UEFA Qualifying Update: Politically Charged Playoff Matches on the Docket?
With two qualifying match days remaining, the picture in UEFA Qualifying has cleared up.
Holland, England and Spain have all clinched World Cup berths, while Serbia, Slovakia, Italy and Denmark are close to clinching passage to South Africa. The final group leader, traditional power Germany is in a fight for its life with Russia atop Group Four.
Eight of the nine second place teams will advance to a November two leg playoff. They are ranked by points with results against the last place team dropped except in the case of Group A, which only had five teams.
Norway is locked on 10 points as Group A play has ended. But it is still possible the last place teams could change in the other groups changing the total points and pushing someone with more than 10 points below Norway. Additionally, several of these teams could change before the end of group play on October 14th.
Some tasty potential playoff matchups are possible. Croatia-Bosnia would be a political nightmare, especially given the integrated nature of the Bosnian side. Slovenia playing Croatia would also be tempting politically. Then there is the outside chance of a Russia-Ukraine playoff, where half the Ukranian people would have divided loyalties while others would treat it as an event to promote nationalism and independence.
Should Northern Ireland re-emerge as a second place side, they could be paired with the Republic of Ireland in another politically charged football match. It is worth noting though, that the two sides have played regularly through the years without much trouble. The real trouble has occurred when Ireland has faced England, as we witnessed in their last friendly meeting back in 1995.