PARIS – Europe’s World Cup qualifiers have been short on drama, but the campaign may come to life on Tuesday when Spain host France while Romania and Netherlands put 100% records on the line in their clash in Bucharest.
There is also the prospect of a shock result when Iceland, who have already beaten Norway in the only genuine upset so far, entertain a Switzerland side who are often vulnerable against weaker opposition.
Sweden attempt to stop the Germany juggernaut today. Russia look likely to make it four qualifying wins out of four against Azerbaijan while Belgium and Croatia could move clear of the pack in Group A with home victories.
England also have a chance to pull away from their rivals as they visit familiar opposition in Poland and Italy look too strong for a stuttering Denmark.
With the teams spread around nine different groups, Europe’s top sides rarely clash in qualifying tournaments, a contrast to other regions which regularly throw up mouthwatering ties such as Argentina v Uruguay and Mexico v United States.
France’s dismal performance at the 2010 finals in South Africa meant they were not included among the top seeds and “Les Bleus” ended up in Group I alongside world and European champions Spain, the team they meet in Madrid today.
Both have won their first two games, conceding only one goal between them.
Romania have not qualified for the World Cup since 1998, but have made a flying start in Group D, beating Turkey, Andorra and Estonia without letting in a goal.
They could prove a handful for the Dutch who, led by flamboyant coach Louis van Gaal, have scored nine goals in their first three outings.
Hungary (six points) host Turkey (three) in the same group in a game neither side can afford to lose. Group E leaders Switzerland have lost to Luxembourg and Montenegro since Ottmar Hitzfeld took over as coach in 2008 and will not be relishing their trip to Iceland who will go top if they win.
“Iceland have well-known players. The team are well organised, they are upbeat and believe in themselves,” warned Hitzfeld after his side drew 1-1 with Norway last Friday.
“We need a good performance.” Despite having a population of only 320 000, Iceland showed their potential by qualifying for last year’s European Under-21 championship and Fifa president Sepp Blatter said on a recent visit that the country could be a model for others to follow.
“When I look at the development of Icelandic football, done in a relatively short space of time and with a small population compared to many others, then it should be possible to make similar achievements in other parts of the world,” he said.
Belgium and Croatia, level at the top of Group A on seven points, should enjoy home wins against Scotland and Wales respectively which would give them some breathing space.
Serbia, three points behind after a 3-0 home defeat by Belgium on Friday, badly need a victory at neighbours Macedonia to keep in touch.
Fabio Capello’s Russia, whose 1-0 win over Portugal on Friday means they have won their first three games in Group F, appear to have a straightforward game against Berti Vogts’s struggling Azerbaijan. Portugal host Northern Ireland needing a quick recovery from Friday’s setback.
Germany, who won all their qualifiers on the way to Euro 2012, again look unstoppable and have started off with three wins in a row in Group C including a 6-1 demolition of Ireland in Dublin on Friday. -Supersport