quarta-feira, 14 de outubro de 2009

O dia de todas as decisões

O South China Morning Post de hoje destaca a recuperação da selecção portuguesa na luta pelo apuramento para o próximo Mundial de futebol. Esperemos que não haja nenhum contratempo esta noite. Força, Portugal!

Portuguese to confirm play-off slot against Malta

Mitch Phillips in London
South China Morning Post
October 14, 2009

Portugal look likely to complete a remarkable World Cup recovery when a home victory over Malta today will secure them a place in the play-offs for the 2010 finals that looked way beyond their reach a few months ago.

Switzerland and Slovakia look set to secure the two remaining automatic European slots while there are also four play-off berths up for grabs on the final night of qualifying.

Most of Europe's big guns are already booking their accommodation in South Africa, though France still have to run the gauntlet of the now-seeded November play-offs.

While France, runners-up in the 2006 final, are disappointed to have finished second behind Serbia, Portugal - the side they beat in the semi-finals three years ago - will be overjoyed to join them in the play-offs.

After starting their group one campaign with a win over Malta they lost at home to Denmark then produced three successive goalless draws, including at home to Albania.

In June they were heading for what would have been another calamitous 1-1 draw in Albania when Bruno Alves popped up with a winner two minutes into injury time.

Defeat away to eventual group winners Denmark also looked on the cards in September until Liedson grabbed an 86th-minute equaliser for a 1-1 draw four minutes from time.

The late goals, coming alongside Sweden and Hungary dropping points, prized the door back open and a 3-0 home win over Hungary last Saturday combined with Sweden's late loss to Denmark completed the unlikely turnaround.

Now, they again have control of their own destiny.

Even without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo it would be unthinkable for Portugal to fail to beat Malta in Guimaraes. If it happened though, a draw could let in Sweden, who are at home to Albania, while even Hungary have an outside chance if they win in Denmark.

On paper group three looks even more congested, with four teams still chasing the top two places. In reality, however, Switzerland, three points clear, should get the point they need at home to Israel to secure automatic qualification while Greece should go into the play-offs with a home win over Luxembourg.

Even if Israel manage to win in Switzerland they would still need Greece to lose or draw while Latvia need to thrash Moldova and pray for an unlikely Luxembourg success.

Slovenia's 2-0 win in Slovakia on Saturday ensured group three would go to the wire, although Slovakia still look well placed to reach the finals for the first time.

They are two points clear of Slovenia and visit Poland, who are now out of the running. Slovenia should win at San Marino, which will secure a play-off berth and would send them through automatically if Slovakia fail to win.

Czech Republic must beat Northern Ireland and hope San Marino claim an unlikely draw.

Ukraine's 1-0 win over already-qualified England on Saturday leapfrogged them above Croatia in group six and another win in Andorra will secure second place.

Croatia must win at Kazakhstan to have any chance.

The play-off berths go to the best eight runners-up from the nine European groups. Norway, second in the five-team group six, look to be the ones to miss out, though there is a mathematical chance of them making it if group one produces a highly unlikely trio of results.

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