The Big Weekend Preview

After a trying week devoid of football, all eyes are on South Africa 2010 as the latest phase of World Cup qualification approaches. With qualification still at it’s infancy, many of the banana-skin matches facing the bigger sides are slightly less daunting then they otherwise may have been, but in the case of France Raymond, the guillotine reportedly awaits no matter what Les Bleus do against Romania.

Bournemouth v Rotherham

We begin this weekend’s preview however at the bottom of the football league where a relegation “six-pointer” takes place at Dean Court.

Due to sanctions from the FA, The Cherries and The Millers started the season on minus 17 points, along with Luton who began on minus thirty points, virtually cutting three sides adrift into a mini-league for survival at the foot of League Two. Yet despite the harsh penalties served on the clubs, Bournemouth and Rotherham started the season with the bit between their teeth, cutting down their deficits to minus 8 and plus one respectively. With both now in contention of being out of the relegation zone by Christmas, huge credit should go to managers Jimmy Quinn and Mark Robins.

With five wins, three draws and only one defeat (all the goals from August & September can be seen here), Rotherham’s form is on par with the pace-setters in the league. And should top-placed Wycombe beat Grimsby away on Saturday, a win for Robin’s men will see them jump another place in the league, and add yet another buffer against the drop.

101 Predicts: Bournemouth 1 – Rotherham 3

Romania v France

If the paper talk is to be believed, after fending off his departure following a dismal European Championships, and then embarrassingly losing 3-1 to Austria, Raymond Domenech must pull off a miracle against Romania to keep hold of his job. With even a win not certain of saving the head coach, the replacements have begun to be lined up, with Robert Pires calling for Arsene Wenger, while Gerrard Houllier is the other name in the hat. (Houllier was the manager in charge of France’s disastrous 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign, who blamed David Ginola and Eric Cantona for failing to to take France to the World Cup in America – the famous 3-2 home defeat to Israel can be seen here.)

In footballing terms, after playing out the worst game of Euro 2008, it is hard to get too excited for Saturday’s rematch. But hopefully more attacking play will be on show, both sides desperate for the win after having only claimed three points after two games, winning and losing a game apiece.

France, who welcome back Patrick Vieira and Franck Ribery, will be spearheaded by the reported Real Madrid target Karim Benzema. While Romania will be looking to the talismen Adrian Mutu and captain Cristi Chivu to help steer them to victory.

101 Predicts: Romania 1 – France 1

Scotland v Norway

The day has long past since Scandinavian football was blossoming, with many of the Norwegian squad now looking like flailing relics of a country without a concrete footballing future. Manager Age Hareide can no-doubt speak about experience in a team comprised with John Carew, John Arne Riise, Eric Nevland, Morten Gamst Pederson and Steffen Iverson, however with no real pace in their side, Scotland can look forward to a physical battle at Hampden Park, which they must believe they can win.

However the Scots will only be quietly optimistic, knowing that the jury is still very much out on George Burley’s Scotland regime. They have not been helped by the withdrawal of Kenny Miller, replaced by Wolves’ Chris Iwelumo, who finds himself battling with Kris Boyd to partner James McFadden up-top. And having lost to Macedonia, Scotland know that this is a “must-win” game if they have any realistic hopes of qualifying from a group that also includes Holland.

101 Predicts: Scotland 2 – Norway 1

Sweden v Portugal

The big game in group one sees Sweden play host to Portugal, with both teams remarkably chasing Albania who currently occupy top spot.

Suffering from the same lull that has encapsulated the whole of Scandinavian football, Sweden at least boasts the best recent amongst their Nordic peers. Sadly however, Henrik Larsson (see some of his amazing recent goals for Helsingborg here), who continuously defies the laws of aging with reports this week claiming up to 15 clubs are looking to sign the 37-year-old once the Allsvenskan season is over, is out with injury. Also absent are Linderoth, Mellberg, Edman, Rosenberg, Svensson and Wilhelmsson, leaving Lars Lagerback pinning all his hopes on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has so often failed to turn up on the international stage.

Portugal are also missing some key personal – Deco, Carvalho, AMniche and Simao all sidelined – but with Cristiano Ronaldo returning, Carlos Queiroz should be confident of picking up a valuable away win. Ronaldo has been tipped to play in a more advanced role than usual, with Zenit’s Danny likely to be asked to pull the strings from midfield.

101 Predicts: Sweden 0 – Portugal 2

Bulgaria v Italy

A combination of injuries and deliberate omissions will see Marcelo Lippi play a largely unfamiliar Azzurri side in Sofia, with the culling of the old guard allowing fresh faces to take their chance on the big stage.

Sidelined through injury, Buffon, Pirlo, Camoranesi, Grosso, Materazzi and Iaquinta all miss out. And the end of the international road seems nigh for Del Piero and Cassano, who sat idly by as the striker’s positions were filled out by Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi and Udinese’s Simone Pepe. Luca Toni has also paid for Bayern’s poor start, being dropped from the squad.

Having seen the World Champions struggle past Cyprus, Bulgaria will be feeling upbeat of causing an upset. Lead by Dimitar Berbatov and supported by Martin Petrov, the Manchester United striker candidly admitted, “I’m happy Buffon isn’t playing. And I don’t think I’m the only one. He’s Italy’s symbol, the strongest goalkeeper in the world. Let’s call ourselves lucky. I was expecting to see Toni and Del Piero, nobody was thinking about Giuseppe Rossi.”

101 Predicts: Bulgaria 1 – Italy 2

Venezuela v Brazil

The pressure is slightly off Dunga after guiding Brazil up to second in the South American qualification, however the country remains unconvinced about the man in charge, having witnessed a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to last-placed Bolivia, and knowing that their opponents on Saturday night beat them 2-0 for the first time ever in a friendly back in June.

Robinho and Adriano should lead the attack for the Samba boys, but there will likely be a strong emphasis on defence with Gilberto Silva, Josue and Elano due to line up with Kaka in the midfield. This will annoy the passionate locals who crave attacking football, but Dunga will know that with a tricky test in Colombia waiting on Wednesday, the result is the only important factor against Venezuela.

101 Predicts: Venezuela 0 – Brazil 2