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World Cup Qualifying Preview

Qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is in full swing. In fact, this is probably the most enjoyable part of the qualifying campaign: the most talented teams have started to make moves towards the top of their respective groups, yet almost every team (except the ones who have completely stunk for the past 8 months) still feel like they have a shot at Brazil. But we're close to the point where losses really hurt any team's chances.

Dennis Grombkowski

Let's start with a look at the situation facing Die Nationalelf in Group C:

Team Played Won Drawn Lost GD Pts
Germany 4 3 1 0 +9 10
Sweden 3 2 1 0 +3 7
Ireland 3 2 0 1 -1 6
Austria 3 1 1 1 +3 4
Kazakhstan 4 0 1 3 -7 1
Faroe Is. 3 0 0 3 -7 0

Boy ... the way some people were moaning and complaining about the recent draw vs. Sweden, you'd hardly have guessed that Germany already has one foot on the boat to Brazil. Without having played any matches against Kazakhstan, Jogi's boys have scored 15 goals in 4 matches, sit in first place, and now have 2 straight against the Kazakhs coming up. The first one is in Kazakhstan's Astana Arena, then the return match is in Nuernberg's Grundig-Stadion (formerly called the EasyCredit Stadion. Yeah, I think that's an improvement).

According to recent reports, Loew is still "uncertain" as to how the team will line up. But it's been strongly hinted that the starting roster may not involve a regular striker - Gomez being the only one healthy anyway - but instead may use Mueller or Goetze in a semi-advanced role. In addition to Miro Klose, a long-term injury absentee, Kroos and both of the Bender boys are out, and Khedira is a question mark after picking up a knock in training. The absence of Khedira would hurt, although it's questionable if we'd really need all that midfield toughness against this particular opponent. It's even possible that Drax takes his place, although he's been playing more of a forward-middie role for S04.

Also, there's an interview with Neuer where he discusses getting bored or anxious while sitting in goal for 90 minutes and hardly seeing any shots. My guess is that Neuer gets one of these two starts and Adler the other, but I haven't heard anything specific about that.

Other matches I'll be paying attention to:

Croatia vs. Serbia

A lot of history between the sides, obviously. SBNation's Kirsten Schlewitz has a great bit on the potential of a pan-Yugoslavian team. Aside from that angle, though, it's simply a big match: a win for Croatia would almost cement their position in at least the top two of the group (remember, each group's winner gets a ticket to Brazil, runners-up get, at best, a chance to make it after a play-in). A win by Serbia keeps them alive, while a loss or even a draw will virtually croak their qualification campaign.

Czech Republic vs. Denmark

These two sides both sit outside the top pair in Group B, but it's not as dire as it seems: each has a game in hand on Italy and Bulgaria, the top teams in the group. Denmark has only 2 points from 3 matches played so far, but a chance to make up ground in this match and the following one vs. Bulgaria. It's gut-Czech time for the Danes.

Sweden vs. Ireland

Despite their thrashing at the hands of Germany, the Irish can put themselves in great position this week: a win or draw against Sweden and then a win against Austria would leave them very much in the hunt. If they can't get at least 3 points from this pair of games, though, their hopes start to fade.

Hungary vs. Romania

Believe it or not, possibly the biggest football game in the world this week. Netherlands, the bullies of the group, sit in first place. Then these sides are level in 2d, each on 9 points, with Turkey making a bad 4th. Romania visits the Dutch after this match; if they can't get at least a point against Hungary, their early-campaign excitement could go up in a cloud of smoke.

Switzerland vs. Cyprus

The Swiss are my "shock-the-world" pick for the 2014 World Cup, and a win here would leave them well in control of the group. They're undefeated thus far in qualifying, have a great goal differential, and the teams directly below them (Norway and Albania) are playing each other. Also, anyone living in Cyprus has bigger problems right now, if the news is to be believed.

Israel vs. Portugal

A lower-voltage version of Hungary and Romania: both tied for 2d, loser of this is on the outside looking in, winner is in good position and still has a shot to challenge Russia in Group F.

USA vs. Costa Rica

I guess.

Argentina vs. Venezuela

The Venezuelan side is clinging to a qualification spot, ahead of Uruguay and Chile only on goal differential. But Uruguay and Chile play teams at the bottom of the qualification table, while Venezuela makes a tough trip to Buenos Aires. The good news for Venezuela is that they really only need a draw.

Poland vs. Ukraine

Honduras vs. Mexico

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Greece

All moderately interesting for various reasons.

So, let's hear it from you guys. ASIDE FROM the Germany match, what are you most excited to see?

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