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Oct 102013


Fifa World Cup 2014 Brazil 3 213x300 Weekend World Cup Qualifying Preview

Hotter than a summer in Rio, World Cup Qualifying picked up in September with teams from UEFA, CONMEBOL, and CONCACAF qualifying for next’s showcase in Brazil. Here is the list of teams that have already qualified thus far for Brazil 2014.










Costa Rica










South Korea


United States




With that in mind, let’s get to Friday’s games!

(Note: I did not include any of the friendlies that are being played over the weekend. Since this article is about World Cup Qualifying, it did not seem like a strong fit. Plus I am not sure why Brazil is playing Zambia in China.)


Matches You Will Most Likely Be Watching


Mexico v Panama (9:30pm ESPNews, UniMas)

If you had said to me seven months ago that this would be a “must-win” match for El Tri, I would not have believed. Mexico finds themselves in the dubious position of being in fifth place in the CONCACAF Qualification bracket, behind Panama on goals scored (7-4). Although they should have the advantage playing at home against Panama, fans of El Tri should not sleep on “The Canal Men.”  Panama should actually be ahead of Mexico on points but the club drop two points against Jamaica in a 0-0 draw at home September. Having had the chance to watch them grow over these past few years, you can see that this is a team that believes in themselves and wants the chance to go to Brazil. Their captain, Felipe Baloy, has extensive experience playing in Mexico for Santos Laguna and should provide composure on a very young backline. Also look out for their goalkeeper Jaime Penedo. Although I was a bit skeptical of him in my piece on the Los Angeles Galaxy, that was more to do with him acclimating himself to a new club. With the Panama national team, he has been superb with making key saves and providing leadership for the other players.

I am very concerned about Mexico in this match. Although history tells us that Mexico at home is one of the most surefire bets in professional soccer, this is not the same Mexico team that has terrorized CONCACAF since its inception. It always felt like when I would watch Mexico play that they liked it when the other team scored, that it meant there was a real competition. Well now there is real competition in CONCACAF and Mexico seems to be failing. Although they played very well in the first half against the United States in their last qualification match, their confidence just evaporated after the first goal was scored.  New head coach Victor Vucetich has been successful  with Monterrey, winning the Apertura 2009 and 2010 and is a 4-time winner of the CONCACAF Champions League (2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013) so he has some understanding of how football is played within the region. I also like that he was able to convince Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to come back and play. Mexico’s goalkeeping has been terrible for months and Ochoa, who plays for Ajaccio in Ligue 1, should be an upgrade. Mexico needs three points in this match, especially with their final match of qualifying being played at Costa Rica on Tuesday.


United States v Jamaica (6:30pm, ESPN)

I hesitate to put this match as a match worth watching because  it is a match where very little is at stake (the United States has already qualified and Jamaica is all but eliminated,) since it is the United States and it will be shown at every bar during happy hour on Friday it is worth taking a look at. With two matches remaining, the United States will probably use this match as a means to test the team’s squad depth and to see what sort of chemistry can be created. Although international breaks are often criticized (and rightfully so) for being useless, the matches that a team has between the end of qualification and the start of World Cup play are important and very few.  So for the United States, these next two matches are great opportunities to play against teams that are still have a shot at qualifying.

It will be interesting to see how certain players step up given some of the injuries on the team. With no Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Brad Evans, and Jermaine Jones, players like Sacha Kljeistan and Mix Diskerud will be given opportunities to show what they can do and show that they deserve to be in the 18 that is named to play in the World Cup. I am also interested to see how U.S. National Team Jurgen Klinsmann chooses to use winger Aron Johansson. The AZ Alkmaar striker has shown in limited appearances so far that he can be a spark plug off of the bench and provide that little bit of creativity in the box from the forward position that the U.S. has not had in 20 years.

For Jamaica, needing three points and A LOT of help in other matches, I hope that they come out of the box swinging. I am not sure what happened between this time last year, when they beat the United States at “The Office,” their home stadium in Kingston, and now. They looked like they were going to be a very difficult team to get points off of when they drew with Mexico in Mexico earlier this year.  The lineup that they will be bringing to Kansas City on Friday night is stacked with players playing in MLS and in England. Players like Defenders Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo) and Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace,) and Forwards Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers,) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps) are all quality players who will make life difficult for the United States. The one player to really watch out for though is Forward Deshorn Brown. The 23 year old forward for the Colorado Rapids has had a great rookie season with the club, scoring 7 goals and has helped lead the Rapids back into relevancy.


