We are some 16 months away from the start of the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil and three European heavyweights have must-win games on Tuesday or their participation in Brazil will be in serious doubt.
FRANCE V. SPAIN
First up is the current European and World Champions who head to Paris in a must-win game after drawing 1-1 with Finland at the weekend.
“It seems impossible that we drew after dictating both halves of the game,” said Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque said after the Finland game. “We were organized, but everything went out of control in the end. We could have been more successful in front of goal, but we lacked the ability to add a second goal. Finland locked up their defense well, and made the unthinkable happen.”
Del Bosque is facing the same challenges that Barcelona is. Teams are parking the bus and hitting Spain on the counter attack. But unlike Barca, del Bosque does not have the magic of Lionel Messi to bail his side out. With Fernando Torres in poor form, David Villa still finding his match fitness and Fernando Llorente enduring a disappointing season, Spain is really struggling to find a goalscorer.
A draw suits France, as they will remain two points ahead of Spain with that result, and it will be interesting to see if the French take the game to Spain, or whether they also sit back and try and wait for the counter-attack.
AZERBAIJAN V. PORTUGAL
Portugal is currently ranked seventh in the FIFA rankings and was a semifinalist at last year’s Euro 2012, where it lost on penalties to eventual champion Spain.
But Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo are in serious danger of not making it to Brazil.
It took a stoppage time equaliser from Fabio Coentrao for Portugal to get a point in Israel last week. But halfway through this qualifying campaign, Israel now stands above Portugal in the group, while Russia, who has played one less game after its away match to Northern Ireland was postponed due to snow, stands in first place, four points ahead.
Which is why Portugal’s match against Azerbaijan on Tuesday is so important, as now Portugal is at the risk of finishing third in the group and missing out on the playoffs, and the World Cup, entirely.
The challenge will be made even more difficult as Portugal will be Cristiano Ronaldo on Tuesday, as he will miss the match due to suspension.
MONTENEGRO V. ENGLAND
After an 8-0 win over San Marino, England’s largest victory since 1987, the three Lions should head into Podgorica on Tuesday full of confidence.
This is a strange group in that the our major teams (England, Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland) are all taking points off of each other.
And that has been England’s problem. The draws at home to Ukraine and away to Poland will not mean much if England win in Podgorica, but defeat will give Montenegro a five-point lead in the group and leave England fighting for second place.
The last time these sides met was less than 18 months ago, when Montenegro came from 2 goals down to rescue a draw and Wayne Rooney was famously sent off for a typical moment of petulance. England cannot have a repeat of that match if they are to win the group.Because the last thing Roy Hodgson wants is to have to play Spain in a two-legged tie next November with a trip to Brazil on the line.