In Europe today, 8 teams vying for the final 4 UEFA spots in the 2010 World Cup found out who they were playing in the two-legged ties to take place on November 14th and November 18th. 4 of the teams were seeded as the 4 highest ranked teams according to the FIFA rankings: France, Portugal, Russia and Greece. The other 4 teams, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Ireland, Slovenia and Ukraine, would be paired with the 4 seeded teams. After the draw, the four matchups are: France-Ireland, Portugal-Bosnia, Russia-Slovenia and Greece-Ukraine.
The matchups were not what I was hoping for them, but they leave a very intriguing draw in France-Ireland. The Irish definitely have a team capable of making the World Cup, but they have a very tough task of surviving the French attack of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema. I’m hoping for the Irish to win this draw and get back to the World Cup for the first time since Japan/Korea ’02…but the French attack can be quite deadly, and I think that the Irish will fall in a heartbreaker on away goals.
Portugal-Bosnia is one that I think will be pretty one-sided in favor of the Portuguese. Obviously, whether Cristiano Ronaldo can come back from injury to play in these matches will also be a major factor. If he can come back, send the Portugese through. If he’s out, that creates a hole that the Bosnians could try to expose. Bosnia is a longshot in this one, but if they play like they did earlier in the World Cup qualifying campaign, they will make this closer than people expect.
Russia-Slovenia will be a tough draw for both teams. I hope both teams are prepared to play in the snow, because I think that both ties will be in the cold, frozen tundra. Russia has more talent than Slovenia, but Slovenia has been playing great soccer the entire qualifying campaign. They will have to continue to play great against the Russians. Slovenia is very capable of moving on, and it would be great for the former Yugoslav nation to qualify for the 2nd time in its short history. However, in the end I think Russia’s Andrei Arshavin elevates to another gear, and that gear will be too much for the Slovenians. Russia moves on.
The final one is Greece-Ukraine. The Greeks have been great in competitions lately, including winning Euro 2004 and qualifying for Euro 2008. However, Ukraine has the best player in this tie in Andriy Shevchenko, the former AC Milan and Chelsea striker now playing for Dynamo Kyiv. Shevchenko, if he’s on, will be the one that sends Ukraine through. However, Greece is a formidable opponent, albeit the weakest of the 4 seeded UEFA teams, in my opinion. However, they have a team that plays well together and finds a way to win. My pick, though, is for Ukraine.
So, November 14th and 18th will see some drama in UEFA. My picks to make it to the World Cup are France, Portugal, Russia and Ukraine. However, I hope the Irish can somehow pull it out and beat France. It would be great to see the Irish make the trip to South Africa.