England v Montenegro (3pm Fox Sports 1)

It is fairly easy to knock the English for their lackluster play thus far in World Cup Qualifying. I am sure that any person in London can pick up a magazine on the street corner and read about how terrible the team is. But I would like to give some credit where credit is due: beyond Moldova and San Marino, England is playing one of the more difficult groups in Europe. Poland, Ukraine, and Montenegro, have all proven to be very capable opponents for one of the “top teams in the world.” Although the English do have two home games to finish off qualification, neither Montenegro nor Poland will be an easy three points.

For the English to win they are going two things to happen. First, Joe Hart is going to have play like one of the best goalkeepers in the world. His play has really suffered since being humiliated in the Euro’s last year against Italy. His play for England has been at best spotty, and he has looked lost for Manchester City. Hart has shown in the past that he can be a dominant goalkeeper, that he can make game-changing plays and dictate the flow of a match. They will need him at the top of his game against the likes of Hart’s teammate at Manchester City Forward Stevan Jovetic.

Second, the Three Lions need for Wayne Rooney to be Wayne Rooney. Rooney has been quite effective for England scoring 5 goals during Qualifying. Although his form his time with Manchester United this season has been turbulent (when is it not?) he always seems to use the international breaks as a release for his frustrations with his club. England has scored 25 goals during Qualification and Manager Roy Hodgson seems to have found a role for the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, and Frank Lampard, with each playing an important part in the English attack. But it is Rooney with his creativity and ability to make plays in small spaces that drives this English attack and will be the deciding factor on Friday’s result.

Montenegro will be a very difficult team to draw three points off of. Bear in mind this is the same Montenegrin team that secured a draw in qualification for the 2012 European Championships.  But they will be without starting forward Mirko Vucinic (Juventus-Italy,) goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic (Tom Tomsk-Russia,) center back Marko Basa (Lille-France,) and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic  (Hansa Rostock-Russia.) The Brave Falcons will have to rely on Defender Stefan Savic (Fiorentina-Italy,) Midfielder Nikola Drincic (Rapid Wien-Austria,) and Forward Dejan Damjanovic (F.C. Seoul) to pick up the slack. Damjanovic has scored 3 goals in Qualification thus far, including the one that secured a draw against England in March.

With injuries piling up, and an automatic three points against Moldova on Tuesday, Montenegro may just try and settle for a point in this match.


Game Worth Getting on the Big Screen At Happy Hour

Ecuador v Uruguay (5pm beINSPORT Spanish)

This is the most important match of this round of World Cup Qualifying.  In Uruguay’s last two Qualifying matches, they turned around what had been a very disappointing campaign. In the teams past two matches, they went on the road against Peru (playing at altitude) and  played  Colombia at home and secured 6 points. Coupled with Ecuador’s 1-0 loss at home to Colombia, both teams are now tied on points with 22.

However it may be too little, too late for Uruguay. They are still behind Ecuador on goal differential (+4,) and would have to secure some kind of result against Argentina on Tuesday. Although Uruguay sports some of CONMEBOLs best strikers in Luis Suarez (10 goals) and Edinson Cavani (4 goals,) Ecuador has only given up 14 goals during Qualification. Of those 14, only 3 were at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa, their home stadium in Quito. Their defense, which is led by Walter Ayoyi (Pachuca,) is excellent at man-marking and rarely loses their shape.

Ecuador does not have the players up front to go goal for goal for Uruguay, so look for them to try and take their opportunities on the counter when they can run a defensive strategy that emphasizes possession. Spain showed in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup that Uruguay can beaten by maintaining possession and limiting their chances in the final 1/3rd of the field. I would imagine that Ecuador’s manager, Reinaldo Rueda, will try and employ a similar strategy.

