While the NFL season went all NBA-style this past weekend, where all the good teams looked less than dynastic, and all the bad teams looked relatively interchangeable with each other, the World Cup of World Football will have another round of qualifying games tomorrow. You perhaps avoided blowing off work on Friday to watch the qualifiers, and instead focused on the painfully slow and frustrating MLB playoffs. I do not know. All I know is this past weekend of baseball playoffs and NFL offerings sold me even more on international football, as it is very simple – 45 minute halves. You will be over in two hours and can go back to your regularly scheduled day. Sometimes, as was the case with the Senegal/Ivory Coast African Cup of Nations qualifier over the weekend, you might even get out early. In Senegal, after a questionable penalty call and a second goal off the resulting free kick by Didier Drogba, Senegalese fans set fires in the stands and rioted, with 15 minutes time left on the clock. Players were hustled into the locker rooms, and then visiting Ivory Coast fans were ushered onto the field and encircled by the Senegalese army to protect them from rioting fans. Again, that is why the world’s football is superior. No NFL team has such passionate fans that diplomatic emergencies come about. You may see that as a negative, but if you do that means you are probably a self-important American fuck and I hope you get stabbed in the fucking intestines with a solid steel book of Rumi poetry chiseled sharp with the tears of a million children. You motherfucker.
Anyways, we get back to action, and this is it until spring time. There is a small day of games in November, but there won’t be another full-blown qualifying day until the end of next March. The biggest part of today’s qualifying is it is the final day of CONCACAF (North American) third round qualifying, where the twelve teams in this round will be narrowed down to six for the final round (sort of) of qualifying. Three teams are definitely eliminated, and only one is guaranteed into the fourth round thus far (Mexico), so you will have 8 international teams fighting for 5 spots, meaning three teams dreams will come to a bitter end, nearly two years in advance of the actual World Cup.
Nonetheless, I have hand-picked ten notable games for tomorrow’s qualifying endeavors, that you can make note of and enjoy either at your favorite international-friendly pub, or perhaps on your computerbot screen while pretending to work, or whatever the fuck you want to do. I do not give a fuck honestly.
#1: SOUTH KOREA at IRAN in Tehran at 12:30 PM (all time Eastern of the American variety) – Asian qualifying is further along than most other parts of the world, in terms of number of teams left. They started with 43, but are already down to the final 10, who are in two groups of 5, where the top two will make the World Cup field, and the third will be involved in play-in games to potentially make it. So being in the top two of your group is super important. Group B has seen Japan run the fuck away from everybody else, but Group A, which this game comes from, is more of a clusterfuck. South Korea is in first with 7 points, and Iran, Qatar, and Lebanon are tied for second with 4 points. One of those teams will most likely get the second automatic spot. This day of games will be the halfway point in the process as well.
So Iran is hosting the group-leading South Korean team, and a win would put them in great position to make the World Cup finals in Brazil. A loss would be crushing, and give opportunity to Qatar (who is hosting Uzbekistan tomorrow as well, and the Uzbekis have not won a game in this round yet). On top of this, you most likely are aware of the geopolitical issues swirling around Iran at the same time. Do not kid yourself for a minute that the rest of the world thinks as half-heartedly about world football (aka soccer) as the U.S. does. In fact, Iran’s first home game in this round, back in June against Qatar, had a live attendance of 100,000. Expect that again tomorrow, which could very well make it the most attended football game of the day, anywhere in the world.
You will probably get tired of me driving this point home, but the fact the football game is such a great contest, and yet still secondary to all the extra-curricular political and national intrigues that swirl around it, and yet the entire fermenting crockpot of extras is basically reduced down to just the football game for that 90 minutes, that is such an amazing and human thing.
#2: GREECE at SLOVAKIA in Bratislava at 2:30 PM – Europe is much earlier on in the qualification process, but with it being a simple case of each group winner making the final field, and each second place team having to hope to make it, there is less room for fucking around. Thus, Greece drawing with Bosnia & Herzegovina in Greece last Friday, 0-0, was fairly crushing to the Greeks, and left both teams in a three-way tie at the top of their Group G standings with Slovakia, who made the World Cup in 2010, and is not necessarily a slouch even though I don’t know where it is on a map. So now the Greeks have to go to the Slovaks for a match, and their country is in austerity turmoil with riots in the streets. This will be the Greece national team’s last qualifying game until next spring when they get a rematch at Bosnia & Herzegovina (not sure if they will be in Bosnia or Herzegovina for that one), so a lot of national interest will be focusing on this game, I am sure.
