Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign already seeming like a distant memory from a Scottish perspective, UEFA's announcement of the playoff matches for the final four European places yesterday barely raised much interest to many in the Tartan Army.

Looking at how the second placed finishers ended up, if Scotland had held out for a draw in their last match against Holland, it wouldn't have made much difference, as they would still have fallen a point and goals short. A last ditch win on the other hand would have seen them into the playoffs, but that's all in the past now and we should move on.

It was disappointing to see UEFA seed the playoffs but they've done it before, so it shouldn't have really come as a surprise.

The reasoning clearly being that they want as many of the "big" nations at the finals as possible, but as we've said before in this blog, the World Cup to us is all about the smaller nations trying to rise to the top and dethrone the traditional bigwigs. That's the romance and enjoyment of it all as far as I'm concerned, but I know this may be the minority viewpoint.

The seedings are clearly aimed at advancing France, Portugal, Russia and Greece, but the way the draw has worked out, I would say that only Portugal should feel comfortable.

Portugal's match up against Bosnia and Herzegovina should favour the Portugese on paper, but the Bosnians have the added incentive of matching arch foes Serbia's qualification.

France and Ireland could go either way and I have a sneaking feeling that the Irish will do enough. France haven't looked great shakes at times in the qualifying and Ireland have certainly held their own against the bigger nations in recent times.

Ukraine against Greece is hard to get excited about as a neutral but the signs are that Ukraine are finding their rhythm at the right time of the campaign and should surprise the seeds in this one.

Match of the playoffs for me though will be Russia against Slovenia. I've had a soft spot for Slovenia for a while now, thanks mainly to my friend Ian who decided to support them in the Euros a few years back. He ran a Celtic website so went with the green and white option, following another non qualification by Scotland.

The Slovenians were told of the support and loved it. We even ended up going to an ambassadors banquet in Edinburgh one evening as their guests! So good luck to Slovenia in this one and I really do believe they have the players to come through if they can keep the Russian leg all square.

So there still may be "shocks" in the making in these games. We're tipping three. It's just a shame that UEFA don't have the balls to let the tie selection gods make their own decisions as to whether the bigger countries should get an easier path.

Then again, we should all know by now that football isn't all about the little man any more.

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