World Cup

World Cup Play-offs Delicately Poised

The four European World Cup Play-offs games are delicately posed heading into the second leg on Wednesday. Here is a look at each game, plus the big winner take all game in Africa.

Republic of Ireland 0-1 France
France were the one European team to win away from home on Saturday, putting them in the strongest position of all the teams playing on Wednesday.

The key moment
Having dealt admirably with Ireland’s crosses and centres, France keeper Hugo Lloris kept his side’s narrow lead intact with a crucial save two minutes from time, rushing off his line to deny Glenn Whelan from close range after the Stoke midfielder had been set up by Robbie Keane.

This game appears to be France’s to lose. Ireland need to win in at the Stade de France and I do not expect them to do that.

Portugal 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Portugal, without Cristiano Ronaldo, got the result they needed, but they were extremely lucky to win this game. Bosnia-Herzegovina hit the woodwork three times are to be honest they dominated the game.

The key moment
With two minutes left in the game, the Bosnians hit the woodwork twice. First of all Edin Dzeko’s bouncing shot struck the crossbar, with Zvjezdan Muslimovic driving the loose ball against the base of the far post.

Carlos Queiroz is a good assistant manager, but he doesn’t inspire me with confidence when he is the man in charge. If Bosnia-Herzegovina play as well as they did on Saturday, they will qualify for the World Cup and one of the biggest stars in World Football will be watching the World Cup on TV this summer.

Russia 2-1 Slovenia
With three minutes to go, Russia looked to have all but booked their place in South Africa thanks to two goals from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. But then Pecnik gave Slovenia a lifeline with his 88th-minute goal it took a fantastic save from Igor Akinfeev in the last minute to preserve to win for Russia.

The key moment
With two minutes remaining, Zlatan Ljubijankic fired in a fierce 20-yard cross-shot from the left that Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev could only palm into the path of Nejc Pecnik, who was lurking at the far post to nod the ball over the line.

Because of the away-goals rule, Slovenia just need a 1-0 win in Ljubljana to qualify, A 2-1 means extra-time. I expect Russia to qualify here, but this will be a very tight and tense game..

Greece 0-0 Ukraine
This was the most boring play-off game this weekend as neither side looked impressive.

The key moment
Greece captain Konstantinos Katsouranis had the home fans on their feet in the final seconds of the first half when he sent a fine header goalwards only for the Ukraine keeper to pull off an exceptional save to keep the game all square.

Ukraine know a win on Wednesday will be enough to send them to South Africa, and I expect the team that knocked out Croatia and beat England to be able to handle Greece at home.

Egypt v Algeria
Algeria had their bags packed for South Africa when Emad Motaeb popped up in the 95th-minute to score Egypt’s second goal and set up a one game play-off in Sudan. To say that these two sides don’t like each other is an understatement. It had to be a serious morale blow for Algeria to lose that second goal so late on Saturday and I expect some sort of hangover Wednesday, which will benefit Egypt.

Uruguay v Costa Rica
Uruguay have one step in next summer’s World Cup Finals after beating ten-man Costa Rica 1-0 away from home. Uruguay will carry the first-half goal from Diego Lugano home with them to Wednesday’s second leg at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo. I cannot see any way that Costa Rica turns this leg around.