Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scotland's win against Macedonia yesterday has kept us in the playoff mix, even if our hopes are hanging by a thread.

The European qualification to South Africa seems pretty straight forward on paper. Europe has 13 spots available for 2010. The 9 group winners go through automatically, with the best 8 of the 9 runner ups going into the playoff round, with the four winners advancing.

With there being 8 groups of 6 teams and Scotland being in the only group of 5, results against the bottom team in groups 1 to 8 are not included in the calculations.

The actual logisitics of it all will go down to the last round of matches if Scotland can take anything from Wednesday's crunch game at home to Holland.

It's been a fear of ours for a while that even a second place finish in Group 9 might not be good enough to get us into the playoffs, with every team taking points off each other. It's been hard to work out exactly where we stand, but with the qualification games now being down to the last three rounds of matches (and one final game in Scotland's case), things now look a little bit clearer at least.

Scotland currently sit second in Group 9 with ten points. Norway drawing with Iceland yesterday was huge for us and means that if we take at least a point off Holland on Wednesay then we have secured second spot.

A defeat to Holland could still see us finishing second. Norway and Macedonia are tied on 7 points and meet in Oslo on Wednesday. A draw there would give us the second spot no matter what. If Norway or Macedonia win and Scotland fail to get at least a point, they will finish second and we're definitely out.

Although realistically we need all three to boost our playoff chances, we could still make it with just 11 or even 10 points. It's unlikely, but possible.

The nine teams battling for the eight spots currently stand as follows:

1 - Russia: Played 5, Points 12
2 - Croatia: Played 6, Points 11
3 - France: Played 6, Points 11
4 - Greece: Played 6, Points 10
5 - Republic of Ireland: Played 6, Points 10
6 - Scotland: Played 7, Points 10
7 - Bosnia and Herzegovina: Played 5, Points 9
8 - Northern Ireland: Played 6, Points 8
9 - Hungary: Played 5, Points 7

In the details above, each team will have played 8 games by the end of the campaign (this is games not against the bottom team). To complicate matters, some of the current second placed teams are in a battle for that spot like ourselves and may not be in the mix at the end. The bottom team in some groups is also not decided and although this will make little difference to most of the group standings, it could have implications in Ireland's group 8, where three teams could finish bottom.

Although currently sitting in 6th place looks to be ok, we are in the worst position with just one game left to play.

So what of the three teams currently below us?

Bosnia and Herzegovina have games left against Spain, Turkey (who could still pip them for second) and Estonia (who they have already beaten 7-0 in this campaign and aren't the bottom team in the group). At worst they should pick up three points taking their tally to 12.

Northern Ireland have two games left, against table toppers Slovakia and the struggling but dangerous Czech Republic. They could also still finish anywhere from 1st to 5th in the group and could be our best hope of making one of the playoff spots.

Hungary have three games left in another tight group that is up for grabs. Their matches against leaders Denmark and two against Portugal will be key to that group. If things go well, we could be ok.

So much to think about. So much to watch out for. So much can still happen.

All the permutations could look different after Wednesday night. We might not even care any more.

What we need is to put ourselves in as a strong a position as possible and that can only happen by taking all three points at Hampden.

Scotland have never needed a performance like they do on Wednesday for years and they need the Hampden roar to be there from the kick off.

It's going to be a tense night but then again, we never do things the easy way, do we?!

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