Friday, 7 September 2012

Nations begin long road to World Cup qualification

With the 2014 World Cup qualifiers beginning this month, it's the perfect time to assess which countries out of the home nations can make it to Brazil in two years' time.

Roy Hodgson appears to be overseeing a transitional period for the Three Lions with a mixture of ageing but established stars being complemented by plenty of exciting, up-and-coming talents.
Hodgson had little time to prepare for the European Championships this summer and, after taking over from Fabio Capello just a few months before the tournament began, did a decent job of steadying the ship and taking England to the quarter-finals amid lower expectations.
They face what looks like a straightforward Group H with Moldova, Ukraine, Poland and San Marino. Not exactly representing the cream of Europe and the latest odds suggest they should top the group with ease. England have qualified with ease for the last few major finals only to struggle when through. They should again top the group without too many problems and a place in Brazil should be theirs. It's just then the hard work will begin.

 Scotland's last taste of major tournament football came way back in 1998 and it is high time they treated the Tartan Army to another.
Craig Levein appears to have a squad better equipped to fulfil that dream than at any point over the past 10 years and there is quiet confidence in the camp that the Scots can make it to Brazil in 2014.
They kick off against Serbia and will hope to get off to a good start because tougher tests await. Belgium, with a growing array of stars, are tipped to top Group A but Levein's side will fancy their chances of going through as runners-up ahead of the Serbs, Croatia, Wales and Macedonia.
Jordan Rhodes could just be the man to fire the goals required while there is plenty of talent elsewhere in the first-choice XI with the likes of  Ross McCormack, Robert Snodgrass, James Morrisson, Charlie Adam and, hopefully, a fit-again Darren Fletcher to call upon throughout the qualifying campaign.

 With Wales in the same group as the Scots, though, unfortunately it does not look so rosy for Chris Coleman's side ahead of their qualifying campaign.
The sad passing of Gary Speed affected plenty of the Welsh players and, understandably, the country, in football terms, was in a state of shock for several months after the manager's sudden death.
His absence meant much of the good work he was doing on the pitch has gone to waste and Coleman has had to pick up the pieces in very difficult and totally unwanted circumstances.
However, they will do their best to recover and some will hope they can even be inspired to serve Speed's memory well by qualifying for their first World Cup appearance since 1958, which is the only time they have made it onto the biggest international stage of all.
Do not rule out some Wales wins over the next 12 months and beyond, but the quality of their opponents means more overall disappointment looms.

Northern Ireland
It is also a very big ask for Michael O'Neill's side to make it through to Brazil despite Group F not looking too formidable beyond the experienced duo of Russia and Portugal.
The minnows may well fancy seeing off Israel and Luxembourg but, sadly for the province, they do have the aforementioned big two to contend with and their chances of finishing above either Russia or Portugal looks remote.
A lack of strength in depth could again be the biggest problem for the Northern Irish as their squad lacks players with big soccer games experience. Much will depend on how those with plenty of Premier League appearances, like Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt and Steven Davis, perform while Kyle Lafferty will be expected to find the net up front. They are always capable of a shock win here and there and expect effort and commitment in abundance but the quality beyond a couple of players is just not good enough for their qualification dream to be realised.

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