Tuesday World Cup Preview
After a weekend of nailbiters and near eliminations, World Cup Qualifying for most parts of the world will end on Tuesday night with the five remaining automatic qualification spots awarded among the confederations of CONCACAF (North America/Central America,) CONMEBOL (South America,) and UEFA (Europe.) There are qualification spots still to be awarded in playoffs involving teams from CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA and the countries of Jordan and New Zealand, but for many countries their 2014 World Cup Qualifying seasons will end on Tuesday and hard questions will have to be asked about the future of football in their countries. So with an emotional day on tap, let’s take a look at the list of countries who have qualified for the World Cup (with those that qualified on Friday boldened,) and a preview of the best matches of the day.
Matches You Will Most Likely Be Watching
Ghana v Egypt (12pm, beINSPORT)
If you are looking for a reason to sneak out of the office for a few minutes and catch a quality match, this is the match to watch. On a day when most World Cup spots are pre-determined this match between the Black Stars of Ghana and the Pharaohs of Egypt should provide plenty of excitement. This is the first two of matches between the two sides, who are without question two of the most accomplished national teams in all of Africa. This has the potential to be a real cracker, and may give FIFA pause in how they allocate World Cup spots going forward.
It almost seems unfortunate that two of Africa’s best sides have to meet in Accra and Cairo rather than in Rio de Janeiro. Both sides have demolished their competition through the last round of qualifying. Ghana demolished teams in Group D, losing only once to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Champion Zambia and outscoring their opponents 18-3. This is a very young Ghanain team, with Goalkeeper Richard Kingson (Doxa Katokopia-Cyrpus) and Midfielder Michael Essien (Chelsea) being the only players over 30. There is no one main goal scorer on the squad (over nine players scored a goal in the previous round of qualifying,) but they do have plenty of players like Midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus) and Midfielder Sulley Muntari (AC Milan.)
Ghana is a little light on defense. Although they only allowed 3 goals in the last round of qualifying, the teams that they played against (Lesotho, Sudan, and Zambia) are not exactly Forward factories. Egypt’s best chance against will be exposing their weakness on defense. Ghana’s three losses this year come against teams that had at least one scoring option up front (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Japan.) This is a team built to score, not defend.
The Pharaoh’s feature a potent offense led by Midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika (Al-Ahly-Egypt,) and Mohamed Salah (F.C. Basel-Switzerland). Aboutrika and Salah each had six goals for Egypt in the previous round of qualifying. Salah would also be known by Chelsea fans for having scored the tying goal for Basel in their recent UEFA Champions League tie. The Egyptian manager, Bob Bradley, has done an exception job at managing a situation where players are constantly at risk but an entire country is unraveling.
Much like Ghana, Egypt has some questions on defense. Only Ahmed Elmohammady (Hull City-England) plays outside of Egypt. While I have no doubt that Egypt produces quality players, the Egyptian Premier League has not been in operation since 2012 because of the civil war. Obviously the country has far more important things to take care of, but from a footballing standpoint match fitness is critical. Ghana has players who play top flight football all throughout Europe. As much as I would like to see Egypt go to the World Cup and give their people some joy, it is going to be very difficult for them to overcome such a difference in skill.
England v Poland (3pm Fox Sports 1)
Raise your hand if you had the English winning 4-1 against Montenegro on Friday? How about everybody who had Andros Townsend scoring a goal in the match? Although many suspected the English would defeat the Montenegrins, it was not expected to be such a thorough, defeat. The English controlled all aspects of the game. They outshot Montenegro 27 to 10 and bested them on shots on goal by a margin of 12 -2. What is even more astounding is that Montenegro had 0 corner kicks on the game while England had 14! England completely dominated Montenegro and finally showed some tenacity and being able to finish off teams.
Against Poland, the Three Lions are going to a much more potent offense. The good news for England is that Poland has already been eliminated from Group H and is unlikely to play their best best offensive players, the Borussia Dortmund pair of striker Robert Lewandowski and midfielder Jakub Blazsycyzskowski. But Poland has a very, young exciting group of players coming up who are likely to see the full ninety minutes. It will be interesting to see if players like Piotr Zellinski, the 19-year old midfielder who plays for Udinese, and Pawel Wszolek, the midfielder who plays for Sampordia receive a look in preparation for qualifying for the European Championships next year.
With England leading Ukraine by 9 goals for the top spot in Group H, look for them to very aggressive against a Polish team that has only one win on the road during qualifying (a 5-1 defeat of San Marino.) If the English can continue their run of form from Friday night they will be heading to Brazil.
Mexico v Costa Rica (9:30pm Telemundo)
It is popular to contend that CONCACAF has far too many qualification spots, and supposedly the quality of play is very poor, I wonder how many people who claim that CONCACAF is that bad actually watched the Panama-Mexico match on Friday night? An incredibly gripping match with both teams taking chances on offense and playing stout defense, the game was only decided in the 88th minute when Mexican midfielder Raul Jimenez scored off of a scorpion kick to give El Tri the victory.
