Belfast Telegraph

World Cup: Spain, England and Portugal among big hitters under threat of missing out on Brazil 2014

By Matthew Campelli

The World Cup qualifiers have thrown up their usual mix of predictable results, small-nation drubbings and occasional upsets.

With just under 18 months until the showpiece kicks off in Rio, who has one foot on the plane already, and which nations are scrambling for qualification to 2014's festival of football?



The top story in Europe comes from Group I, as two home draws have seriously dented reigning World Champions Spain's hopes of finishing top of the group. Vincete Del Bosque's men, who are two points off Tuesday's opponents France in second, graciously allowed Finland to leave Iberia with a point on Friday, and may have to settle for a playoff place to defend their trophy.

Should that fate befall them, they may be joined by England in the dreaded playoff shake-up. Despite a morale-boosting 8-0 win in San Marino, Roy Hodgson's men will also have a date with destiny on Tuesday, as a contest with their group leaders in Montenegro awaits them.  

Hotel rooms have already been booked along the Copacabana beach for Holland and Germany, who are both five points clear of their respective groups (C and D). Only a collapse of epic proportions would see them surrender their place at football's top table, while Fabio Capello's Russia look odds-on to join them - four points clear with a game in hand gives them control in Group F.

Manchester City fans may say goodbye to striker Edin Dzeko this summer, but his first destination may be Brazil as Bosnia-Herzegovina look primed to reach their first tournament, sitting thee points clear of Greece in Group G. His former City colleague, Mario Balottelli, will want to replicate his dazzling Euro 2012 in Rio, but Italy's place is far from certain with only a point separating the Azzuri and second-place Bulgaria in Group B.

European Championship semi-finalists Portugal seem to be the most likely high-profile failure. Cristiano Ronaldo may not be able to showcase his talent at the tournament hosted in his countries spiritual ally, but after claiming an away draw in Israel after being 3-1 down on Friday, Paulo Bento's side have given themselves a chance of grabbing second spot.

In Group A, there's a straight fight between Belgium and Croatia - both on 13 points - for the top spot, with Wales their closest challenger seven points behind. The tight nature of Group E makes it the most interesting league, despite the lack of a superstar name, with only four points separating Switzerland (11) in first and Norway (7) in fourth place.

The eight best runners-up in the group stage will be drawn together to contest a two-legged playoff, leaving the worst runner-up out of the equation. The four winners of the playoff will reach the World Cup.  Working out the best runners-up will not include their matches with the worst ranked team in their group. There has been no announcement to seed the draw at this stage.


Group A (played, points)

Belgium 5 13

Croatia 5 13

Wales 5 6

Serbia 5 4

FYR Macedonia 5 4

Scotland 5 2


Group B

Italy 4 10

Bulgaria 5 9

Denmark 4 5

Czech Republic 4 5

Armenia 3 3

Malta 4 0


Group C

Germany 5 13

Sweden 4 8

Austria 4 7

Republic of Ireland 4 7

Kazakhstan 5 1

Faroe Islands 4 0


Group D

Netherlands 5 15

Hungary 5 10

Romania 5 10

Turkey 5 6

Estonia 5 3

Andorra 5 0


Group E

Switzerland 5 11

Albania 5 9

Iceland 5 9

Norway 5 7

Cyprus 5 4

Slovenia 5 3


Group F

Russia 4 12

Israel 5 8

Portugal 5 8

Northern Ireland 4 3

Azerbaijan 5 3

Luxembourg 5 2


Group G

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5 13

Greece 5 10

Slovakia 5 8

Lithuania 5 5

Latvia 5 4

Liechtenstein 5 1


Group H

Montenegro 5 13

England 5 11

Ukraine 4 5

Poland 4 5

Moldova 5 4

San Marino 5 0


Group I

France 4 10

Spain 4 8

Georgia 5 4

Belarus 4 3

Finland 3 2



With Brazil already qualifying as hosts, the spot that is usually theirs is up for grabs. Argentina are as good as through, leading the way with 23 points. Three others have an automatic passage to the event, while the fifth placed nation will contest a playoff with their Asian equivalent.

Those in the hotseat alongside Alejandro Sabella's charges are Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay, although the latter will be disappointed with their campaign after being the highest-placed Latin American team in South Africa three years ago. A laboured 1-1 draw with bottom side Paraguay last time out means that the Copa America holders are not home and dry yet. In fact there are only five points between the two sides, leading to a congested group and all to play for.

Venezuela occupy the play-off spot with 12 points, but only lead Chile on goal difference and seventh placed Peru by one point. A tricky home game to second place Colombia on Tuesday will test their World Cup credentials.


Table (played, points)

Argentina 10 23

Colombia 9 19

Ecuador 9 17

Uruguay 10 13

Venezuela 10 12

Chile 10 12

Peru 10 11

Bolivia 10 8

Paraguay 10 8



Africa is still in its second stage of qualifying, with ten group winners moving on to the final stage to compete for five places at the tournament. As expected Ivory Coast, African Cup of Nations winners Nigeria, Egypt and Cameroon top their respective groups.

Ghana, however, are slightly off the pace in Group D as they lie second to AFCON finalists Zambia. The 2010 hosts, South Africa, are also in danger of not making Brazil, finding themselves five points off Group A pacesetters Ethiopia. Other group leaders are Tunisia, Mali, Congo and Senegal.



An away win in Jordan on Tuesday will see Japan as the first nation to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. A victory over the bottom side would put them on 16 points - an unobtainable total in Group B. Australia, the group favourites at the beginning, are struggling badly, amassing only five points from their four games so far. In a congested table, goal difference still sees them in second place, while Iraq occupy the playoff berth.

Group A is even tighter, and only four points separates leaders Uzbekistan (8) and basement nation Lebanon (4). Korea Republic, Iran and 2022 hosts Qatar sit in between with seven points apiece.


Group A (played, points)

Uzbekistan 5 8

Korea Republic 4 7

Iran 5 7

Qatar 5 7

Lebanon 5 4


Group B

Japan 5 13

Australia 4 5

Iraq 5 5

Oman 5 5

Jordan 5



Each nation has only played two games each, so the contest is still in its infancy. Honduras lead the way on 4 points, surprisingly coming out victorious over second place USA. Panama, Mexico and Jamaica have two points each, while Costa Rica prop up the rest with a solitary point.



New Zealand seem certainties to progress after their impressive 2010 showing, winning all five of their games so far. New Caledonia are hoping to cement themselves in second place to secure a playoff date with and American or Caribbean counterpart.

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