53 nations. 13 spots. For those of us in North America – Canada more specifically – the qualification process for the World Cup is a tough slog. I’m guessing our friends in Europe feel no sympathy. Yes, the heavyweights destroy the minnows – no offense, Faroe Islands. But the desperation felt by nations like Scotland and Serbia – who played to a scoreless draw today, is immense as each game takes on an almost surreal level of importance. Lets take a tour, shall we.
Bulgaria 2 – 2 Italy
Georgi Milanov’s second half strike salvaged a point for Bulgaria – the better side throughout – in Group B tussle at Vassil Levski Stadion. With apologies to Radamel Falcao, is there a more in form striker in the world than Pablo Osvaldo right now? The Roma star has scored twice in two Serie A games and added a double yesterday. Neither goal was of the exceptional variety, but you’re in form they come. In a group that features Denmark and the Czech Republic, a slow start from Italy could be dicey for Cesare Prandelli’s side.
Germany 3 – 0 Faroe Islands
For a few minutes the impossible seemed possible. Germany opened their qualification campaign with a seemingly routine win that looked anything but in the opening minutes of this Group C fixture. Faroe Island keeper Gunnar Neilsen was outstanding, but eventually skill won out. Goals from Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil – who scored twice – were enough to see the Germans through.Gotze’s goal was quite special.
Netherlands 2 – 0 Turkey
It’s been a rough year for Turkish football. The wounds from match fixing scandals and a blowout loss to Croatia in the play-in game for Euro 2012 have yet to heal. And while the visitors threatened the Dutch goal from the opening whistle it was Manchester United star Robin Van Persie who opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Falcao and Osvaldo have been great, but Van Persie certainly deserves to be in the conversation when discussing the best strikers in the world. It looks like Turkey will battle Hungary for second place in the group. Turkey’s defenders pulled a Panama on RVP’s opening goal.
Kazakhstan 1-2 Ireland
They don’t make it easy on themselves, but for better and for worse Ireland are an entertaining side to watch for neutrals. Last minute goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle saved the Irish from a disastrous beginning to their quest for Brazil. With Germany the clear favorites to take Group C, Ireland will have to top Sweden for a spot in the playoffs.