The marathon that is the CONMEBOL (South American Zone) Qualifying schedule is almost done. The top 4 teams qualify directly and join Brazil while the 5th goes to a playoff for the final spot. Just to refresh everyone's memory the playoffs for the final spot will feature a 2 legged playoff between Concacaf's 4th team and Oceania's winner as well as another 2 legged playoff between South America's 5th team and Asia's playoff winner. As we stand, Argentina is assured of at least a playoff spot but we are likely to see them as well as a few others qualify for the World Cup in the next 10 days.
The current standings are as follows:
1) Argentina - 26
2) Colombia - 23
3) Ecuador - 21
4) Chile - 21
5) Uruguay - 16
6) Venezuela - 16
7) Peru - 14
8) Bolivia - 10
9) Paraguay - 8
Argentina at their worst, will qualify for at least the playoff with Asia. Bolivia and Paraguay cannot qualify for the World Cup directly but can still get to the playoff with a late surge...though it is unlikely. As you can see, their is a little distance between the top 4 and everyone else. We are likely seeing our 4 qualifiers from South America represented at the top of the current table though nothing is set yet.
Argentina does not play on September 6th but can still qualify for for the World Cup on that day with the right results. Colombia and Ecuador meet in Barranquilla that day in a matchup of 2nd and 3rd that can also qualify Colombia to the World Cup with the right results. Paraguay hosts Bolivia in a match that should eliminate 1 of the 2 as well. The other 2 matches are very important as they will decide how the table shapes up and potential dates of qualification for Argentina and Colombia. Chile hosts Venezuela while Peru hosts Uruguay. Chile can afford a loss but if they want comfortable qualification they will do well to avoid a loss. Uruguay, Venezuela and Peru are the teams most in need of points.
On the 10th of September, Bolivia hosts Ecuador in a match that can potentially qualify Ecuador. Venezuela plays Peru at home in a match that can help Venezuela get back into the mix of things and possibly land that playoff spot. Argentina travels to Paraguay and depending on if Argentina is qualified at that point we may see a different level of effort on their part. If they still need a result to qualify in this match then Paraguay will serve as the perfect victim. Mark the 10th down as Argentina's likely day of qualification. In the most important match of the day, Uruguay hosts Colombia. For Colombia, this may be the match that qualifies them for the World Cup. It will be huge for the country as they have not qualified for a World Cup since 1998. For Uruguay, the match is one they need to win if they are to qualify for the World Cup directly. Chile is off on the 10th.
In Oceania, there still isn't much going on. Winner, New Zealand, is waiting on Concacaf's 4th place team for a 2 legged playoff in November for the final World Cup spot. Unfortunately for New Zealand it appears that the chances of that 4th placed team being Mexico is rising. Even if the team ends up being Honduras then for a New Zealand team that hasn't played in qualifying for months, the challenge may be too great to overcome.
Finally, we get to the European Zone. The zone that always sends the most teams to the World Cup. In Group A, Belgium has a foot in the World Cup and are the closest European team to qualifying. The group did not turn out to be as close as expected at first. Belgium is on 19 points while Croatia is on 16. On September 6th both of the top teams travel. Belgium goes to Scotland while Croatia plays neighbouring Serbia. Scotland beat Croatia in the last set of matches so they are a real threat to defeat Belgium. Serbia hasn't done well but they have good players and their's a rivalry between them and Croatia so anything can happen in that matchup. Both teams are off on the 10th before meeting in Croatia next month. Qualification for Belgium this week is unlikely because of how close behind them Croatia is but their position can only worsen if they lose and Croatia wins.
In Group B, all 6 teams have played 6 matches making it easier to see how things sit and where they may head. Italy lead with 14 points, while Bulgaria sit in 2nd with 10 points. The Czech Republic have 9 while Armenia and Denmark have 6. On September 6th, Italy and Bulgaria meet in Palermo. Denmark travels to Malta and the Czech Republic will play Armenia at home. Given the circumstances, we can see the Czech Republic move into 2nd place. Denmark can also climb into contention for at least 2nd place with an expected win. I doubt Bulgaria will win in Italy but a tie there can go a long way to helping them stay afloat. On the 10th Bulgaria will travel to Malta while Italy hosts the Czech Republic and Armenia hosts Denmark. Denmark recently lost 4-0 to Armenia in Denmark so the match isn't an obvious win for them this time around. They must win it if they want to continue their fight to get back into things and with 2 wins in the next 10 days they can get to 12 points. Italy don't appear to be in any real danger of falling out of 1st place and hosting their 2 matches should help ensure that they keep their place. The Czech Republic will fight for 2nd but with a loss in Italy they can slip back into 3rd. Bulgaria should survive the 10 days in 2nd place and make the final month interesting. The likely standings after the 10th are Italy 20, Bulgaria 13, Czech 12, Denmark 12 and as a result we can see Italy qualify for the World Cup by the 10th.
