By MICHAEL KLINE
World Cup Qualifying resumed action yesterday, and Spain’s 1-1 draw against Finland, who currently sit 86 spots below Spain in FIFA’s World Rankings, served as the biggest surprise of the short international break thus far.
Despite commanding an astounding 82% possession, Spain woefully lacked a cutting edge and were only able to muster four shots on target against their Nordic foes. Finland, on the other hand, executed their game plan to perfection: hunkering defensively, maintaining flawless defensive execution and finding an equalizer on 79 minutes.
Spain weren’t the only ones to come away from Friday disappointed, however, with Portugal joining in on the sentiment following their 3-3 draw against Israel.
A stoppage-time equalizer from Fábio Coentrão saved a point for the Portuguese in Tel Aviv, but having to overcome a 2-goal deficit to record a point against Israel serves as a harrowing reminder of the difficulties Portugal always seem to have qualifying for major tournaments.
Here is a closer look at the rest of European qualifying from Friday:
Belgium and Croatia remain tied at the top of Group A, and, barring a major collapse from either country, both look poised to duke it out for the lone automatic qualifying spot in the group.
Scotland and Wales faced off in what will be considered a meaningless matchup, with Wales emerging victorious 2-1 in a result that has completely squashed any hope Scotland may have had at a late surge for qualification.
Here is the full list of results from Group A’s Friday qualification matches:
Croatia 2, Serbia 0
Macedonia 0, Belgium 2
Scotland 1, Wales 2
Malta’s poor record in qualifying continued yesterday, losing 6-0 against Bulgaria. Malta currently sit dead last in Group B, having lost all four matches they have played and their only goal in qualifying having come way back in October against the Czech Republic. Bulgaria’s win saw them remain in second-place in the group, just a point behind Italy, who have a game-in-hand.
Denmark were able to make up ground on the top two in the group, beating the Czech Republic 3-0 on the road, thanks to a trifecta of second-half Danish goals.
Here is the full list of results from Group B’s Friday qualification matches:
Bulgaria 6, Malta 0
Czech Republic 0, Denmark 3
Germany’s blistering offensive production continued yesterday, when they beat Kazakhstan 3-0 on the road. The Germans have scored 18 goals so far in qualification, a number only topped by England’s 20. Goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Götze and Thomas Müller proved to be the difference for Die Mannschaft, who were all too powerful to be overcome by Kazakhstan.
Second-place Sweden hosted Ireland in a 0-0 draw at the Friends Arena, Sweden’s second consecutive point in qualifying. The point will prove valuable for the Irish, who were able to withstand Sweden’s offensive pressure and keep Zlatan Ibrahimovich off of the score sheet. Ireland remain tied for third-place, and just a point off of second.
Here is the full list of results from Group C’s Friday qualification matches:
Kazakhstan 0, Germany 3
Austria 6, Faroe Islands 0
Sweden 0, Ireland 0
A stoppage-time goal from Alexandru Chipciu allowed Romania to collect a point on the road against Hungary in yesterday’s World Cup Qualification match. The 2-2 draw on Friday saw both teams remain lodged in a battle for second-place of Group D, level on 10 points through the first five matches of qualification.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, sit five points clear of Hungary and Romania atop the qualification table, following their 13th consecutive World Cup Qualifying victory. Estonia proved to offer little to prevent the Dutch from improving on their qualification win-streak, falling 3-0 in Amsterdam.
Here is the full list of results from Group D’s Friday qualification matches:
Andorra 0, Turkey 2
Hungary 2, Romania 2
Netherlands 3, Estonia 0
Two quality finishes from Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson pushed Iceland past Slovenia 2-1, all but eliminating Slovenia’s hopes of World Cup 2014. Sigurdsson’s double vaulted Iceland into second-place, and ever closer to the country’s first ever World Cup final appearance.
Norway’s 1-0 loss to Albania yesterday saw them fall from second-place to fourth-place in Group E’s qualification table. Hamdi Salihi’s 67th minute strike proved to be enough for Albania, who moved into a tie with Iceland for the play-off spot in Group E following the close victory over Norway.
Here is the full list of results from Group E’s Friday qualification matches:
Slovenia 1, Iceland 2
Norway 0, Albania 1
Israel’s collapse against Portugal yesterday saw three points morph into just one, as Portugal were able to overcome a two-goal deficit and rally to stay in the hunt for qualification to next summer’s World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo went uncharacteristically missing during Friday’s match, forcing Coentrão to find the late equalizer, allowing the Portuguese to save face against Israel.
Northern Ireland’s home match against group-leaders Russia was postponed due to bad weather, leaving a meaningless match between Luxembourg and Azerbaijan as the only other qualifying action on the day from Group F. Both countries sit at the bottom of the qualification table, and, unsurprisingly, their match ended in a 0-0 draw.
Here is the full list of results from Group F’s Friday qualification matches:
Israel 3, Portugal 3
Luxembourg 0, Azerbaijan 0
Bosnia-Herzegovina continued an impressive qualification campaign yesterday, improving their goal-differential to +15 after a 3-1 victory over second-place Greece. Both countries went into the match tied on 10 points, but it was Bosnia-Herzegovina who got the result and moved clear atop Group G’s qualifying table. Led by two goals from Edin Dzeko, the hosts were able to go three goals up on Greece before a consolation goal in the 93rd minute cut the deficit to two.
Here is the full list of results from Group G’s Friday qualification matches:
Liechtenstein 1, Latvia 1
Slovakia 1, Lithuania 1
Bosnia-Herzegovina 3, Greece 1
England’s 8-0 victory over San Marino provided the least surprising scoreline on the day, since San Marino has allowed, on average, four-plus goals per match over the course of 106 qualifying fixtures. Six different English players found the net on Friday, along with an embarrassing own-goal from Alessandro Della Valle.
Despite eight goals from the Three Lions, Montenegro remains in the spotlight of Group H, as they enjoy life two points clear of England atop the qualifying table. A late winner from Mirko Vucinic gave Montenegro a 1-0 victory over their hosts, Moldova, and kept the visitors in first-place.
Here is the full list of results from Group H’s Friday qualification matches:
Moldova 0, Montenegro 1
Poland 1, Ukraine 3
San Marino 0, England 8
Spain’s 1-1 draw against Finland has brought La Roja’s qualifying record for the 2014 World Cup down to two wins and two losses through four matches, a stark contrast to the 10-0-0 qualifying record they revelled in leading up to the 2010 World Cup. The defensive frailty, specifically on counter-attacks, along with an uncharacteristic offensive deficiency will provide concern for legendary manager Vincente Del Bosque.
Thanks to Finland’s noble efforts against Spain, France were able to take control of Group I following their 3-1 victory over Georgia. Led by goal scorers Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribéry, Les Blues were able to brush off Georgia and move two points clear of Spain heading into the titanic clash between the two countries on Tuesday.
Here is the full list of results from Group I’s Friday qualification matches:
Spain 1, Finland 1
France 3, Georgia 1