Denmark-Italy

Italy have already punched their ticket, but hosts Denmark are one point back of second-placed Bulgaria. With Italy likely to trot out some less experienced faces in the front line — the rumor is that Antonio Candreva and Alessandro Diamanti will flank Pablo Osvaldo — the Danes may fancy their chances at getting a win and slipping into the playoffs. Bulgaria, meanwhile, must face Armenia, who technically still have a chance, although they’ll need to win both matches while hoping everyone above them slips up.

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Faroe Islands-Kazakhstan
Germany-Republic of Ireland
Sweden-Austria

While technically Germany need a win against Ireland to secure qualification, a point is almost certainly sufficient — they’ve got a goal difference that’s fifteen better than second-placed Sweden. Speaking of Sweden, their trip to the playoffs isn’t assured. If Austria win, that puts the two on level terms, but Austria’s final match is against the Faroe Islands, who have yet to earn a point, while Sweden face Germany in the last round. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company will really want to make themselves secure with a win against Austria tonight.

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Netherlands-Hungary
Andorra-Romania
Estonia-Turkey

It’s still quite a fight in Group D. Holland is already through, but that leaves Hungary in second, with Romania and Turkey each just a point behind. If the Netherlands approach the match with little concern, Hungary should be able to hang on and slip into the playoffs, particularly as they face minnows Andorra in the last round. Turkey have the toughest battle, having to face Holland in the last round, but they’ve won their last four matches and are more likely to be concentrating on whether or not Hungary will slip up.

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Iceland- Cyprus
Albania-Switzerland
Slovenia-Norway

Seems like everything is up in the air in this group. If Switzerland pull off a win against Albania, they’re through. They’re also through with a draw if Iceland can’t win, and even a loss is ok if neither Slovenia nor Iceland come away with all three points. So, barring a big slip, let’s just say the Swiss are through to Brazil. It’s the second-place race that’s interesting, with Iceland currently occupying that slot, Slovenia one point back, Norway one point back of them and Albania one point back of them. Yeah, it’s unlikely that it’ll be anyone other than Slovenia or Iceland, but it’s still possible. Plus, there’s the added factor that, with the second place team in Group E holding so few points at the moment, whoever takes it will have to up their game to make sure they’re not at the bottom of those second placed finishers.

Yes, it’s definitely enough to make your head hurt.

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Luxembourg-Russia
Portugal-Israel
Azerbaijan-Northern Ireland

There’s just a point separating Russia and Portugal, but if Russia win and Portugal lose, that point is enough to put the Russians through to Brazil. With Luxembourg having won just once, it should be simple enough for Fabio Capello’s men to get the job done. It’ll be harder for Portugal, as technically Israel aren’t out of it yet. A win against Cristiano Ronaldo and his merry marauders, plus victory against Northern Ireland, will see Israel slip in if Portugal can’t pull off victory in the last round against Luxembourg.

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Lithuania-Latvia
Bosnia and Herzegovina- Liechtenstein
Greece-Slovakia

It’s only Greece and Bosnia that remain in the running in this group. The two are even on points, but it’s Bosnia that have the upper hand, boasting an impressive +20 goal difference, compared with Greece’s +5. Plus, Greece have to face Slovakia, who’ve looked quite lively over their last two outings, while Bosnia get Liechtenstein, who are bottom of the group with just two points. Neither side can secure their place tonight, and it’ll likely go down to the final minutes of the final round.

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England-Montenegro
Moldova-San Marino

Ukraine-Poland

Ah, this group. All eyes on England vs. Montenegro, as the world waits to see if the founders of football manage to make it to the World Cup. England are just a point above Montenegro, although Ukraine, with a better goal difference, sit in between. Montenegro managed a point against the Three Lions the last time out, and, despite attempting to qualify for their first World Cup as an independent nation, are facing much less pressure at Wembley. Getting a point here means it goes down to the wire in this group, particularly if Ukraine beat Poland, as they face San Marino in the last round and will most likely end up being the ones heading straight to Brazil.

(MORE: taking a closer look at England vs. Montenegro)

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Spain-Belarus

Just one match in Group I, and while it won’t punch Spain’s ticket to Brazil, the match against bottom-of-the-group Belarus could very well put France into the playoffs. Having played one less match than les bleus, Spain need just four points against Belarus and Georgia to end qualification on top of the group.

Salah: ‘We don’t have to think that now we’ve won the Premier League’

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“We’re gonna to win the league, we’re gonna win the league!” rang throughout Anfield on Sunday night, and justifiably so.

