Tuesday 29 August 2017

Critical WCQ matches

The next few days will determine a lot of fates for the 2018 World Cup.

UAE v Saudi Arabia, 2.30am Wednesday 30 August 2017
Anything less than a win for both of these sides has serious ramifications for both teams as well as Japan and Australia. A Saudi win would create intense pressure for both the Blue Samurai and the Aussies, while a draw or worse will ease the nerves.

Remember: Japan sits on 17, Saudi on 16 and Australia on 16. Australia have the inferior goal difference.

Japan v Socceroos, 8.35pm Thursday 31 August 2017  - Although it does depend on the above match, any loss would likely set both teams back tremendously.

China v Uzbekistan, 10pm Thursday 31 August 2017
South Korea v Iran, 10 pm Thursday 31 August 2017

3rd-placed Uzbekistan sit 1 point behind their South Korean rivals and need to win in Wuhan; and rely on Iran playing seriously against South Korea.

France v Netherlands, 4.45am Friday 1 September 2017
Netherlands have lost their groove, sitting 3rd in a somewhat tough but close group. Sweden and France sit on 13 points. NED on 10. A win in Saint-Denis could change the complexion of the group and spur on Dutch momentum.

Venezuela v Colombia, 7am Friday 1 September 2017
Chile v Paraguay, 8.30am Friday 1 September 2017
Uruguay v Argentina, 9am Friday 1 September 2017
Brazil v Ecuador, 10.45am Friday 1 September 2017
Peru v Bolivia, 12.15pm Friday 1 September 2017

We all know CONMEBOL (South American) and CAF (African) qualifying is intensely difficult. The latter has no or little room for error, whereas the former is just an overall tough competition.

Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay are in the running for a top 4 spot after Brazil have sealed qualification. Peru and Paraguay sit at the bottom (excluding Venezuela and Bolivia, who are already eliminated) on 18 points each, whereas Colombia sits on 24 and Uruguay and Chile are tied on 23. There clearly isn't much room between all.

One wonders if Ecuador can catch a break against a possibly relaxed Brazil (although they may want to maintain their top 8 position for the purposes of seeding). Peru and Colombia have "must win" or "should win" games. The others face tough rival battles. Anything coild happen.

A win for Peru is not enough to catch Argentina who currently 5th and on 22 points, but if Argentina lose and Ecuador win, Ecuador can move into 5th.

NZ v Solomon Islands, 5.35pm Friday 1 September 2017
Solomon Islands v NZ, 1pm Tuesday 5 September 2017

This is the final home and away round of OFC (Oceania) qualifying. Solomon Islands are hoping they can earn the right to play the 5th placed  South American side. NZ are always giants in this region and it will not be easy.

USA v Costa Rica, 9am Saturday 2 September
Mexico v Panama, 10.30am Saturday 2 September
All matches in the CONCACAF hex are important, but the top 4 are doing battle here with each other. 4th placed Panama sit on 7 points and need to make up on lost ground to catch the Americans who are on 8 points. They will also be hoping for a positive result against top placed Mexico and a favour from the Costa Ricans.

Nigeria v Cameroon, 2am Saturday 2 September 2017 
Cameroon v Nigeria, 3am Tuesday 5 September 2017 

This crazy Group B double header (winner takes all in CAF World Cup qualifying!) sees the Super Eagles face the champions of Africa home and away. It is crazy. Bear in mind that arguably Africa's strongest team at the 2014 World Cup Algeria and previous AFCON champs Zambia constitute the remainder of the group. Although Nigeria are leading on 6 points, with a comfortable buffer of 4 points over 2nd placed Cameroon, 2 Cameroonian wins in a row will propel the Indomitable Lions to the top of the group. 2 or 4 points for the Nigerians would arguably be enough and huge, respectively.

Spain v Italy, 4.45am Sunday 3 September 2017
The Azzuri travel to Madrid, level on points with their Group G rivals Spain. Spain tops the group based on goal difference. The two teams drew 1-1 in the reverse leg at the Juventus Stadium in Turin in October last year so it will be interesting to see if the usually conservative Italians risk going for something more than a draw to overcome their deficit.

Australia v Thailand, 8pm Tuesday 5 September 2017 
Saudi Arabia v Japan 3.30am Wednesday 6 September 2017
This goes without saying...but the Saudis will want to finish strong at home. Almost any Saudi win at home (regardless of most other results, subject to goal difference) will guarantee their qualification. Australia need to focus on their own game and take all 3 points and possibly score lots of goals while keeping a clean sheet, unless they have already qualified by now which is possible with a win in Japan and the Saudis do not win.

Uzbekistan v South Korea, 1am Wednesday 6 September 2017
This is incredibly crazy, but if Uzbekistan dispatches China, they will be in the running for qualification. They probably need to beat South Korea at home, and should they do so, they will erase all memories of bitterness from the last qualification campaign.

Andre Lim

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