Earlier today, the draw for the European Play-Offs took place and now we know who will face each other next month for these all important final four European spots at the World Cup 2018.
This is how the match-ups panned out:
Northern Ireland Vs Switzerland
The first ball out of the pots was the unseeded Northern Ireland, which means that the second ball drawn, the Swiss, will be heading over to Ireland for the first leg of the play-off.
Both of these sides did remarkably well in the Group Stages, however, its fair to say that it will be Switzerland who are most content with how this draw turned out.
The Swiss showed domination in most of their matches in the group stage, losing just once in that all important final match against Portugal, which meant they missed out on automatic qualification on goal difference. They will be hoping to take back what they see as rightfully their place in the finals and will be hoping that the hiccup against the Portuguese won’t be repeated.
The Northern Irish also did do remarkably well in their performances, especially, against the weaker teams in their group, thrashing both Azerbaijan and San Marino, as well as some very good performance against Czech Republic, both home and away. They also beat Norway in their first match against them and only lost the second time due to an own goal. This being said, they have not been tested by a team that is in the same form as the Swiss are at the moment. Their biggest challenge so far in this process was Germany, a team they were never expected to beat and indeed, they lost in both legs. It’s worth adding as well, that of all the teams in the play-offs, the Northern Irish lost the joint most games of all the teams in the draw, Germany or no Germany, that doesn’t bode well.
Ultimately, this could be a very close game and it would be unwise to rule out a Northern Irish victory already, especially at home, but it should be expected that considering the form that Switzerland are in, that they will be the better side over two legs.
Final Verdict; Switzerland
Croatia Vs Greece
The third ball that emerged was the Croatia, which means they will be playing at home against the fourth ball pulled out, Greece.
As results go for Greece, it is not too bad of an opposition, they managed to dodged both Italy and Switzerland, who are the biggest threats form wise. They will be motivated by this glimmer of hope and let’s not forget they also have been in this situation twice and prevailed both times in the most recent competitions. As well as this, Greece haven’t lost to Croatia since 1997 and in the last time they met, back in 2011 qualifiers for the Eu
ros, the Greeks were victorious. They have also lost just once in the qualifiers so far, against the Belgians, who were the first team to qualify.
This being said, the Croatian lost more, but they also won more and conceded less, in what could be considered a much tougher group than the Greeks. They managed to secure elementary home and away wins against weakest team Kosovo, as well as beating Ukraine both home and away comfortably too. However, they struggled against more challenging sides such as Turkey and although they beat group winner Iceland at Home, they lost away. As well as this, Croatia have a taste of class and experience in their side, with players such as, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who are use to performing in big games, they could prove to be the difference against if they can dominate the Greek midfield.
This is a fairly hard one to call and if it were to go by history and from being in this situation before, it would have to be Greece, but history certainly isn’t everything. Croatia will certainly be the bookies favorite and in fact, they have the second best odds of all the playoff teams to win the competitions outright, only behind Italy. This said, neither are very big scorers and so you can expect a low scoring game and potentially, some extra time and even penalties.
Final Verdict: Croatia.
Denmark Vs Republic of Ireland
The next two balls out of the pots means that Denmark will play the first leg at home against the Republic of Ireland.
With either Denmark or Italy as potential opponents at this point, the Irish will be jumping for joy at the prospect of Denmark. Probably the weakest team of the seeded sides, Denmark haven’t been in an international competition since 2012, whilst the Irish were a surprise act of the Euro 2016. They fended off, ironically enough, Italy, in the group stages for a place in the round of 16, only to be knocked out by eventual winners and hosts, France, despite going ahead early on. No doubt Ireland will be eager to perform on the World Stage again. Not only this, but of all the unseeded teams, Ireland are the only team that were still in the running up until the final group stage game and were closer to automatic qualification than their rivals in this game regardless of seeds.
The Danish however, have had had a good campaign and bar a silly loss against Montenegro,they have been very decisive, winning more and drawing less games than the Irish and having a goal difference that is more than double the Irish. They also thrashed eventual group winners Poland 4-0 in their second game, after a narrow loss in the first. This shows that when they do turn up to play, they are a serious forced to be reckoned with and they will definitely bring the heat against Ireland, especially in front of home fans. As well as all this, they will be just as hungry as the Irish to get on the world Stage after an eight year drought.
Another hard one to call, but it’s hard not fancy the Republic of Ireland. They cannot be underestimated and with a very passionate following, this could be tough for the Danish, especially in the second leg. As well as this, the Irish will be fully aware that they would be in the finals already (bar one loss to Serbia back in September) and they know full well that they can perform incredibly well on the world stage and want to prove it again. As such, expect to see Ireland in the World Cup next June.
Final Verdict: Republic of Ireland.
Sweden vs Italy
This left just two sides and after being drawn first, Sweden will face Italy at home in the first leg.
None of the unseeded team wanted Italy in this draw, but it was Sweden who drew the short straw. This said, Sweden are probably the strongest unseeded side and showed remarkable character in the groups stages, defeating group winner, France, at home and were decisive in m many other games. Notable picks include a 8-0 Thrashing of Luxembourg at home and a combined 8-0 aggregate score, home and away, against Belarus, so we know they know how to win and they certainly have that killer instinct.
This said, Italy are equally as decisive, if not more, and have been at the top of international football for decades. It is hard not to believe that had they been in any other group than with Spain, bar maybe the Germans, that hey would probably wouldn’t be in this position in the first place, which will be a driving force. As well, they lost only one game in the group stages, against Spain, opposed to the Swedes three losses (the joint most), which were against Holland, France and Bulgaria, all away. This shows an abysmal away record and means they will have to perform in this first leg as a loss in Italy is to be expected.
Another factor that is worth considering, is the Italians haven’t missed a world cup in the history of the world cup and have already won it four times, whereas the Swedes have not qualified in over a decade. This is not to say that will not heap pressure on the Italians, on top of this, they will be expected to beat the Swedish side which adds more pressure. The Swedes on the other hand, will know they will up against it and are expected to lose, which although doesn’t do much for moral, it could benefit them in the pressure department. Effectively, they haven’t’ got anything to lose and all to gain which takes the pressure off them and heaps it on the Italians. This said, there is also a huge amount of pressure when playing Italy, regardless of circumstances, and whats more, the Italians are use to this pressure and have been under it for decades.
Fundamentally, as much as form, pressure and experience are factors, the caliber of the Italian team is ten fold the Swedes, so its hard to believe that anyone will be expecting anything other than an Italian victory here. However, if the Swedes managed to succeed, serious questions will be asked of the Italian team and the parties in Stockholm won’t be worth missing.
These games will take place between the 9th and the 14th November