The Five: Matches Worth Your Time
“Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die.”
That line, from Cormac McCarthy’s work The Road has come to define this stage of World Cup Qualification. The time is nigh. Who can do it? Who will die? Everything is on the line as proper qualification is wrapping up and the pressure is at an all time high. The rain pours, the temperatures drop, and the season changes from Summer to Fall like their teams fortunes. Some will stave off demise for another week by earning a playoff bid, while some will not be so fortunate. Whatever happens, the end of the road is near. Here are the five matches that might dramatically shape the tenor of the world cup.
Ghana v. Egypt (First Leg, 12:00pm EST)
Accra is a city booming at the prospect of their Black Stars back in the World Cup. Unlike other African countries like Senegal and South Africa that have competing pastimes (wrestling and rugby/cricket respectively), it is all about football in Ghana and they’ve got an excellent team to showcase that passion. In-form players Andre Ayew and Kwadwo Asamoah will look to dominate the flanks tomorrow, but the game will be won or lost in their energetic midfield’s ability to neutralize Egypt’s excellent counterattack. The counter is a feature of Egypt’s tactics that many United States supporters will remember fondly as Bob Bradley has installed his system as coach of the unsettled state. The Egyptians will be physical and compact in defense and wide and energetic on the break. This should be a good one and a result away from home would be massive for Egypt’s chances.
Holland v. Turkey (2:00pm EST)
The score line read Holland 8 – Hungary 1. The football match was recontextualized from a linear event into a patchwork collage of sublime moments, a touch, a sculpted ball, an incisive pass, a brutal tackle. The images melted together into a Platonic form of domination. Robin van Persie was the man of the hour that night, bagging a hat trick and breaking Patrick Kluivert’s scoring record, but the entire team put in a performance for the ages. Tuesday’s fixture against Turkey, a team hanging onto their playoff spot with white knuckles, will not be so easy. Turkey are more or less safe if they can win, but a draw or loss will almost certainly spell their demise as Romania are level with them on points and playing a thoroughly mediocre Estonia side. Fortunately for the Turk’s, they are at home, where they are excellent, and the Dutch have little other than greatness to play for. Burak Yilmaz, Arda Turan, and Gokhan Tore will need to perform up to their abilities for their country to progress.
Bulgaria v. Czech Republic (2:15pm EST)
Anything could happen in Group B. Four teams sit within a point of each other. Denmark, at home to group punching bag Malta, are the favorites, but if Bulgaria win at home against the Czech’s they will secure the playoff spot. These are two evenly matched sides that have had a lot of turnover in the past couple years and now bring fairly young and inexperienced sides into the final match-day. Will Bulgaria’s home advantage, where they are undefeated in qualifying, make the difference? Or will their young guns crack up under pressure? This should prove to be a spectacle. Watch for the performances of Aston Villa’s Aleksandar Tonev (Bulgaria) and Chelsea’s Petr Cech (Czech Republic).
England v. Poland (3:00pm EST)
I’m sure the English tabloids have told you that this has happened before. If you need a brief reminder here’s a fact sheet
- The Year: 1973
- The Teams: England v. Poland
- The Stadium: Wembley
- What happened: Sir Alf Ramsay’s England improbably denied a spot in the 1974 World Cup by Poland on the last day of qualification.
- Who did it: Jan Tomaszewski
To be honest, there aren’t many similarities this time around: Poland have already been eliminated, an English manager neglected to call a Polish player a clown, it’s not do or die for England, but Poland could still play spoiler to England’s World Cup hopes and force them to qualify through the playoff round. England is a team that is still reliant on its aging and fragile legs in midfield putting in a workman like performance. If they put in a good shift this should be relatively comfortable, but the likes of Błaszczykowski and Lewandowski will pose a problem if England cannot get a good grip on the match. I’ve seen weirder things than a Joe Hart howler proving the difference.
CONCACAF: The embargo of Mexico (all matches 9:30 EST)
In a case of international espionage and sabotage could the other CONCACAF nations have colluded to keep Mexico out of the playoff? I’ve heard from a good source down in Costa Rica that their manager is expected to pick a full strength side at home and really go for it despite having already qualified. The alleged reasoning for this is that they’ve been in poor form and want to get a final win in order to boost their form and confidence in their last competitive match before the tournament, but it all smells a bit fishy to me. Especially when you consider that the United States has withdrawn most of its best players and look to play a B-Team in Panama despite rolling out a full strength squad against Jamaica just four days prior. I’m not issuing indictments here, I’m just asking questions….
The reality of the situation is that Mexico controls their own fate, but won’t be getting any favors from their greatest rival and teams that they have leapfrogged and patronized over the years to get to the tournament. A 1-0 victory for both Costa Rica and Panama sends the Panamanians to play New Zealand. That’s not a preposterous outcome and these matches should be fascinating for the fan and the neutral alike.