The first set of qualification rounds ended last night in Europe, with 9 teams sealing their seats for the World Cup. For the remaining teams to get through( from all regions), they need to defeat another team in a playoff. The group stages have thrown in a lot of surprises, with teams, who have never made it to a World Cup, having a shot to reach their dreams.
After years of tireless preparation, it all comes down to 2 more games. Who can hold their nerve? With the World Cup less than a year away, here’s a look at 5 underdogs that could catch the last bus to Rio.
5 : Iceland
A country known for it’s volcanoes, Iceland has burst onto the World Cup scene like a volcano, finishing 2nd with 17 points. Iceland has never made it to a major footballing competition before, and if they make it this time around, they will be the smallest country to ever play in the World Cup.
A remarkable fact about Iceland’s qualifying campaign is that they’ve scored more goals than teams like Spain, France and Croatia. For their sake, they’d like to avoid nations like France, Sweden and Portugal in the draw. However, with players such as Eidur Gudjonssen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. The opposition may struggle to cope with the icy conditions there, giving Iceland a huge chance to take control of the tie at home.
It has the making of a great story if Iceland do make it. The tears of the 300,000 odd people there will be filled with joy. Expect a motivated performance from the Icemen in these 2 games. Rio may be geographically far away for them, but it feels really close to let all their hard work go to waste.
4 : Romania
Romania have given a good account of themselves in qualification, finishing 2nd behind a phenomenal Netherlands side with 19 points. They’ll be looking to make it to the finals since 1998.
Like Iceland, Romania have no problems in front of goal. 19 goals in 10 games is quite remarkable. With star players like Adrian Mutu, Razvan Rat and top scorer, Ciprian Marica, they’ll be quite a force going forward. However, the problems lie at the back. 12 goals in 10 games is a worry, and they’ll hope to improve their defense in these 2 games.
With such a leaky defense, they’d be praying for opposition besides the European heavy- weights. If Romania make it, they’d be looking to improve upon their 1994 performance, where they reached the quarterfinal stages before getting knocked out on penalties by Sweden.
3 : Jordan
Jordan finished 3rd in their group behind Japan and Australia with 10 points after 8 games. They have a huge opportunity of realizing their dreams, but the only hindrance is a couple of games with a powerful Uruguay side. Jordan are 73rd in the FIFA rankings, making them huge underdogs in this tie.
Uruguay may feel that they don’t deserve to be in this situation to begin with. The reality is that their qualification campaign was poor and now they have to get to Rio the hard way. The Jordanian defense have to perform to the best of their abilities, if they are to defend against a front line consisting of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan.
The lack of players playing in the European leagues will make it even harder for them. However, they’ll be depending on key figures such as Odai Al Saifi and Abdullah Debb.
Jordan’s closest chance of making it was in 2006, where they lost to Iran after finishing runners up in their first round qualifying group. If they are to defeat Uruguay, it will not only be a proud moment for the country, but the whole continent.
Ethiopia, known for it’s long distance runners, are now looking to add football to their sporting history, by making it to Rio 2014. They have never taken part in a World Cup and they aren’t even a glorified footballing nation, unlike their African counterparts such as The Ivory Coast and Ghana.
The surprise package of this time’s qualification, Ethiopia have a mighty task ahead of them when they face Nigeria. The dream seems to be all but over after they were defeated 2-1 at home. They can take heart from the fact that they dominated the first half , only to be let down by poor finishing , which could all change, come the second leg.
The Antelopes need to show their fighting spirit at Nigeria if they are to progress. They’ll be heavily dependent on their top scorers Getaneh Gibeto and Salahdin Ahmed to fire them to Rio.
1: Burkina Faso
African Cup of Nations runners up, Burkina Faso, are slowly emerging as a powerhouse in Africa. They now have a chance to show that on the world stage, if they’re able to overcome a strong Algeria side over two legs in the playoff.
Burkina Faso have never made it to a World Cup. The closest they came, was in 2010, where they finished 2nd in their group, only to be pipped by the Ivory Coast. The nation’s football association has been trying to generate a good brand of young players and that’s one of the many reasons behind their progress.
The Stallions have moved a step closer to qualification, beating Algeria 3-2 in the first leg. Their front line, comprising of players such as top scorer Moumonni Dagano, will be required to perform to the best of their abilities one more time in order to progress. Teams like Ethiopia and Burkina Faso are indicators that Africa is rising up in stature in the football world.