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The 2-0 victory over Manchester United now means Liverpool have defeated every top-flight side this season. There is no team in the Premier League (anywhere else in the world, really) that are near the level of consistency that Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool have demonstrated. None.

It’s a historical season, a memorable one for all Liverpool supporters – even on the back of a Champions League winning season.

16 points clear of Manchester City, and unbeaten after 21 bouts, it’s now a near-impossible mission for the Reds to disintegrate the empire they’ve built. But along the lines of Klopp, who is implores the title-winning feeling is still missing, Mohamed Salah is weary of admitting that league is a wrap.

“I think we just need to keep [our] focus on each game,” he told Sky Sports after the match. “We don’t have to think that now we’ve won the Premier League or whatever, no.

“We just need to take it game by game. I think that’s the only way we can win the Premier League. We struggled last season at the same time so we have to keep calm and just focus on each game.”

Perhaps Salah’s strike deep into injury-time is the quintessential embodiment of the fighting spirit and unapologetic hunger that is very much alive within Liverpool’s dressing room.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“There are a lot of games left,” captain Jordan Henderson concurred on not falling for complacency-oriented mindset. “We’ve taken it game by game for a long time now and it’s put us in good stead so there’s no need to change.

“It is special and we’re enjoying our football but you’ve got to stay hungry, keep learning, keep wanting more and this group of players wants to do that.

“The manager’s on us all the time to improve and we know that we can. It’s about every single day, keep going until the end of the season.”

In the Mixed Zone: Liverpool v. Man United

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LIVERPOOL — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and what kind of antics are going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: Rashford injury update

Here’s the scene from deep inside Anfield in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Liverpool and Manchester United as the Reds won 2-0 and now sit 16 points clear, with a game in hand, at the top of the Premier League table.

Safe to say one set of players was more keen to stop and chat with us than the other…


6:35 p.m. (local time): Mixed zone open as Virgil Van Dijk is shown on the TV screens speaking to Jamie Carragher preaching “one game at a time” for Liverpool’s title push. Come on, Virgil. Start picking your suit out for the big celebration in May. More from Virgil later on in the mixed zone as he stops to speak with Pro Soccer Talk…

6:42: A Liverpool legend is hanging around the press room. His assessment of the game and Liverpool’s dominance over Man United? “The perch is looking very strong again…” Liverpool’s 19th title, one short of United’s record 20, is in reach.

6:45: The pitch-side monitor for VAR is rolled out by one man, who is crouching over. Not used today, and only used once across the 229 Premier League games so far. What a lonely, lonely job setting up that equipment most be…

6:47: Okay, here come the lads. First up, a coupe of Brazilian midfielders are talking. Fred and Fabinho hug each other then speak to Brazilian TV. Fred has his shirt in a bag, Fabinho has his suitcase on wheels with a No.3 luggage label on it. Fred’s sneakers have some fancy metals studs on the back of it. Fred was Man United’s best player.

6:55: “USA, USA!” Liverpool’s American owner John W. Henry and his wife Linda Pizzuti wander past us and then disappear through a side door. More from them to come.

 

7:02: Man United’s players keep trudging through. Local lads Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard and Brandon Williams are all downbeat as they trudge through. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not far behind with his headphones on and hood up.

7:05: Hello. The referees now roll through. Craig Pawson looks like a dear in the headlights, which seems to be his default look. Fourth official Jon Moss looks far from delighted.

7:06: Owner John W. Henry is back and he and his wife greet the assembled media. One journalists asks “How many games do you reckon, John?” in reference to how many games until Liverpool win the title. His response while wearing a wry smile: “There are 16 games left, right?” The billionaire from Illinois has played this game before…

7:09: Man United’s players are now coming through at a rapid rate as captain Harry Maguire gves it a simple “not today, mate” when asked for an interview.

7:15: Andy Robertson stops to speaks to us and during his interview Ole Gunnar Solskjaer walks out of the main press conference and pats him back. They then shake hands. Lot of mutual respect there. As for Robertson on the game: “We had so many chances we could have put this game out of sight. A really good performance from us but luckily Mo just topped it off at the end and we could relax for 20 seconds. Today, looking back at the game there is room for big improvement. Some of the stuff we did was excellent. I thought our midfield three were different class today and ran the game and that was so important. We were a wee bit sloppy in possession, particularly me in the first half, a few of the balls went out. But we got the goal and I think the goal that got disallowed was a bit soft but that’s football. We started the second half really well, we had them pinned back and it looked like a matter of time until we got the goal. But when you don’t get the goal Man United start to get a bit of confidence from that and we should have killed them off in that moment, but we did in the end.”

