Good Weekend, Bad Weekend

Well, that wasn’t so bad. The dreaded international break produced some fine action over the weekend and some major results in terms of who will be playing in South Africa next summer. England warmed up for the visit of Ukraine in style whilst Northern Ireland, Serbia and Bosnia picked up impressive results. Things didn’t go quite as well for Scotland and Portugal but Wednesday night could yet produce some more quality action.

Good Weekend

Wayne Rooney

“Rooney can play anywhere. If our team were a pack of cards, he would be our joker.” – Fabio Capello.

Two goals for Wazza and the “crazy man” now has some form going into crucial matches for club and country. After his needless sending off at Craven Cottage this was the perfect response and Slovakia at Wembley in a friendly couldn’t have come at a better time. With England now suffering a “striker crisis” due to injuries to Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Peter Crouch, Rooney could now lead the line against the Ukraine.

Special mention for David Beckham, beating the outfield record for England international caps is some feat. Just imagine the hype in England if Becks does break Peter Shilton’s record during the 2010 World Cup.

Ukraine won’t be easy on Wednesday but this England team seems to have enough about them to beat the third tier of international teams.

Full match odds for England-Ukraine here.

Northern Ireland

Nigel Worthington’s side secured a massive result to beat one of their main rivals in Group Three and give themselves an outside chance of qualification. Beating Poland at home, a side who proved they were no mugs at Euro 2008, is impressive and proves that Northern Ireland can beat anyone at Windsor Park.

Nevertheless, Northern Ireland’s position in the group is precarious as they have played more games than anyone else and are only three points ahead of fifth placed Poland who have a game in hand. Things should look a little clearer after the clash with Slovenia on Wednesday as on the same day Slovakia face the Czech Republic.

If anything this group proves that sides like San Marino should have to go through a qualification process but a first place position is there for the taking for one of five teams and Northern Ireland now have some belief and if they beat Slovenia on Wednesday, some momentum too.

Northern Ireland-Slovenia odds here.

Didier Drogba & Michael Ballack

After troubled seasons both these Chelsea stars looked comfortable being their country’s main man again. Ballack claimed a super goal and Drogba led the way, his second was a class finish, before a stampede overshadowed the match.

Giampaolo Pazzini

The Sampdoria striker continued his excellent recent goal scoring form with his first goal for the Italian national team. Pazzini looks like a real goal scorer and alongside Fabio Quagliarella could regenerate what is an ageing Azzurri.

Diego Maradona

The pressure on Diego will always be great and before the 4-0 win over Venezuela it had ratcheted up a few of notches since it was his first competitive game, Riquelme had been publicly dropped and Maradona had had another pop at Pele. Argentina came through with flying colours and with Paraguay losing and Brazil drawing could soon top the South American qualifying table.

Serbia

France are going to have go some way to beat this Serbian side to top spot in Group seven in what is looking like one of the most intriguing groups in Europe. If Raddy Antic’s side do make it to South Africa, with the depth of talent in their squad, they will be dark horses to win the competition.

The center back pairing of Vidic and Ivanovic is as good as any in international football and the likes of Milan Jovanovic and Dejan Stankovic provide much invention and guile. September 9, 2009 is the date France travel to Serbia, definitley a date to mark on the outlook calendar.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

If Belgium were the up-and-coming team in Europe before their home match with Bosnia-Herzegovina, this may all have changed following the 4-2 victory. With Belgium playing in Bosnia on Wednesday, they now have a great chance to cement second place in Group 5. 

Special mention should go to Edin Dzeko, who if paper reports are to be beleived was being watched by a number of Premier League managers. The Wolfsburg hitman now has six goals in his last five internationals and his goal in Belgium was a true indication of his burgeoning talent.

Spain

Have won every game of qualifying and the Euro 2008 winners are probably the best international team in the world right now. Spain look like a good bet at 15/2 to win the 2010 World Cup.

Bad Weekend

Artur Boruc

Not the first time this season that the Celtic keeper has been embarassed by a shocking goal. Boruc was also at fault for the first, coming out without claiming the ball, but Northern Ireland’s third goal was a mare of Paul Robinson proportions and will likely be replayed for years to come.

Scotland

Ok, it wasn’t 6-0, but aside from an early Kenny Miller chance and Gary Caldwell’s disallowed goal, Scotland were brushed aside easily by a fine attacking side. The gulf in class was apparent and this result and others in the future put the 1-0 win in Paris in perspective.

George Burley has his work cut out to guide Scotland into second place in Group nine, the major worry is that it is difficult to see where the goals are going to come from. It is also very possible that Scotland could finish second in the group and not qualify for a play-off spot with the worst record of all the runners-up.

Wednesday’s home game with Iceland is MASSIVE. Odds on Scotland-Iceland here.

Wales

Playing the likes of Germany and Russia was always going to be difficult and losing at home to Finland has all but extinguished any Welsh hopes for qualification – a fact confirmed by both Craig Bellamy and John Toshack after the game.

Republic of Ireland

Undoubtedly two points dropped and perhaps a minor psychological blow ahead of the game in Italy on Wednesday night. The Irish had the best of the chances against a depleted Bulgaria side and were sucker punched late on. Nevertheless, of all the home nations, the Republic of Ireland still look best equipped to secure a play-off spot from Group 8.

The Republic of Ireland are 13/2 to win in Italy on Wednesday.

Carlos Queiroz & Cristiano Ronaldo

When big teams start to fail everyone gets a little excited, after all who doesn’t like to see Goliath defeated. Now, however, there is becoming a major concern that the world’s second best player won’t be at the World Cup. And the only conclusion one can arrive at is that Manchester United were very lucky Carlos Queiroz didn’t stick around at Old Trafford to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Cristiano Ronaldo will only have himself to blame if Portugal fail to qualify as he was allegedly one of the ring leaders who wanted the former Manchester United assistant manager to take over from Big Phil. Despite their poor goal scoring record so far (six goals in five games) Portugal can still make it although the group will look very different if both Denmark and Hungary win their home matches on Wednesday.

Paraguay

Lost just their second game in World Cup qualifying, whilst five of the six teams below them in the South American table all won.

The Ivory Coast

A 5-0 win over Malawi will be forgotten after the deaths of at least 22 people in a stampede that also left over 130 people injured. Yet another sad day for football and a terrible indictment of the football authorities in the Ivory Coast. Sadly, one also has to point the finger at Africa, a continent that is no stranger to such incidents, and hope the World Cup runs smoothly.