As for Slovakia, if they can snag a win against Greece, it puts them in a good position about 1/3 of the way through qualifying, with the meat of their match-ups yet to come.
#3: SWEDEN at GERMANY in Berlin at 2:45 PM – Germany might run away with Group C if Sweden is not careful. They are the obvious favorites, and are 3-0-0 thus far. Sweden is 2-0-0 in their two games however, and really are the only legitimate threat in this group at tripping up the German machine. A game in Berlin is probably not their best chance, but who the fuck knows? But with an outright win, Germany will have double the points of its nearest competitor in their group, already, and Sweden will be forced to play for an iffy second-place berth into the World Cup’s final field. They probably have as good a chance at that as anybody in Europe’s group system, but still, they’ll be playing for a draw at least, and a win if possible, in a tough away game.
#4: ENGLAND at POLAND in Warsaw at 3:00 PM – England’s football team is well-known for its crushing letdowns, and this is a perfect scenario for just such a thing to happen. Still very early on in Group H qualifying, England has a 3-point lead on both Poland and Montenegro. Poland has a rich football history, and a rabid fanbase. English fans are notoriously crazy as well. Probably the best chance for drunken fisticuffs around a game on this day’s worth of qualifiers is going to be this one (Argentina/Chile is a close second though), and look for Poland to try and drive a dagger into the heart of England’s dreams for an easy path to the World Cup. And anybody who has followed international football pretty much at any point since the beginning of the World Cup existing knows that England loves to make things difficult for themselves.
#5: FRANCE at SPAIN in Madrid at 3:00 PM – France and Spain are in the 5-team Group I, which means they will play two less games than the other groups. On one hand, you’d think this would make it easier to get that second-place path into the World Cup, as even the worst team games in this group will count for you (whereas they are thrown out in other groups); but it also makes every game more important, especially this one. Spain is expected to qualify, and perhaps win the whole World Cup (again, as they did in 2010). France is a team nobody likes other than French people. They are kind of like the Dallas Cowboys of world football basically, in that the rest of the world is all too ready to laugh at their failures. And even though both squads come in with two wins and no losses in their two games thus far, this should be a Spaniard victory with ease, although perhaps I am thinking wishfully. Their one common opponent is Belarus, who Spain crushed in Minsk, 4-0 last Friday, whereas France beat them 3-1 in France back in September. Logical reasoning from that suggest Spain should have a slight but strong edge over France, but the world’s football is never logical.
#6: NETHERLANDS at ROMANIA in Bucharest at 3:00 PM – Some words which are simple because they are common can become really hilarious when you over-analyze them by repeating them while high. “The Netherlands” is one such example. The Land of Nether. I have mostly been tripping out on that today. But this match between the two top teams in Group D will be a strong case as to who will get the automatic top spot into the World Cup. Both teams have won all three games they’ve played in qualifying thus far. Even in their combined scores against common opponents (Turkey and Andorra), they equal out to 5-0 goals for-against. Obviously, the game being played in Bucharest gives the Romanians an advantage, but the way things look, their two head-to-head matches will be the key to this group. Hungary has a strong tradition, but was waxed 4-1 when they played the Land of Nether in September. Expect the Netherites to go for standard philosophy of at least a draw, but hopefully a win on the road, and Romania will look to crush their enemy outright on the home pitch. In cases like this, a draw at home is considered a loss philosophically, as you put too much weight on the away replay, even if this is part of a round robin format and not a simple home-and-away. Romania will celebrate a win wildly, trust me, and if the Land of Nether steals a draw, much less a win, it will be a huge game in their favor towards making the final World Cup field.
