Back in March we had a look at which European teams were in a bit of a pickle in terms of World Cup qualifying. We talked about Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Sweden who are all good sides and first or second seeds when the draw was made. The main focus though was on France and Portugal, just as the expectations are so much higher and I would genuinely be surprised if they weren’t at the World Cup, something I can’t say for any other team (well perhaps my Polish brothers but that’s different).
So what’s changed? Well, France should be ok as they have moved up to 2nd but Domenech is being a bit of a mentalist again with his team selections. A tough away match in Belgrade looms on Wednesday but they’ll get through the playoffs. Bulgaria and Romania are out of it completely so the likes of Berbatov and Mutu will have extended summer holidays. Sweden are up to third in Group 1 while Poland are making it difficult for themselves with defeat to Northern Ireland. I hope they both get through but it looks like Slovakia are too far ahead in Group 3 sadly.
This leaves us with Portugal who are in an even worse situation than before. Now fourth in Group 1 and seven points behind Denmark and three behind Hungary, there’s a very real possibility than Ronaldo won’t be playing on the biggest stage of all. I bet that will screw up any adverts Nike are currently planning. It comes down to this, they play Hungary twice before a gimme against Malta. The problem is, Sweden are ahead of them and play Albania, Denmark and Malta. Now of course the Denmark away game is tough but what chance we see a result both are happy with? Remember a mutually convenient 2-2 to knock out Italy in Euro 2004?
So while Nike are stressing over Ronaldo messing up their strategies, Adidas aren’t looking too clever with their main star either. Brazil swept aside Argentina 3-1 (the first time they’d ever lost in Rosario, a place they deliberately switched to for this match) leaving Maradona’s men in trouble. They’re still 4th but Colombia and Ecuador are just two points behind. Messi and co have only one home game of the three remaining and it could well go right to the wire. You can’t have a World Cup without Argentina though? Not since 1970 has that happened. As the Football Guy pointed out, it would be very odd without two of the three best players on the planet. Ronaldo in particular should be very worried…