Five possible World Cup 2014 casualties
The Republic of Ireland, Sweden and Italy are among the clubs tipped for failure
The road to Brazil starts this week for the European nations desperate to qualify for World Cup 2014 – but some notable names may miss out!
While the likes of England – a 16/1 shot to be crowned world champions in little under two years – have been handed what looks (on paper, at least) to be a straightforward group, other teams have not been so lucky.
There are always high-profile casualties who fail to qualify for major tournaments – most Three Lions fans won’t need reminding about ‘wally with the brolly’ Steve McClaren’s disastrous tenure.
So who is facing a real battle to reach Brazil 2014?
Group B is shaping up to be an intriguing three-way battle between Czech Republic, Denmark and Italy.
The injury-hit Czechs kick off their campaign with a trip to Copenhagen shorn of the likes of Tomas Rosicky, while Milan Baros, the country’s second-highest scorer, retired following Euro 2012.
A lack of firepower and clanger-prone Petr Cech at the opposite end of the pitch could prove the undoing of Michal Bilek’s side, who are 3/1 to win in Denmark on Saturday.
The build-up to Denmark’s bid to reach Brazil has been hampered by Christian Poulsen and Thomas Sorensen calling time on their international careers and Nicklas Bendtner’s one-match ban following ‘pants-gate’.
Bendtner may be considered a flop at club level, but his record for his country is impressive, scoring 20 times in just over 50 appearances.
If Bendtner and Dennis Rommedahl do the business once again, the Danes may progress. If not, the Czechs will be well placed to capitalise.
A revelation at Euro 2012 and shock finalists before succumbing to a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Spain, Italy will be favourites to top Group B.
The Azzurri are 8/13 to get off to a winning start away in Bulgaria on Friday and while they do have quality throughout their squad, coach Cesare Prandelli has his work cut out turning the potential of players like Mario Balotelli into proven pedigree at international level.
Balotelli is currently sidelined with an eye injury and Prandelli will need to curb the Manchester City star’s erratic behaviour to make sure of no slip-ups.
Germany and Sweden stand in the Republic of Ireland’s way of a safe passage to South America.
With Damien Duff and Shay Given both retiring from the international game, Richard Dunne out injured and Darron Gibson withdrawing from Friday’s game in Kazakhstan for seemingly being disillusioned by coach Giovanni Trapattoni, the signs don’t look promising for Ireland, who are 11/5 to win in Astana.
And a dismal Euro 2012 means that the pressure is mounting on Trapattoni.
Having successfully reached four of the last six World Cups and the last four European Championships, Sweden know a thing or two about major tournaments.
Coach Erik Hamren has been hailed for his open and attacking footballing philosophy and they certainly showed plenty of spirit going forward during the 3-2 defeat against England in Kiev at Euro 2012.
But could their cavalier style leave them too exposed at the back? And can Zlatan Ibrahimovic continue his recent revival at international level? Only time will tell…