#7: CANADA at HONDURAS in San Pedro Sula at 4:00 PM – This is a fairly huge game. Right now in Group C, Panama and Canada have 10 points, and Honduras has 8. The thing is, Panama is playing Cuba on this final day of 3rd round qualifying, and although it is in Havana, Cuba has lost all five games in this round, and been outscored 9 to 0 in those games. In other words, Panama is probably one of the two teams to move on, with little doubt.
That means the Hondurans hosting Canada is, essentially a play-in game to stay alive in World Cup qualifying. For the Canadians, with a 2-point advantage coming in, they can play for the draw, which is what you should expect. I mean, there’s an outside chance they could lose and still move on, if somehow magic happens and Cuba crushes Panama, but that ain’t happening. For Honduras, it is very simple – beat Canada in front of the home crowd and make it to the 4th round of CONCACAF qualifying which will be a home-and-away round robin with five other teams. Win this game, and they will have ten more qualifying games to continue chasing their World Cup dreams. Lose, and they are done. Ultimately, that is the same destiny that faces the Canadians, but like I said, they can play for the draw. Honduras needs an outright win.
#8: GUATEMALA at UNITED STATES in Kansas City at 7:15 PM – This is a fairly interesting match-up because none of the Group A teams have qualified for the next round, and both of these teams sit at the top with 10 points, while Jamaica chases from the rear with 7 points. These two teams can coast to a draw and get both themselves into the next round. Unfortunately, that might be likely. Even a close game of one-goal difference might shut the Jamaicans out, as they’ll need a big goal differential to force their way through a tie-breaking process. But if these teams draw, they both advance. And whosoever wins guarantees themselves into the 4th round, while the other has to split hairs with Jamaica potentially.
#9: ANTIGUA & BARBUDA at JAMAICA in Kingston at 7:15 PM – The great thing about this is it occurs at the same time as the Guatemala/U.S. game, so there will be scoreboard watching galore going on in Independence Park in Kingston. Jamaica needs to not only win, but win big. The ideal situation would be for Jamaica to get a three goal win over Antigua & Barbuda (who has not lost by more than 2 goals during this entire round of qualifying, though they have yet to win a game), and one of the teams to lose outright in the U.S. game, preferably Guatemala, whom Jamaica could force a play-off game with if everything breaks right. But at the last, they need to crush some Antinguan & Barbudan ass. Problem is, the only game that Antigua & Barbuda has not outright lost this entire qualifying round was a 0-0 draw against this very Jamaican team in June. That draw ultimately is probably going to be what holds Jamaica back from advancing. But they’ll be trying to pile the goals on tomorrow night in hopes that their past transgressions do not hold them back in the present. That, as well, is the beauty of World Cup qualifying, even two calendar years in advance of the actual World Cup 2014 getting started in Brazil.
#10: ARGENTINA at CHILE in Santiago at 10:05 PM – With World Cup 2014 being in Brazil, the heat is on all South American squads even more than usual to qualify. Home continent teams tend to win the World Cup historically, so South American teams will feel a psychological advantage come 2014 (and also experience a physical one, as South American fans will congregate upon Brazil, most certainly). Unfortunately, Chile has lost their last two qualifiers to Ecuador (last Friday in Quito) and Colombia (last month, in Chile). They return home to face the proud squad sitting atop the CONMEBOL qualifying standings, while the Chileans teeter around the middle of the pack, which could mean a play-in game, or even failing to qualify if they fall below the fifth spot, which they are only one point ahead of right now. Add to this the fact that Chile and Argentina are neighbors who comprise the entire southern third of South America, and what you have is the makings of a hotly contested Tuesday night game in Latin America. Argentina has been crushing motherfuckers lately (minus a strange 1-1 tie to lowly Peru in September, they’ve outscored opponents 10 to 1 in qualifiers this calendar year), and the Latin alpha male desire to assert one’s dominance over another shall be on display, for sure. Because even as Argentina dominates people lately, they are only one point up on Ecuador and Colombia, and they will want to maintain and grow that lead. Sneaking in as second- or third-best is not going to be the Argentinian way, so expect this to be perhaps the hottest game of the day.
So there you have it – your World Cup day of qualifying primer for Tuesday’s games. We’ll have a quarter-schedule of games in November, and then have to wait until March of 2013 before we get to get our nationalist pride stoked into a fury again, in terms of football at least.