Monday, August 17, 2009

The Odyssey begins....

Yesterday was the start of the English Premier League, which I regard as the start of what will be an 11 month football countdown, that culminates in our trip to the World Cup next year...

Even this far out, all the omens are looking really good and I believe that the planets are coming into alignment. Of the teams that I normally follow, I would give good odds on England & the USA qualifying and joining Australia who have already secured their place. Even New Zealand have an outside chance of qualification, so I could end up spoilt for choice with teams to support....

England are 7 points clear of Croatia in their Group with 3 matches to play. In the European Qualification region, the nine Group winners will be guaranteed a place at the World Cup next year, with the eight best runners-up competing in two-legged play-offs for the four remaining places at stake. England have 3 tricky games to play, (home games against Croatia & Belarus, and away to Ukraine), if they want to automatically qualify for the finals. Mathematically, England need at least 1 more win to guarantee that group winners slot, but a couple of draws may have to do. If I had to put money on it, I would back England to qualify and Croatia to go through in 2nd Place.

The USA has a couple of important games coming up in September against bottom of the group flounders El Salvador (H) & Trinidad and Tobago (A), which if they win should secure one of the 3.5 slots available in the CONCACAF region. The USA, Mexico and Costa Rica look good bets for automatic qualification in this group, but Honduras are a bit of a dark horse, and could cause an upset down the track.

New Zealand have a slim chance at qualification by dint of the fact that they have an upcoming two-legged play-off between either Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, who are battling it out for the 5th place spot in the Asian Region. Bahrain & Saudi Arabia play their own two-legged play-off in September for the right to meet New Zealand for a final dual in November. Whilst New Zealand are really still a minnow in terms of World football, whoever qualifies from the Asian region will have a tough fight on their hands, and as the saying goes, 'every dog has their day'. Fiona & I are expecting to fly up to Wellington in November to fully support the 'All Whites' in their crucial 2nd leg play-off. Come on New Zealand.

As for the other teams that will make up the 32 teams at the world cup finals, here are my predictions:

European Region: Denmark / Greece / Slovakia / Germany / Spain / England / Serbia / Italy / Holland* / Hungary / Poland / Russia / Republic of Ireland
Asian Region: Australia* / Japan* / North Korea* / South Korea*
African Region: Gabon / Tunisia / Algeria / Ghana / Ivory Coast / South Africa*
North American Region: USA / Mexico / Costa Rica
South American Region: Brazil / Chile / Argentina / Ecuador / Paraguay
Oceania Region: New Zealand

* - Already Qualified

I wonder how many I will get right....?