7:17: Robertson asked about Liverpool edging closer to winning a first title in 30 years: “We are not getting carried away. Until the champions sign is above our head we don’t believe anything because, yeah, it is a comfortably lead, 16 points, but we know how tough this league is. We beat Man United and then we go away to Wolves who are flying and it is an incredibly tough game. We know in a couple of weeks the table can change. It is up to us to stay 100 percent focus and not allow that to happen.”

7:20: Brazilian TV sum up what Fred said to them earlier: “We should have taken our chances” was his assessment of Man United, who somehow hung in there until the 90th minute. To be fair, United did have one or two glorious chances.

7:23: Virgil van Dijk stops for a chat as we ask him about the fans finally chanting “We’re going to win the league!” and if he agrees with that sentiment. Safe to say VVD isn’t getting carried away.

Focusing on Liverpool’s display against Man United, was this about staying focused as they dominated but didn’t score a second until stoppage time?

“Obviously we want to score more goals. We had quite some opportunities to make it easier but in the end you need to find a way to win a game. We defended a little bit deeper at times because they kept pressing, they kept players up and you need to find a way and we did but we could have made it easier.”

As for his goal, the Dutchman towered above Man United’s Harry Maguire and Brandon Williams to head home the opener to set the tone for a dominant win. Did Liverpool target United on set pieces?

“Obviously every game we try to look at the set-pieces to score. We have players that can be very dangerous including myself but it is not always easy and today I think it was a perfect set-piece. We wanted to target the near post and happy to be very important.”

7:28: James Milner and Adam Lallana then walk through in different directions with their kids. Lallana’s kid in full kit. Good effort. Maybe Lallana Jr. was almost on the bench for the FA Cup win against Everton a few weeks ago…

7:30: Okay, all of the pllayers have gone home. Cameras are turned off. The Mixed Zone is closed.

WATCH: Henderson’s motivated comments after Liverpool win

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson took the microphone after the Reds’ 2-0 beatdown of rivals Manchester United and showed why his manager loves him.

The talented midfielder said there’s no reason for Liverpool to act like its win the Premier League title, or even talk about it.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | 3 Things | Player ratings ]

Henderson, 29, had a monster day in the midfield and every reason to soak in an electric Anfield after Liverpool moved 16 points clear of Man City with a match-in-hand.

He won nine of 11 duels and five tackles, denied a goal by a righteous David De Gea save in the win.

“We’re not really thinking about the end. Why? Why should we change now? Why think about the end of the season? There’s still a lot of games. We’ve took it by each game for a long time now and it’s put us in good stead. For us as players it’s the next game, the next change.

“At Liverpool Football Club there’s always expectation ever since I came, there’s always an expectation to win and be successful and that will never change,” Henderson said. “It is special, we are enjoying our football but you’ve gotta stay hungry, keep learning, keep wanting more. To be fair, this group of players wants to do that. The manager’s on us all the time to improve all the time and we know that we can. It’s about every single day keep going and going until the end of the season.”

The full video is above, and shows why a team is sometimes better when there’s a leader on the pitch. Liverpool’s best midfield possibly excludes Henderson — an incredible luxury — but this guy has that something that cannot be measured by stats (This is hard for a numbers nerd like me to toss out there, but it’s difficult to challenge).

Solskjaer: ‘Very many positives’ from Manchester United loss at Liverpool

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying his best to downplay the injury to Marcus Rashford.

Manchester United’s manager will be without his top scorer for 2-3 months after back surgery, and is already without playmaker Paul Pogba.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | 3 Things | Player ratings ]

All this after a sloppy 2-0 loss to rivals Liverpool and with news that a once-impending Bruno Fernandes transfer may not happen.

In fact, Sunday’s performance led many to believe United would have to pony up the extra money for Sporting Lisbon’s prolific attacking midfielder. Solskjaer isn’t read to say that.

From the BBC:

“We’ve had many injuries for big players this season. It’s just an unfortunate situation we’re in. We might look at some short-term deals as well that could take us through to the summer. We don’t desperately need a striker. If the right one is there and it fits for us (but) we’ve got players who are champing at the bit.”

As for the game, most of us saw United worked over until deep into the second half.

Solskjaer is not in that majority.

“The players gave us everything,” Solskjaer said. “Today we hung on a bit at the start of second half, but the last 25-30 mins we pressed them and pushed them back. I’m disappointed with conceding from a corner and with the last kick, but very many positives.”

Every time there’s a run of fixtures or tactics that give reason to believe Solskjaer might be growing toward something, he responds like this to a clear and obvious failure. If United can’t act in this transfer window, it can kiss the Top Four goodbye.