World Cupdate: UEFA Group 3

12 August 2009

Groups 1 and 2 here.

East meets North

Participants: Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, San Marino

grp3

I wrote before about odd ducks.  As with the last two groups the top four are pretty scrambled here.  Most remarkably the strongest notional team, the Czechs, languishes below Slovenia (before today they were atop the Slovenes in fourth, but by the thinnest of margins).  Incidentally Slovenia also handed the Slovakians their sole loss.

I’m at a bit of a loss myself at how to understand this group.  (Besides with sympathy for poor, suffering San Marino.)  It seems pretty clear that Slovakia’s doing just as well as it looks – besides their lost to Slovenia they’ve played and defeated the other quality teams, though they’ve also used up both their “freebies” against San Marino.  The loss against Slovenia was probably a fluke and even then the Slovenes are much stronger than their 5th place suggest.  I see no reason for Slovakia to start struggling now.

Northern Ireland, however, is not as strong as they appear.  Both freebies are already logged and the only goal they managed against leader Slovakia was by a Slovakian player.  One could make the argument that their three losses and draws were in the first three days of play, so their strength is in fact evidence of a rally: and this is possible.  But they only have 3 games left as they concluded their meets with San Marino early.  Even if they win all three remaining games they’ll have only 21 points (compared to a potential 27 for Slovakia).  Winning all three games is precisely what they’ll need to do to lock this away, and despite their recent victories I’m not sure they have it in them.

The Poles were notionally the second-strongest team until this afternoon, but with two losses and a draw in six games they’ve not soared.  They also have played all their freebies against San Marino and they’ve not yet beaten a team more serious than the fifth-place Czechs.  (Who themselves have only beaten the Slovenians, and then drew them on their next meet.)  Superficially they’re placed to challenge for second place.  I think such a challenge is just that.

Now the Slovenians.  They fascinate me.  They beat the Slovakians and took a win and a loss against the Northern Irish, but also took a loss from the flagging Czechs.  I have no idea what to do with them.  But they had a real advantage in the schedule when I first examined them: they hadn’t yet played San Marino.  Since they’ve trounced them and they’ve got another match against the poor shills coming.  The win this week has catapulted them from 5th to 3rd.  Their two other games are opposite Poland (whom they tied) and Slovakia (whom they beat).  If they can win one of these two – and they can – they’ll have a real shot at contention.  Automatic qualification is probably too far away, but second place is definitely within their reach.

Prediction: Slovakia shows no indication of slowing, and even if they split their last four games it will be enough to put them over the top.  Second place is nearly impossible to predict, but I’m going to take a leap and say Slovenia.  If nothing else the homophony is pleasant.

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