I had initially planned to make some predictions before the first legs of these playoff matches at the weekend, but what with my busy schedule I didn’t have chance to. Intriguingly though, each and every tie is delicately poised and could easily go either way when all is said and done later on tonight. Playoffs are always hard to call, they’re essentially like Cup Finals and form goes out the window but I had NZ down to beat Bahrain by one goal (though I’ll admit, I’d picked 2-1) so let’s see what I can do…
European Qualifying Playoffs
Bosnia-Hercegovina vs. Portugal (agg. 0-1)
Portugal were certainly the favourites going into this playoff tie despite a stuttering qualification campaign that saw them limp into second place, they have enough quality in their side to be a real force if they make it to the World Cup. Bosnia are looking to make it to their first World Cup and as is so often the case with nations recently affected by civil war, the national side carries the hopes of the nation with them. They’re also quite technically gifted though and if the home fans can provide a threatening atmosphere they’ll trouble a fragile Portuguese outfit. I think Portugal will probably get a crucial away goal though and make it to South Africa.
Prediction: 1-1 (agg. 1-2).
France vs. Republic of Ireland (agg. 1-0)
The Irish put up one hell of a fight against the French at the weekend and only a late Nicolas Anelka strike stopped them from taking a creditable 0-0 draw to Paris. However, that way goal may prove vital for Domenech’s Les Bleus who, like Portugal, have not shown the quality that they undoubtedly possess in this qualification campaign. However, the Irish are fighters and were wound up by the end of the 1st leg, and they will certainly put France through their paces. I can see this one possibly going beyond the ninety minutes, but as much as I’d like to see the Irish in South Africa, my head tells me France will progress.
Prediction: 0-1 (agg.1-1), France win on penalties.
Slovenia vs. Russia (agg. 1-2)
Everton ace Diniyar Bilyaltedinov put Russia in a fantastic position in this tie with two goals on the weekend but they went to sleep and conceded an away goal with just two minutes left on the clock, giving Slovenia a vital lifeline and condemning themselves to a tricky away leg. Russia should, with the likes of Billy, Arshavin, Zhirkov and Akinfeev, have enough quality to see the game out but Slovenia are a hard working side and have won through playoffs before – they qualified for Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup via the playoffs so they know how it’s done. I think Russia will see this one out comfortably though.
Prediction: 1-2 (agg. 2-4).
Ukraine vs. Greece (agg. 0-0)
The first leg in Athens couldn’t separate these two sides at all and this looks like being the closest of all of these European ties, with seemingly very little between the two sides. Ukraine will have home advantage but the Greeks know that any away goal will now be priceless and it’ll be an incredibly tense, nervy affair. I was impressed by Ukraine in their games against England though, they’re strong technically and with a ferocious home crowd I think they’ll edge out the former European Champions.
Prediction: 1-0 (agg. 1-0).
African Qualifying Playoff
Algeria vs. Egypt (at a neutral venue)
These two sides could not be separated at the top of their qualification group after Egypt scored a late second in the final group game between the two sides on Saturday. In many ways such an occurrence was incredibly unlikely but given the ferocity of the rivalry between these two nations, it seems to have been fated in a way, and picking a winner is very difficult. I’m not familiar with African football in general and while Egypt have a few better known players (Mido and Zaki etc.) I think they’re pretty evenly matched (well… duh!) and this could well come down to who handles the masses of pressure better in Sudan.
Have your say:
Whatever happens, it should be an enthralling evening’s action and it’s exciting to know that the World Cup roster is nearly complete. If you disagree with my predictions or have any comments at all, please do have your say below…