KICK AROUND: World Cup Qualifying Playoffs Picks and Pans

World Cup Qualifying Playoffs for spots in South Africa in 2010 on the line. With such important games on the slate, Daily Football Blog is pleased to introduce its newest feature: “Kick Around.”

In “Kick Around,” all the staff writers for DFB will opine on a hot topic for the week. No better way to get it started than to look these upcoming World Cup Playoff matches and predict which nations will advance to World Cup. (All playoffs will take place Saturday and Wednesday, unless noted)

New Zealand vs Bahrain (first leg was 0-0)
Peter Howard: The homestanding Kiwis will let Bahrain hang around too long, and Bahrain will qualify for the first time.
Ron Patel: Should either of these teams really be at a World Cup? No. But thank FIFA for that. Bahrain outplayed New Zealand in the first leg and gets a result away.
Greg Neville: That’s why they call it the World Cup, Ron. The Europeans and South Americans may win the trophy all the time but everyone gets a kick. A double from All Whites striker Shane Smeltz lifts the Kiwis to their first World Cup since 1982.
Alex Michaels: A great chance for the All Whites to create their own bit of history just as Australia did on a famous night against Uruguay in 2005. A record crowd at the fabulously nicknamed “cake tin” stadium should see the Kiwi’s celebrate.
Result: New Zealand 1 (Rory Fallon ’45) Bahrain 0. NZ qualify for WC10.

Costa Rica vs Uruguay –
PH: Seconds away from qualifying last month, the Costa Ricans will really be in turmoil after Uruguay clinches the CONCACAF berth.
RP: The omens don’t look good for Costa Rica after their collapse. Diego Forlan fires Uruguay into the World Cup, erasing the playoff disappointment of four years ago.
GN: I can’t go past Uruguay, in their third straight World Cup playoff (beat Australia for 02WC, lost to Australia for 06WC … happy they aren’t playing them again for 10WC). Both nations will be ruing missed opportunities from their respective qualifying matches but it will be the two-time World Cup champions that advance.
AM: This is well and truly a choke-fest. The Costa Ricans will be gutted at missing out so dramatically last month while Uruguay had the chance to put Diego Maradona’s Argentina into the play-offs before cracking at home. I’ll go with Uruguay, but you just never know with them.
Result: Costa Rica 0 Uruguay 1 (Diego Lugano ‘23). 2nd leg Nov 18 in Montevideo.

Greece vs Ukraine
PH: The steady slide by Greece continues as Ukraine qualifies behind Shevchenko and Nazarenko’s scoring punch.
RP: This is the most balanced tie, a real 50-50. The veterans of Greece edge the youngsters of Ukraine.
GN: Ukraine throws its name in the hat as one of the 13 European nations in the December 4 World Cup draw. The first game in Greece might be an “exciting” nil-all draw, but a brace from the big Shev in the return leg sees Ukraine qualify.
AM: He may well have been a flop in the EPL but Shevchenko still has the ability to turn matches like these in the Ukraine’s favour. Still, it’s a great opportunity for the Greeks to get themselves back on the big stage after their shock victory at Euro 2004, but it’s difficult to see over two legs.
Result: Greece 0 Ukraine 0. 2nd leg Nov 18 in Donetsk.

Russia vs Slovenia –
PH: Slovenia will offer little resistance as Russia advances to return to World Cup after a one-tournament absence.
RP: Tiny little Slovenia against the powerful Russians. There’s no way Hiddink’s team fails to advance. Thankfully, we’ll get to see magician Andrey Arshavin at a World Cup.
GN: This is the easy pick – Russia. The World Cup managing maestro Hiddink won’t let his boys stumble at the last hurdle.
AM: Big Gus shows time and time again how to turn underachievers into the occasional world beaters, even if it means going in through the back door. The speed and attacking flair of the Russians should prove too strong for Slovenia, although complacency could be their undoing.
Result: Russia 2 (Dinyar Bilyaletdinov ’40, ‘52) Slovenia 1 (Nejc Pecnik ‘87). 2nd leg Nov 18 in Maribor.

Portugal vs Bosnia –
PH: Ronaldo didn’t score in any qualifying matches, so his absence will not slow the tremendous Portuguese momentum.
RP: Portugal only reached the playoffs due to Sweden’s meltdown, and there’s no Ronaldo or Bosingwa. A resilient Bosnia pulls off the big upset to advance.
GN: I hope for South Africa’s sake Portugal qualifies. Loathe him or love him, the $130 million man, Ronaldo, needs to be playing on the world’s biggest sporting stage. Ruled out by doctors because of an ankle injury, it was interesting during the week when the Real Madrid midfielder was named in the Portuguese squad – the club v country debate is always a contentious one. Who cares … Portugal win without him anyway.
AM: Too much is made of the importance of Ronaldo. The reason they’re in this mess is because all of their stars have underperformed in a weak qualifying group. The Portuguese may well be better off without the Real Madrid star in this crucial clash, although the Bosnians, with 25 goals during their qualifying campaign including nine from Edin Dzeco, will fancy their chances of causing an upset. I think they will do just that.
Result: Portugal 1 (Bruno Alves ’31) Bosnia 0. 2nd leg Nov 18 in Zenica.

Ireland vs France –
PH: Surely the No. 9 ranked team must qualify, right? Not so fast! The luck of the Irish will keep France out for the first time since 1994.
RP: Bye-bye France. The Irish will grind out a result at home, and hold a nervy France at the Stade de France. Bye bye Raymond Domenech – it’s about time.
GN: This is the tough pick – err, Ireland, no France, no – c’mon Ireland! The first leg at Croke Park is critical – an Irish clean sheet and the French will surely croak. You see the headline already don’t you. And then the French president may have to crawl under his box!
AM: Sorry Greg, this is the easy pick. The Irish will choke at Croke Park and the French will have too much experience to scrape through after all. Let’s hope Domenech stays – like Argentina with Maradona, they will be there for the taking come next Summer.
Result: Ireland 0 France 1 (Nicola Anelka ‘72). 2nd leg Nov 18 in Saint-Denis.

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