World Cup playoffs preview

George Matthew Roar Rookie

By , George Matthew is a Roar Rookie

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    Much has been spoken about Australia’s tie against Honduras however, beginning on Friday 10th November, eight European sides will fight it out for the final spots on offer in the World Cup.

    With the pressure now at maximum levels, the respective nations will be desperate for their names to be drawn out at next month’s official World Cup draw in Moscow. Below is a preview of all four ties which promise to deliver.

    Croatia vs Greece
    1st Leg Friday 10th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, Croatia
    second Leg Monday 13th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, Greece
    TV: ESPN2

    Croatia and Greece will lock horns at the imposing Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb tomorrow morning (AEDT) in what looks to be a fascinating encounter. Both sides will be hoping to progress but more interestingly, they will both look to do so in different ways.

    Croatia know enough about Greece’s stubborn approach and will try and do the job at home in the first leg. Much will be expected of the current crop of Croatian superstars, which includes the likes of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic.

    Greece’s resolute defence will be their greatest asset in Croatia with Borussia Dortmund’s Sokratis Papasthathopoulos arguably Greece’s most important player, especially with the rumours persisting that his traditional centre-back partner Kostas Manolas is under an injury cloud.

    Failure to win for Croatia in the first leg will almost certainly bring a sense of malaise, considering Greece’s strong home form. Greece will likely sit back and let Croatia have the majority of the possession throughout the tie and will be hoping for a moment of magic from striker Kostas Mitroglou throughout the 180 mins of football.

    Verdict: If Croatia can get a two-goal cushion tomorrow morning, it would be extremely hard to see Greece overturn the deficit in Athens. If a 0-0 draw occurs, it’s anyone’s game. Expect Croatia to press and Greece to hold for the majority of the tie.

    Northern Ireland v Switzerland
    1st Leg Friday 10th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Windsor Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland
    second Leg Monday 13th November 4:00am (AEDT)-St Jakob Park, Basel, Switzerland
    TV: first leg: ESPN, second leg: ESPN2

    The consolation for Switzerland after a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in the final game of the qualifying campaign was a two-legged tie with Northern Ireland.

    Despite Switzerland being strong favourites to progress, Northern Ireland will be looking to add another chapter to what has been a brilliant past few years for the national team.

    A first leg at the much-fabled Windsor Park has the precise ability to boost the Northern Irish in a potentially big upset. Northern Ireland will be relying on English Premier League stalwarts Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and captain Steven Davis to inspire them to victory.

    Switzerland are hot favourites and deserve to be so, after leading group B for so long, only being overtaken by reigning European Champions Portugal right at the death of the campaign.

    The Swiss squad also remains a strong unit, with evergreen skipper Stephan Lichtsteiner and Premier League stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka all vital players trying to power the Swiss to Russia.

    Verdict: Northern Ireland will try their hardest to get a result in the first leg and even a small win might not be enough as I can see Switzerland putting on a strong performance in the second leg.

    Sweden v Italy
    1st leg Saturday 11th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Friends Arena, Solna, Sweden
    second leg Tuesday 14th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-San Siro, Milan, Italy
    TV: ESPN

    Probably the most interesting of all the ties play out on Saturday morning when Sweden host Italy at the Friends Arena in Solna for the first leg. Sweden have already achieved great success this campaign with their second-place finish in group A, eliminating traditional powerhouse Holland and impressing many pundits and fans alike.

    Thiago Motta Italy Football Euro 2016

    (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

    Arguably the brightest point for Sweden is that they have found a steady replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimović in Marcus Berg, who has eight goals to his name so far. He will have to be at his sharpest in the box if Sweden want to have any chance of winning the tie.

    Despite Italy being favourites to progress, they have had a shaky qualifying campaign with Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 reign now a distant memory. A heavy loss to Spain and a lacklustre home draw against FYROM has lead to discontent.

    Italy have qualified for every World Cup finals campaign since 1958 and will desperate to maintain that record.

    What Italy have on their side in this tie is proven match winners. Italy’s defence still has a claim to being the world’s best with world class central defenders such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci anchoring the team.

    Central midfielder Marco Verratti will be crucial in balancing Italy’s midfield while the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Simone Zaza and Ciro Immobile will provide the goals to power Italy to victory.

    Verdict: Sweden have performed admirably but this may be a step too far. Italy will be typically sturdy and robust in the first leg and should be too strong for Sweden at the imposing San Siro.

    Denmark v Rep. of Ireland
    TV: ESPN
    1st leg Sunday 12th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, Denmark
    second leg Wednesday 15th November: 6:45am (AEDT)-Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Rep. of Ireland
    Perhaps a tie for the purist, Denmark and Ireland also represents perhaps the most even game. Both sides are looking to get back into the World Cup, Denmark’s last appearance being at South Africa in 2010 while the Republic of Ireland last qualified in 2002.

    Denmark emerged second place in strong fashion, finishing four points clear of third placed Montenegro.

    Denmark will also favour the home leg first and will attempt to assert their dominance early. They have many great players who are capable of lifting them to victory such as Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and centre-backs Simon Kjaer and Chelsea youngster Andreas Christensen, fresh from an impressive victory against Manchester United in the Premier League.

    The Republic of Ireland will be looking to exorcise the demons of 2010. As a result, Martin O’Neill will most likely adopt a conservative approach in the first leg in Copenhagen. This will allow Ireland to pounce in the second leg, in which Ireland will hope to have the Aviva stadium rocking.

    Ireland also have some handy players with Robbie Brady, James McClean and Shane Long all capable of tipping the tie in favour of the Irish. The nature of Ireland’s entry into the playoffs which included edging out the Welsh could also prove inspirational for them.

    Verdict: Too close to call. Both sides are evenly matched and it will be a riveting tie.