The Mexico team that showed up on Friday night looked nothing like the team that was sleep walking through qualification. They were tenacious on offense, had much more chemistry in the midfield, and their defense was not caught off guard on counter-attacks. I would hate to give Rafa Marquez any credit, given his history of being a flopper and cheap shot artist, but he did a splendid job of giving this team an identity in the midfield. Oddly enough, it was Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez that looked most out of form. Even the best strikers miss penalty shots, but in a match where Panama had multiple chances to take the lead, Mexico was lucky to make it out of the match with three points.
For Mexico, their mission is clear: they must win this match and hope for the best. They still technically have a chance for the third automatic qualification spot, but will have to rely on Jamaica defeating Honduras and scoring more than 2 goals against Costa Rica. Considering how poor Jamaica has been in Qualifying (0-4-5 with only three goals scored through 7 matches,) and that Costa Rica has only allowed one goal at home, this does not seem like a fairly strong scenario. I will get back to the playoff scenario with the Panama-U.S.A. match.
Costa Rica will not lay down for Mexico on Tuesday night. Costa Rica and Mexico have a long, storied history in CONCACAF. In 2001, the Tica’s became the first team at Mexico City against El Tri in over 25 years. Mexico has dominated the CONCACAF region for decades and only recently have teams like Costa Rica really been able to match the Mexicans on a consistent basis.
Expect Costa Rica to play a near full squad in their effort to defeat Mexico. The club subbed out their top three players in the Honduras match on Friday: Midfielder Christian Bolanos (Copenhagen,) Forward Bryan Ruiz (Fulham,) and Forward Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake). Look out for Forward Joel Campbell. The Arsenal phenom has mostly been in the news for his atrocious dive against Matt Besler in their match against the United States in September. Despite his occasional act of petulance, he also shown that he has excellent speed and can take on multiple defenders at once. Although Mexico showed improvement in their last match, they have had difficulty against teams who are quick on the counter-attack all throughout the tournament.
Panama was a warm up for the real test for the new Mexico Manager Luis Vucetich. Playing against an in-form Costa Rica team at Estadio Nacional in La Sabana that has not lost a match home during World Cup Qualifying, el Tri is going to have their work cut out for them to not lose this match, let alone get points. This is not a gimme match for Mexico- they are going to have to earn it.
Games Worth Getting on The Big Screen During a Lunch Meeting or at Happy Hour
USA v Panama (9:30 pm beINSPORT)
Unlike Friday night’s match for the United States, which was more of a thank you to the fans for their support throughout the long Qualifying campaign, Tuesday’s match against Panama actually has real implications for the CONCACAF playing spot. Panama has to defeat the United States to get on level points with Mexico for the playoff spot and the right to play New Zealand. They are also going to need to make up the goal differential of +2 between themselves and Mexico. The good news is that Mexico will have a difficult time with their road match against Costa Rica.
But the bad news is that the squad that the United States will be bringing over is not a group of pushovers. Yes, Starting Goalkeeper Tim Howard and Starting Midfielder Jermaine Jones have been sent back. As has Landon Donovan, who had a fairly uneven game against Jamaica on Friday (to be fair, he has been nursing an ankle injury for about three weeks now.) But their replacements are not waterboys. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League for Aston Villa for about two years now and would be starting on most national teams. Midfielders Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestian both had pretty good games against Jamaica once U.S. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann moved to a more traditional 4-4-2 in the second half. Kljestian, in particular, will be looking to make a big statement in this game as he has been getting prominent minutes for Belgian side Standard Liege in the UEFA Champions League but has found National Team call-ups to be few and far between.
But this match is really about Panama showing that they are a team who deserves to be playing in the World Cup. They have been maddeningly inconsistent throughout this World Cup Qualifying campaign. They have had a few good results on the road, such as drawing on the road against Honduras in September. But they have also had a few poor results at home, like drawing with Jamaica and blowing a 2-0 lead to Costa Rica in February.
Panama has shown in the past that they are able to keep up with the United States. In their historic 2-1 victory over the United States in the 2011 Gold Cup, Panama gave the United States fits by knocking the U.S. around on defense and by making the most of their few opportunities on offense. They also have two forwards in Gabriel Torres and Blas Perez that are Designated Players and should not be afraid to mix it up on the attacking third. This same style nearly got them the 2013 Gold Cup as well.
Even though Klinsmann has indicated that the United States would not take it easy on Panama to make things more difficult for Mexico, I would like to think that the thought of seeing the U.S.’ biggest rival being humiliated would bring him joy. News of results in other games always seem to make their way on the field. If the results of both matches are favorable to Panama, I could see the U.S. players turning the match into more of a scrimmage.
Other Games Worth Watching
Portugal v Luxembourg (1pm ESPN Deportes)
Sweden v Germany (2:45pm GOL TV)
Italy v Armenia (2:45 pm RAI Internazionale- This is a channel available on Verizon Fios and the DISH Network)
Spain v Georgia (3pm ESPN Deportes)
Uruguay v Argentina (7pm beINSPORT)
Chile v Ecuador (7:30pm beINSPORT)
Jamaica v Honduras (9:30 pm beINSPORT Spanish)
Games Worth Scouring the Internet For
Bulgaria v Czech Republic (2:15pm ESPN 3)
Norway v Iceland (2:15 pm ESPN 3)
Romania v Estonia (2pm ESPN3)
Bosnia-Herzegovina v Lithuania (1pm ESPN3)
Greece v Liechtenstein (1pm ESPN 3)