It’s James from Unprofessional Foul again, filling in briefly for Ives while he flies back east from the Mormon state.
The footballing world is ablaze with WC qualification this weekend, and there are plenty of intriguing matches worth paying attention to. Although it’s always tough for me when the domestic leagues grind to a halt for a week, I’m satisfied with what’s on tap for the weekend.
So many storylines, it’s tough to know where to begin. Let me try and cherry-pick the Top 5 matches you should care about this weekend, and if that isn’t tough enough considering the size of the fixture list, I’ll even throw in some predictions. Hand me the atlas, where are we going first…
THE 5 YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT THIS WEEKEND
5. Germany v. Russia
Two front-runners in their group, and it’s perhaps our first clash of Euro ’08 high-fliers in World Cup qualification. It’s also a chance to see what Arshavin and co. can do against the Bundesliga’s best.
PREDICTION: 2-1 GERMANY
4. Venezuela v. Brazil
A Selecao might be overwhelming favorites, but much like the Arsenals of the world, all the talent in the universe doesn’t always equate to winning every time you step on the field. They’ve been less than stellar in WC Qualifying to this point (thanks to draws against Colombia and Bolivia and a 2-0 away defeat to runaway Group leaders Paraguay), but now’s as good a time as ever to turn it around.
Robinho, Pato and Jo will need to look to someone other than Ronaldinho to give them service up-front. Will they get it done?
PREDICTION: 1-1 DRAW
3. Kenya v. Guinea
A Guinea win would ensure them passage into the next qualifying round, keeping alive their dream of a 1st-ever World Cup Finals appearance. Can they topple the Group Leaders to stay in the hunt?
PREDICTION: 1-0 KENYA
2. England v. Kazakhstan
England are in transition, trying to keep momentum of 4-1 win in Croatia, need to keep winning these games handily. Without John Terry and Joe Cole, both out with injuries, they should still win at a canter, but I’ve witnessed complacent England teams lose and draw to far worse sides before.
PREDICTION: 3-0 ENGLAND
1. USA v. Cuba
Was there any doubt? I went with the US, who still have their work cut out in CONCACAF moving into the Fourth Round of qualifying. Momentum is the key; their last meeting with Cuba was not exactly a pushover, although they’ll have help from Jose Francisco Torres and Michael Orozco, who have picked the US over Mexico despite being eligible to represent both.
PREDICTION: 2-0 USA
Worth keeping an eye on
Scotland v. Norway
The Scots have it all to do after a 1-0 loss to Macedonia and then the tough 2-1 win away in Iceland. The Norwegians look like a strong second in the group to the Netherlands, so it’ll take a lot for Scotland to keep pace at the top, especially as they’re missing captain Barry Ferguson to injury and deputy Stephen McManus to a suspension. It’d be nice to have multiple UK representatives in the World Cup Finals, especially as Scotland hasn’t been to one since 1998.
PREDICTION: 1-0 NORWAY
Ukraine v. Croatia
Croats were humiliated last time out by the English (revenge was so sweet for Theo Walcott), and now they need to win away from home against the other dangerous team in the group. Only 2 will qualify, so an away result will take the pressure off heading into the break before the next round of qualifiers in 2009.
PREDICTION: 2-0 CROATIA
Ivory Coast v. Madagascar
Lowly Madagascar, ranked 141st in the World, are surprising many with their strong performances thus far. Cote D’Ivoire are heavy favorites and lead the group, but a result for The Barea could get closer to their first ever appearance in any major tournament, having never qualified for an African Cup of Nations or World Cup in their history.
Senegal v. Gambia
Two high-flying African teams that are trailing to Algeria in their qualifying group. The two are tied on points, although Gambia are marginally ahead on goal difference, meaning anything less than a win for Senegal puts them out of the tournament. After a first-round exit in this year’s African Nations Cup, the star-studded Lions can’t afford to be bounced from yet another major competition so quickly.
PREDICTION: 3-2 SENEGAL