Group C is in the same situation as Group B. All 6 teams have played 6 matches to this point. Germany lead the group by 5 points though, sitting on 16 points. Austria, Sweden and Ireland all sit on 11 points in a fight for 2nd place. Austria lead the goal difference with +10. Sweden is at +4 while Ireland sits on +2. Things are as close as they can get. Germany hosts Austria on the 6th in Munich while Ireland welcomes Sweden to their isle the same day. These matchups are huge as it will effectively seperate the teams going into the latter rounds of matches. Germany will likely beat Austria and it's hard to predict what will happen in the other match. On the 10th Germany travels to the Faroe Islands and should qualify for the 2014 World Cup that day unless Sweden or Ireland can win both of their upcoming matches to delay the inevitable for Germany. That task will be easier for Sweden who play Kazakhstan away on the 10th. Ireland must play Sweden at home and then travel to Austria. A tough task if you're asking them to get 6 points.
Holland leads Group D with 18 points, ahead of Hungary on 11, Romania on 10 and Turkey with 7. Holland likely will qualify for the World Cup on the 10th with no real possibility of failing. On the 6th they go to Estonia and then on the 10th they face Andorra away. Despite having to travel, facing the bottom 2 teams in a group that Holland has not lost or tied a game is not going to be tough. The real excitement in this group will come from teams battling for 2nd place. Hungary are currently 2nd and on the 6th face their closest opponent, Romania. The same day Turkey has it easy when they face Andorra at home. Turkey will likely move to 10 points that day but possibly will stay in 4th place. The result in the 1st match may be the most important of the entire group. If Hungary wins they may have locked up the 2nd spot and a playoff. If they lose then Romania may have secured 2nd. On the 10th Hungary will play Estonia while Romania hosts Turkey. Romania's schedule seems challenging but they host both Hungary and Turkey and can secure their position for good.
In Group E, Switzerland leads the group with 14 points but what is going on behind them is shocking. Albania has 10 points, Iceland 9, Norway 8, and Slovenia 6. On the 6th Norway faces Cyprus, Slovenia hosts Albania and Switzerland will take on Iceland. Norway are flaky but a win here is likely. That should take them to 11 points. Slovenia needs to beat Albania but looking at how things have gone so far that doesn't seem very likely. Still Albania isnt exactly a world beater. Switzerland should get a foot in the door for the World Cup with a win over Iceland but qualification can't come before the 10th. On that date, Switzerland will face Norway away from home. Cyprus hosts Slovenia and Iceland hosts Albania. This group is incredibly hard to pretty match by match but Switzerland should win it. I'm not sure if they qualify on the 10th but they will qualify.
Portugal, Russia and Israel battle it out in Group F. Portugal has 14 points from 7 matches, Russia has 12 points from 6. Israel has also played 6 matches and are currently on 11 points, they possess the best goal difference in the group. Russia play Luxembourg on the 6th while Portugal travels to Northern Ireland. Both teams should win and keep their position. Israel play at home against Azerbaijan and keep pace with the top 2. On the 10th, Israel will travel to Russia and that match will end one of the 2 teams dreams of winning the group.
In Group G, Bosnia and Herzegovina lead and seem well on track to qualify for their first World Cup. They currently have 16 points and a massive goal differential of +20. Greece are chasing with 13 points and a miniscule (in comparison) goal difference of +3. Slovakia have 9 points and have an outside chance of making it back to the World Cup. Greece and Bosnia have already played each other twice and Bosnia won convincingly. Bosnia's large goal difference also means that they can afford to lose a game on the same matchday that Greece wins and despite ending up tied on points...still hold 1st place. On the 6th and 10th Bosnia will play the Slovakians. First at home and then away. Greece play Liechtenstein and Latvia on those days. Greece should come out of those matches with 19 points. Slovakia then needs at least 1 win in the 2 games against Slovakia to hold their position going into their 2 final matches which are both winnable. Slovakia won't be an easy opponent but I believe Bosnia can get it done. Slovakia needs to win both matches to keep pace with the group. If they do so they will end up on 15 points, 1 behind Bosnia and up to 4 behind Greece. Their chances are slim but not impossible.
Montenegro, England, Ukraine and Poland are fighting for Group H. Montenegro have 14, England have 12, Ukraine 11 and Poland 9. Montenegro has played 1 match more than the others. On the 6th Ukraine play San Marino and barring a historical victory by San Marino, Ukraine will win. Poland face Montenegro while England play host to Moldova. Ukraine and England's likely wins should leave the standings as...England 15, Montenegro 14 (before their result with Poland), Ukraine 14 and Poland 9 (before their result with Montenegro). That means that Poland must win against Montenegro if they want to stay in the race. If they do then they move up to 12 points and 3 points will seperate 1st from 4th. That's important because Poland visit San Marino on the 10th and if they get to 12 versus Montenegro they will move to 15 points after the 10th. Ukraine hosts England that same day and that match is critical as only 1 point will be seperating the 2 teams heading into that match. The group is interesting and the final matches will decide a lot. Don't expect a qualifier from this one before the final day.
Spain and France are in the final Group and battling to decide who gets the automatic spot and who will head to the playoffs. Both have played 5 of their 8 matches so far and Spain have the slight edge with 11 points to 10. Spain's only game in on the 6th at Finland while France travels to Georgia on the 6th and Belarus on the 10th. Anything can happen in soccer but I don't see anything on the surface that indicates that anything will change in this group. France should win both games taking them to 16 points while Spain should win their game taking them to 14. Spain will then have an extra match left to play in the final rounds. As it looks, Spain should win the group and France should head to the playoffs, but as I said anything can happen.