Saturday (November 14th) and Wednesday (November 18th) – The UEFA World Cup Qualifying playoffs kick off in three days, with these games – Russia vs Slovenia, Greece vs Ukraine, Ireland vs France and Portugal vs Bosnia-Herzegovina. Every team has their fans that will be disappointed if they don’t make it to South Africa 2010, but there a few players that their absence will be missed on a much larger scale, and one Edin Dzeko that could lead the cindarella BH side to it’s first major tournament qualification ever (on one Cristiano Ronaldo’s expense)
* – We haven’t forgotten about Zlatan, but Sweden couldn’t even make the playoffs, FYI. And that’s a real shame.
Franck Ribery, France and Bayern Munich
France are favorites, even heavy favorites in their playoff clash against the Irish and also get to play the decider in Paris, but still, les bleus didn’t have it easy qualifying from their group, eventually missing automatic qualification to Serbia by one point. And if the French don’t make it (it’ll be the first time since 1994), the biggest blow to soccer fans would be Ribery not going to South Africa. The “Jewel of French soccer” as he’s been referred to by Zidane had a fantastic 2006 World Cup and when he’s fit (not often this season) and motivated (seems to have lost his motivation since not getting the move away from Bayern) is one of the more exciting players in the World. Problem is, he won’t be playing against the Irish. Yes, injured. Reason for concern, Domenech?
Andrei Arshavin, Russia and Arsenal
The baby-faced 28 year old who has scored 16 goals in 48 caps for the Sbornaya made a name for himself during the 2008 Euro, when he led Russia to a Semi Final appearance while scoring 2 goals and giving a memorable performance in the Quarter Final win over Holland. He’s been in quite good form this season, scoring four goals from Arsenal so far and also scoring in Russia’s last (and meaningless) qualifying match, plus who can forget that four goal eruption against Liverpool last April? Slovenia, although not star studded, will be a tough opposition to the slightly favorite Russians, and if Arshavin can work his magic, we’ll be able to enjoy him in South Africa.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal and Real Madrid
So many words written on paper and on keyboards about the young Madeiran as his Real Madrid team struggle against amateur teams and his national side, facing the very dangerous Bosnians this Saturday, won’t even have him for the playoffs. The most expensive player ever hasn’t played since getting injured while playing for the national team on October 10th and despite Carlos Queiroz’s hopes and prayers, he won’t have him. There’s no need to explain why we want to see Ronaldo there (despite him not being the most popular player in the World), but he’s partially the reason for Portugal even needing a playoff. He hasn’t scored for the national team (not including friendlies) since June 2008. He needs his friends to give him a chance to score some goals this summer.
Edin Dzeko, Bosnia and Wolfsburg
We can’t say Bosnia gave Spain a hard time, but they did stun a lot of people around Europe, leaving Turkey and Belgium behind. Main reason? Edin Dzeko. The 23 year old Wolfsburg striker (28 goals in 2008-2009) scored 9 goals for the dragons during the qualifying matches, tied at second in the UEFA qualifiers with Wayne Rooney, second only to Theofanis Gekas of Greece (10 goals). He was chased by Milan during the summer but stayed in Germany, where he has four goals and four assists in league play so far this season. Bosnia are underdogs in their clash with the Portuguese, but they have Dzeko and Misimovic (also Wolfsburg) and an amazing crowd in Zenica, which could be a big factor in the second leg next Wednesday. Although still not a superstar like Ribery or Ronaldo, Dzeko and Bosnia (25 goals in 10 matches in the qualifiers) are a team that would be a fantastic new addition to the World Cup, even at the expense of the underachieving Portuguese.