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Plenty to play for as World Cup qualifying resumes

Published: Sunday 17 March 2013, 20.15CET
A table-topping tussle, a meeting of friends and a string of unbeaten records all catch the eye as the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign resumes on Friday.
Plenty to play for as World Cup qualifying resumes
Bosnia and Herzegovina's players applaud their fans after their draw in Greece ©Fedja Krvavac

Published: Sunday 17 March 2013, 20.15CET

Plenty to play for as World Cup qualifying resumes

A table-topping tussle, a meeting of friends and a string of unbeaten records all catch the eye as the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign resumes on Friday.

A table-topping duel, friends becoming rivals, and a string of unbeaten records hog the limelight as UEFA.com casts an eye on Friday's 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

A symbol of unwavering unity last summer, Poland and Ukraine will cast aside any lingering loyalties when the two UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts vie for supremacy in Warsaw. The importance of victory cannot be understated for either team as Waldemar Fornalik's hosts strive to keep pace with Group H leaders Montenegro and second-placed England, whom they trail by three points.

Ukraine, meanwhile, are precariously positioned, lying second from bottom with a mere two points from their opening three fixtures. There is scope for optimism, however, following two consecutive friendly successes against Bulgaria and Norway, and with new coach Mykhailo Fomenko eager to spark a recovery.

Another encounter of vital importance takes place in Group G as pacesetters Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece – both locked on ten points – face off in Zenica. There is more than a slither of intrigue to this tie, given that the home side have plundered 15 goals in four games, while Greece's steely defence has been breached just once in that time. Indeed, deadly Bosnian duo Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević, who have struck nine times between them in qualifying, both toiled in vain when the teams drew 0-0 in Piraeus last October.

In Group C, Sweden can tighten their grip on second place with a win against closest pursuers the Republic of Ireland. Erik Hamrén's team wiped out a four-goal deficit to earn a miraculous 4-4 draw versus Germany in their last competitive fixture and made history a month later when Zlatan Ibrahimović scored all four goals in a 4-2 friendly defeat of England in the opening game at the Friends Arena. Three points clear at the summit having played a game more, meanwhile, unbeaten Germany travel to Kazakhstan.

As for Sweden's fellow Scandinavians Denmark – still winless after three Group B outings – they face a mountainous task away against the Czech Republic, with the team in third invigorated by February's 2-0 friendly triumph against Turkey. Michal Bílek's side trail group frontrunners Italy by five points.

Israel face a stern challenge to hold onto second spot in Group F when they tackle Portugal in Ramat Gan. The Blue and Whites responded to a 4-0 home loss against Russia in September by powering nine unanswered goals past Luxembourg in back-to-back wins. For their part, the Selecção are still reeling from their 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Northern Ireland in September and a 3-2 reverse at home to Ecuador last month.

Elsewhere, all-conquering Spain and rivals France lead the way in Group I and that seems unlikely to change given that they face home fixtures against Finland and Georgia respectively, while the Netherlands – who boast a 100% record – host Estonia in Group D.

Last updated: 20/03/13 22.35CET

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