Starting this weekend, the final slots for the 2010 World Cup will be decided around the world. So, let’s have a bit of fun with the playoffs.
Today until Saturday, entries are open for picks for the first leg of the CONCACAF/COMNEBOL and UEFA first legs and for the AFC/OFC second leg. We’ll pick the CONCACAF/COMNEBOL and UEFA second legs starting on Sunday or Monday. Same rules apply as in our Champions League Predictions. My predictions and commentary are included as well.
Costa Rica vs. Uruguay: Saturday in San Jose.
I am hugely intrigued by this playoff because I think the two teams are fairly evenly matched and I think the Saprissa home field advantage in the first leg could play a huge role here. I think the Ticos’ best chance comes if they take advantage of hosting the first leg and get 2-3 goals while hopefully holding Uruguay, or to give them their proper name, “10-man Uruguay” to zero.* I imagine some Spanish language TV is going to pick these matches up but I am not sure where yet. Prediction: 2-1 Costa Rica.
New Zealand vs. Bahrain: Saturday in Wellington (first leg was 0-0). (Saturday, 2 AM ET on FSC.)
Well, the second leg cannot possible be worse than the first leg was, a 0-0 draw that set the sport back 60 years. Bahrain couldn’t hit salt in the ocean and New Zealand only occasionally ventured over the halfway line. The fact is this, no matter which of these teams win, they will be the worst team at the World Cup by some distance. Prediction: Bahrain 3-1.
Ireland vs. France: Saturday in Dublin. (3 pm on Setanta PPV) This is a massive test of Trapattoni’s Ireland. On paper, they shouldn’t really have a chance here. That said, whenever Mr. Domenech is involved for France, their opponents always have a chance. I am thinking that some kind of heroic stalemate sends this back to Paris for France to choke. Prediction 1-1.
Portugal vs. Bosnia: Saturday in Lisbon. (3:25 PM on Setanta Sports) If Carlos Queiroz isn’t a complete moron, this shouldn’t be too hard for Portugal even if the slightly injured Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t play. The first leg at home gives the Portugese a good chance to grab on to this series with both hands. Prediction: 3-0.
Greece vs. Ukraine: Saturday in Athens. (1 PM on Setanta Sports) This one is much harder to call because unless Shevchenko magically becomes young again, neither of these teams have any really gamebreaking talents. These two matches could, and I stress could be utterly unwatchable. Greece on its best day is fairly dull and Ukraine doesn’t nearly look like the upset-specialsts they once were. In lieu of all other intelligent thoughts about this match, I think it’ll be a draw. Prediction: 0-0.
Russia vs. Slovenia: Saturday in Moscow. (11:55 on Setanta Sports) I feel bad for Slovenia, because I think they could’ve advanced to the World Cup if they had gotten any other draw, but instead they’ve gotten Russia, the best runner-up of the bunch by a long ways. Russia’s only losses came to group winners Germany and their only draw came once their fate had been decided. Russia is a real team to watch in 2010 and with Arshavin and Akinfeev in great form, Slovenia has very little chance of standing in their way. Prediction: 2-0 Russia
* That’s one of my favorite all-time gags by the Daily Show’s John Oliver, always addressing Uruguay by their “proper name,” “10-man Uruguay.”
Please note that entries close late on Friday because of the NZ-BAH match. I know that Africa is finishing up their group phase as well, but I wanted to focus on the playoff matches which are available on TV.