The second place teams in each UEFA World Cup qualifying group still are holding onto their hopes of World Cup glory. First place teams received an automatic berth, while the second place teams are headed to a playoff to narrow the 8 second place teams into 4 teams that can join the World Cup tournament this summer.
Each playoff will feature two games, a home game for each country. The scoring will be aggregate like in Champions League home-and-home series. The games will be played on November 15th and 19th.
The most compelling match up of the playoffs will be the Portugal vs Sweden series. Portugal is a tough squad with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo at the helm. Sweden might be less glamorous to casual soccer fans but they’re also a tough squad, headlined by talented Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Portugal vs Sweden
“It’s going to be a very even playoff against Sweden. They do have Zlatan, after all, but it’s not only him they are a strong team overall,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said, via ESPN FC. “They’ve been many times in the final phases of major tournaments so we need to find the best way possible to reach our goal. It is a difficult tie, but we are sure that we will be in Brazil next year.”
Ukraine vs France
“It will be difficult, Ukraine are a good team and it certainly won’t be easy for us,” said French coach Didier Deschamps. “To be at home for the second game is very important. The fact we’ve met recently won’t have a factor, all we have to do is give it our best and we have to respect them.”
Greece vs Romania
“It could be a very good playoff,” Greece coach Fernando Santos said. “Both teams have the same ambitions, Romania are a strong side and have improved in recent years… it will be a tough playoff for both teams but I think Greece can go through.”
Iceland vs Croatia
“It’s very exciting for us to play two matches against Croatia,” Iceland coach Lars Lagerback said. “They have a good team, but we will give it our best and we have everything to gain. We might need a bit of luck but we hope to be able to create our own.”