Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Road To Brazil Starts Here...

There have been World Cup qualifiers in other parts of the globe, for example the marathon single qualifying group for South American teams began last Autumn (with Chile currently top of the table), but for European teams, the road to Brazil begins at the end of this week with qualifiers on Friday and Saturday.

Scotland start their last sucessful World Cup campaign in Austria, August 1996
On Friday, both of the Irish teams and England face at best tricky matches with parts of the old Soviet Union.  Ireland begin in Kazakhstan at teatime on Friday with a match that is a must win for them.  Northern Ireland face the Russians in Moscow in what will be an incredibly difficult match for them, Russia will still be smarting form their surprise early exit from the European Championships.  In sharp contrast, England face Moldova in what should be a repeat of the outcome from their meeting in September 1996, the 3-0 win then kicked off their campaign to qualify for France ‘98.

Qualifying group A also begins on Friday, though Scotland’s first match does not take place until Saturday.  By which time Wales will have started and found out if Belgium really are as ominous as they appear.  Wales will be hoping that home advantage will be a help.  Kicking off this group will be Croatia and Macedonia, half an hour before Wales & Belgium begin their match.

While this will be the first time Scotland will have played Serbia, Scotland have faced Yugoslavia on a number of occasions.  Scotland’s 1-1 draw in the 1974 World Cup saw Scotland eliminated undefeated from that tournament.  The most recent meetings though came during qualifying for Italia 90, a 1-1 draw at Hampden in October 1988 was followed 11 months later with a 3-1 win for Yugoslavia in Zagreb.

Serbia’s new coach is the controversial former Red Star, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter defender Sinisa Mihaijovic – this will be his competitive debut in charge of Serbia.  While Serbia failed to reach the finals of the European Championships, they are aiming for 3 World Cup final’s in a row.  They will have to unearth a forward, as lack of goals was their downfall with regard to qualifying for the Euro’s.

That’s not to say that Serbia are not very good.  Like most of the former Yugoslavian countries, Serbia will be very good on the ball.  They played with a 4-5-1 formation against Ireland last month, so may go with that formation once again.  Partizan’s winger Tomic is being touted as the key man, while another player to watch will be Red Star’s Lazovic.  It remains to be seen if the loss (to retirement) of Dejan Stankovic will be felt. 

One area that suffered a loss that won’t be so keenly felt is at the back.  Manchester United’s Vidic also retired, but his place will be taken by either Subutic from Dortmund or Maksmimovic.  Chelsea’s Ivanovic captain’s the side from the Right back position while holding the left back berth will be another familiar face in the shape of Manchester City’s Kolarov.

With a home tie with Macedonia hard on the heels of this tie and ties with Belgium and Wales on the horizon, it will be desirable to get off to a good start.  I think that 4 points out of 6 is probably par and that 6 points would only give us some room for manoeuvre.  It’s worth being reminded as well that while 6 out of 6 is desirable, it won’t give us a huge advantage.  The last time Scotland won their opening two qualifiers was when we beat Latvia and San Marino…  on our way to finishing behind Belgium and Croatia during qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

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