There are a lot of qualifiers this Saturday, here’s a quick preview of the matches available live on American television.
Iran-Saudi Arabia, 10:30 a.m., FSC. Now this is a derby. Shia v. Sunni, emergent Gulf nuclear power versus established Gulf powerbroker. Let’s kick the women out of the stadium, put up some murals of the appropriate watchful despots, and GET IT ON! Somewhere right now Bill Kristol and Daniel Pipes are threatening a boycott of FSC right now because of televising this match. Come on, Christian Miles, you’re either with us or against us! Taking this match a bit more seriously, both teams will really want to win this match in order to potentially leap over North Korea into the second automatic qualification spot in Group B. The Saudis, who are in real danger of missing out on the tournament completely, decided to boot 2007 Asian Player of the Year Yasser Al Qahtani off the team after the striker didn’t show up at their training camp on Tuesday. We’ll see if Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura can keep a lid on this one.
Wales-Finland, 11 a.m., GolTV. Let’s be honest, it’s very hard to see Group 4 leaders Germany losing to Liechtenstein nor 2nd placed Russia losing to Azerbaijan. That means that this match in Cardiff is likely for the honor of being the Group 4 team best-placed to prosper if Germany or Russia implode somewhere along the way. With Germany comformtably on top of the group and Russia in second with a game-in-hand, that possibility doesn’t look very likely.
Israel-Greece, 1:55 p.m., Setanta. Now we’re talking. This is a battle for the top of Group 2. Seriously.. I’m not kidding. Greece is currently one point ahead of the Israelis but the next five days will be key as Greece travels to Ramat Gan on Saturday and then the two teams travel to Crete (why not Athens?) for the rematch on Wednesday. I hesitate to say too much in fear of jinxing the Israelis, but a win here would really, really go a long way towards solidifying at least a spot in the playoffs. Honestly, I suspect the Israelis will tie at home and that the Greeks will then win at home. That gives this group it’s only logical conclusion, a nail-biting final set of matches where Israel has not blow home matches against minnows Latvia, Luxembourg, and Moldova. If the Greeks take all six points, they can probably start booking for South Africa. If you hear a lone person belting out “there’s only one Yossi Benayoun” somewhere in Falls Church, Saturday, it’s probably me… or maybe my dad.
Germany-Lichtenstein, 3 p.m., GolTV. Why is GolTV bothering to show this?
Slovenia-Czech Republic, 3:30 p.m., FSC. The Czechs should escape the four-way jam in the middle of Group 3 with a win here. The only pothole I could see here for the Czechs is if they get caught looking ahead to Wednesday’s Velvet Divorce Derby against Slovakia in, where the group lead will likely be up for grabs.
Portugal-Sweden, 4:40 p.m., Setanta. This is the most important match of the weekend in Europe as the slightly-worried-about-qualifying Swedes (they’ve got games in hand) play the really-worried-about-qualifying Portuguese. Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz is under enormous pressure to turn this mess around after a loss to Denmark and scoreless draws with Albania (!) and in Sweden. As the article linked above mentions, let’s not forget that Queiroz has been linked as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford. I cannot wait. Returning to this match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended and Deco who picked up an injury with Chelsea, is unlikely to play in Porto.
Spain-Turkey, 5 p.m., GolTV. Certainly a great match on paper, but these two teams are threatening to runaway and hide atop Group 5. Spain, who is on a 19-game winning streak, will be missing Barca players Puyol, Iniesta and probably Xavi with injuries, all of whom the crowd at the Bernabeu probably won’t miss too much. Like with Israel and Greece, these two play the return match on Wednesday. Only a six-point swing by the Turks would shake this group up much.
Argentina-Venezuela, 6:10 p.m., Setanta PPV. Anything going on out on the field will be overshadowed by Argentinian manager Diego Maradona’s competitive managerial debut. This match shouldn’t be a problem for Diego as the Vino Tinto cannot compete with the fit combination of Messi, Aguero, and Tevez all chomping at the bit to play under the great man.
Mexico-Costa Rica, 7 p.m., Telemundo. Concacaf preview is coming later tonight.
El Salvador-USA, 9 p.m., ESPN2/ Telefutura. This too, we’ll get to later tonight.