In a month or so we will know the finalists at Euro 2012. The final four positions will be decided after home-and-home play-offs.
But as soon as next summer’s European Championships is completed qualifying for the UEFA countries will get underway for Brazil 2014.
What’s more we already know the 2014 group draw for the European section.
A year is a long time in football but nonetheless it is interesting to delve into the recently completed qualifying groups and to see what they might tell us about the qualifying groups for the global tournament and in particular the quality of each.
The nine group winners will move on to Brazil 2014 while the runner-up with the poorest record will drop off leaving the other eight runners-up to contest the four remaining spots by way of a play-off series.
Results against the lowest placed team in each group will be nullified with the exception of Group I as it only contains five countries.
The 2014 draw was made after countries were ranked and then placed into six pots. The supposedly strongest teams being in pot 1 and the weakest in pot 6.
The groupings below show the same order as the pots and if the UEFA system conforms to current form then would we should expect to see a balance from the countries final Euro positions and the draw for the World Cup.
It is difficult to factor in the relative strength of the Euro groups but nevertheless the 2014 has thrown up some interesting combinations.
Some countries might consider that they have been short-changed while others might feel that they received a break.
Here is a look at the World Cup qualifying groups through the lens of Euro 2012 qualifying. Finishing position in Euro 2012 group qualifying is in brackets.
Croatia (Runner-up Grp. F)
Serbia (3rd Grp. C)
Belgium (3rd Grp. A)
Scotland (3rd Grp. I)
Macedonia (5th Grp. B)
Wales (4th Grp. G)
Right off the top this looks like a very competitive group. Notice I said competitive, not necessarily good.
Croatia and Serbia will believe that they have underachieved in Euro qualifying and this will be a chance to set the record straight.
Three third place finishers plus a Wales team that finished with three straight wins clouds the issue and even FY Macedonia will be hoping that home results might put them within reach of a play-off spot.
The problem with a balanced group is the runner-up may be the odd team out when it comes to calculating the best eight runners-up.
This group is anyone’s to win.
Italy (Winner Grp. C)
Denmark (Winner Grp. H)
Czech Republic (Runner-up Grp. I)
Bulgaria (5th Grp. G)
Armenia (3rd Grp. B)
Malta (6th Grp. F)
It is tough to look beyond Italy as the winner of this one although Denmark continues to remind us that we should never underestimate an overachiever.
The Czech Republic need to rebuild and 2014 might be beyond them.
Bulgaria shows no sign of returning to their form of the 90s.
Armenia’s late run in Euro qualifying will make the other countries in Group B a tad nervous.
Germany (Winner Grp. A)
Sweden (Runner-up Grp. E)
Republic of Ireland (Runner-up Grp. B)
Austria (4th Grp. A)
Faroe Islands (6th Grp. C)
Kazakhstan (6th Grp. A)
There are shocks and there are shocks. If Germany fails to win this group it will fall into the latter category.
Sweden always finds a way to be there or thereabouts although the Republic of Ireland will not fear the Scandinavians.
Austria, Faroe Islands (interesting if former Republic of Ireland coach Brian Kerr is still in charge) and Kazakhstan – think about France 2016.
Netherlands (Winner Grp. E)
Turkey (Runner-up Grp. A)
Hungary (3rd Grp. E)
Romania (3rd Grp. D)
Estonia (Runner-up Grp. C)
Andorra (6th Grp. B)
Estonia punched well above their weight (pot 5) in finishing as runners-up in a group that included Serbia and Slovenia in Euro qualifying.
Can they maintain their form through another three years? It could be tough.
Hungary has shown continued improvement over the last decade and Romania appears to have stemmed the bleeding from 2008.
Nonetheless Turkey will rightfully fancy their chances of taking second place.
Norway (3rd Grp. H)
Slovenia (4th Grp. C)
Switzerland (3rd Grp. G)
Albania (5th Grp. D)
Cyprus (5th Grp. H)
Iceland (6th Grp. H)
This group would have been an answer to the prayers of many countries. It is by far the weakest of all the European groups.
Quite how Norway managed to get to be ranked in pot 1 when their last appearance at a major tournament final was in 2000 is beyond me and a lot more people as well I expect.
The group seems tailored-made for a young emerging Switzerland side. No offence but UEFA will have their work cut out selling the TV rights for this lot.
Portugal (Runner-up Grp. H)
Russia (Winner Grp. B)
Israel (3rd Grp. F)
Northern Ireland (5th Grp. F)
Azerbaijan (5th Grp. A)
Luxembourg (6th Grp. D)
Portugal, along with Croatia and Norway, were in pot 1 but failed to win their Euro group.
Russia needs to retool with younger talent.
It will come to these two often inconsistent countries to fight it out for the automatic position.
Very difficult to see how the other four countries can find a way to split the group’s powerhouses.
Greece (Winner Grp. F)
Slovakia (4th Grp. B)
Bosnia-Herzegovina (Runner-up Grp. D)
Lithuania (4th Grp. I)
Latvia (4th Grp. F)
Liechtenstein (5th Grp. I)
Greece may generally struggle at the finals of major tournaments (2004 the obvious exception) but more often than not they negotiate the qualifying group stage.
Bosnia-Herzegovina appears to be their biggest threat while the others seem capable of an upset in individual matches while lacking the stamina to finish in the top two.
England (Winner Grp. G)
Montenegro (Runner-up Grp. G)
Ukraine (Co-host Euro 2012)
Poland (Co-host Euro 2012)
Moldova (5th Grp. E)
San Marino (6th Grp. E)
San Marino – enough said.
Moldova is capable of picking up some points at home.
With Ukraine and Poland co-hosting in 2012 it is difficult to gauge current form in the absence of recent competitive matches. However, they do have to be considered as very real threats in this group.
Montenegro’s great challenge is to push-on after a Euro qualifying campaign that exceeded the expectations of most.
There will be the usual angst surrounding England but they will still be considered by most neutral observers as a solid bet to move through as group winners.
Spain (Winner Grp. I)
France (Winner Grp. D)
Belarus (4th Grp. D)
Georgia (5th Grp. F)
Finland (4th Grp. E)
One of only two World Cup groups with two Euro group winners and it will come down to Spain and France fighting for top spot.
Apart from the head-to-head series the concern will be not dropping points against the other three countries. Belarus, Georgia and Finland are banana-skins and nothing else.
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