Other Games Available to Watch on Television:

Germany v Austria (2:30pm ESPN2)

Sweden v Austria (2:45pm GolTV)

Honduras v Costa Rica (5pm beINSPORT)

Argentina v Peru (7pm beINSPORT)

Senegal v Ivory Coast (Saturday 1pm, beINSPORT)

Tunisia v Cameroon (Sunday 1pm, be INSPORT)


Games Worth Scouring the Internet For

Burkina Faso v Algeria (12pm beINSPORT play)

Although Burkina Faso and Algeria do not have the pedigree of Senegal and the Ivory Coast, or Egypt and Ghana (by the way, why the hell is that game not available on television?) the Stallions and the Desert Foxes should make for an interesting pairing. The two teams play very similar styles that focus on a solid defense and making their opportunities off of the counter-attack. While Algeria brings back a team mostly composed of veterans from their 2010 World Cup, Burkina Faso made it all the way to the final of the 2013 African Cup of Nations. A solid set of games between these two could further prove the need for FIFA to allocate more World Cup spots to CAF.

Burkina Faso rode this style to the final of the African Cup of Nations, where they were ultimately beaten by Nigeria. Their top defender is Bakary Kone who is a regular for Lyon in the French first division. He is a very tall, strong defender who showed in the Africa Cup of Nations that he can hold down tough, imposing forwards. They are going to have difficulty scoring though. The club only scored seven goals in the previous round of qualification, which in Africa’s final round. Burkina will rely on Forward Moumouni Dagano. The former Sochaux and Genk striker is Burkina Faso’s all-time leading goal scorer but has yet to score a goal during qualifying. Their other main target is Fortuna Dusseldorf Forward Artiside Bance, who has scored 2 goals in qualifying.

Although Algeria still prioritizes defense, they have developed a couple of scoring options. Forward Islam Slimani, who plays for Sporting CP in the Portugese Premier League, has scored 5 goals in qualifying and against Burkina Faso in a friendly in June.  They also have Ishak Befodil, who was signed by Inter Milan this summer. The 21 year old is one many Algerian who grew up in the French academy, but chose to play for Algeria. He has only made two appearances for the senior national team, but tremendous speed and upside. Their defense is anchored by Left Back Djamel Mesbah, who plays for Parma in Serie A, and Centre Back Carl Medjani of Olympiacos in Greece.

With Algeria’s attacking advantage, it will be difficult for Burkina Faso to make it through to the World Cup. But this is a team that showed by beating Mali and Ghana en route to the African Cup of Nations that they can play with teams that have skills advantages by remaining composed on defense and making the most of their limited chances on the attack. Despite their lack of football history, the Stallions can defeat Algeria.

Croatia v Belgium (noon, ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes)

There may be many other games this weekend that have much more at stake, but there are few matches that provide the quality of players like this Croatia and Belgium match. In order to receive the automatic qualification spot in Group A, Croatia would have to win their next two matches and Belgium would need to lose their next two matches.  Despite how unlikely this situation would be, Croatia is bringing all of their starters into this match. If nothing else, it will provide an excellent opportunity for their starters to have one more quality match before the UEFA playoffs begin.

Of course, when one looks at the roster of Croatia names like Mario Mandzukic of Bayern Munich, Luka Modric of Real Madrid, and Nikica Jelavic of Everton automatically pop out. Croatia has always been known for their outstanding offensive players. But it is this team’s defense that has really led the way. The team has only allowed 5 goals in qualifying and was able to secure a draw 1-1 against Belgium in Brussels in June. They are going to have their hands full against the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Christian Benteke, and Eden Hazard tomorrow but they should have adequate resources up front to counter any Belgian attack.

Although the Belgians have been quite impressive in qualifying, losing Vincent Kompany to an injury on Sunday will make things more difficult for this squad. Belgium is immensely talented, but they are also very young and still gaining experience. In Kompany’s absence, they will look to Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen to replace him. That is a pretty good replacement, but they are going to need someone to step up and replace Kompany’s leadership and ability to keep a team composed under duress. The Belgians are lucky in that they only need to get a point in the next two matches to secure the automatic qualification place in Group A. But a loss against Croatia would make things interesting going into Tuesday’s match with Gareth Bale and Wales. If nothing else, this should be an excellent chance for anyone who wants to watch two of the best teams in the world try and prove who is better.


Other Notable Matches Available on Standard Internet Packages (Check out ESPN3 and beINSPORT Play for the Full Slate.)

Netherlands v Hungary (2pm, ESPN3)

Slovenia v Norway (2:40pm ESPN3)

Colombia v Chile (7pm beINSPORT Play)





Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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