Why Norway look doomed in World Cup playoff race

October 8, 2009

Europe’s 53 national teams have been split into nine groups with the winners of each qualifying directly for South Africa. The best eight runners-up will play off among themselves over two legs next month for the remaining four slots. The runner-up with the worst record will miss out on a playoff berth entirely.

Usually, deciding the worst runners-up would be a simple case of comparing the respective team records. But there is one small snag — namely Group Nine, which has only five teams while all the others have six sides.

Somebody in FIFA then had a brainwave: in the groups with six teams, the results against the last-placed team will not count when it comes to deciding the eight best runners-up.

This little gem means we have to wait to find out who is going to finish bottom of Groups One to Eight before we can even think about who might be the worst runner up. It also means that losing a match to the bottom team could ultimately benefit a side finishing in second place, as they would not have so many points lopped off their final tally.

Group Nine, which is the group of five, has already finished with Norway taking second spot with only 10 points. For what it is worth, we at the Reuters Soccer Blog believe they could be the unlucky ones. It looks as if, whoever finishes second in the other groups, all will have at least 11 points, regardless of who finishes bottom. Here’s why:

Group One: Second-placed Sweden already have 15 points (they will lose six from their two wins over Malta, who are almost certain to finish bottom) and should pick up three more at home to Albania in their last game. Leaders Denmark have 18 points. (Portugal or Hungary could also reach 19 points in this group).

Group Two: Greece, currently second with 14 points, should reach 17 points by beating Luxemburg at home. Even if they lose six points, that will mean they will still be better off than Norway (as will any team who overtakes them).

Group Three: Slovakia have won the group. Slovenia are currently second with 14 points and are almost certain to win their last match in San Marino.

Group Four: Germany and Russia, the only teams who can finish second, already have 22 and 21 points respectively.

Group Five: Spain have qualifed. Second-placed Bosnia already have 16 points and a relatively easy home game against Estonia still to play. That would leave them with 19 points.

Group Six: Second-placed Croatia already have 17 points. (Ukraine are two points behind them with a game in hand).

Group Seven: Serbia lead with 19 followed by France with 15. Victory at home to the Faroe Islands would guarantee France second spot and enough points to overhaul Norway. The 2006 runners-up also have a home game with Austria to play.

Group Eight: Ireland are second with 16 points and still have two home games to play, one of them against rank outsiders Montenegro. Leaders Italy, who need to draw in Ireland on Saturday, have 20 points.

PHOTO: Norway’s John Arne Riise (L) points to the foot he scored with beside his brother Bjorn Helge Riise during their World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match against Macedonia at Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo September 9, 2009. REUTERS/HeikoJunge/Scanpix

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