World Cup Playoffs – Early Thoughts on Favorites

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The draw to the UEFA playoffs for the World Cup puts two huge stars; Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, against each other as Sweden will be playing Portugal to take center stage, while the disappointing French side no one wanted to meet will play the slightly over achieving Ukraine side no one wanted to play against.

Greece and Romania, two teams that don’t exactly have the world drooling over to watch in the World Cup, will take a bite out of each other, while the shocking yet sympathetic Iceland will try and complete the deterioration the Croatian national team is going through this last year or so by causing a huge upset that won’t be that surprising.

Sweden vs Portugal

The main attraction in this meeting, obviously, is the star power of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, which means that the World Cup will have to do without one of the game’s biggest stars. Based on the qualifying campaigns both teams went through, Sweden are slight favorites in this one. They had less “embarrassing” results than Portugal during that qualifying campaign, and there’s an overall feeling that despite their huge dependency on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, players like Johan Elmander, Anders Svensson and Alexander Kacaniklic can step up if their big star is having a bad day. It’s different in Portugal, where Ronaldo, obviously, has a free role to do whatever he wants, but is often taking advantage of that to simply put in a lazy performance. Unless Paulo Bento starts changing his slow, patient and boring style a little bit, we might have a World Cup without he second best player in the world. First match will be held in Portugal on November 15, the second leg will be in Stockholm four days later.

France vs Ukraine

Olivier Giroud

France are facing a very strong opponent that drew twice with England in the qualifying campaign. But no one wanted to play France, who might be continuing their struggle of the last 7 years, since reaching the World Cup final, of finding an identity without Zinedine Zidane, but are still an immensely talented team that even if it isn’t clicking well enough as a group should be able to get past someone at the level of the Ukrainians. Yevhen Konoplianka and Andriy Yarmolenko are the two best players for the side at the moment, playing opposite each other on the wings, but there’s no real star for the side like they had in the Shevchenko days. The first leg will be playing in Kiev on November 15, the second leg in Paris four days later.

Greece vs Romania

A very tough to call match between Greece, who tend to make the tournaments no matter what, bringing their disappointing style along the way, and Romania, who might play slightly more attractive football, but weren’t very convincing in the qualifying campaign, conceding 8 goals from Netherlands and needing a favor from the Dutch on the final matchday in order to finish second. Greece finished second to Bosnia in a very easy group, but they’re a side that does have more experience in this situation, which should give them a slight edge. The first leg will be played in Athens, the second in Bucharest.

Iceland vs Croatia

If the matches were held right now, the red-hot Iceland would be clear favorites, as Croatia have just sacked their manager, unable to win their last five matches of qualifying, including two defeats against Scotland. However, because we have almost a month until the two teams meet, with Iceland potentially becoming the smallest nation to ever qualify to the World Cup, things might change. Iceland are still favorites because of momentum and the tight-knit unit feeling this squad projects. First leg in Iceland, second in Zagreb,

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