The road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil opens for Europe’s teams on Friday, with many sides preparing for double-headers. With most matches being played on Friday we preview Saturday’s Group B clash between two sides who recently competed in the Euro Championships, 10th ranked Denmark and 19th ranked Czech Republic. Italy, Bulgaria, Armenia and Malta are the four other teams who make-up the group.
Overall, 13 spots are up for grabs for UEFA’s member nations for the 32-team final tournament in Brazil, with eight qualifying groups of six teams and one of five. The nine group winners qualify directly for the finals and the eight runners-up with the best record against the teams finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their section go into the play-offs.
Under coach Morten Olsen, Denmark have proved a formidable force in world football since the former national team captain took over the reins in 2000. After qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa, the Danes then qualified ahead of Portugal to automatically earn their spot for Euro 2012. They were drawn in the group of death alongside Germany, Netherlands and Portugal but stood their ground beating the Netherlands and narrowly losing to Germany and Portugal. Olsen has changed his system and overhauled the ageing central midfield that struggled at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago and replaced them with fresher more energetic players. Ahead of them is a three-man attacking trident, with veteran winger Dennis Rommedahl providing the pace, highly-rated Ajax youngster Christian Eriksen as the central playmaker, and late bloomer Michael Krohn-Dehli now at Celta Vigo on the left flank. A drawback is that they will be missing inspirational striker Nicklas Bendtner who is serving a one-match ban and €100,000 fine for his goal celebration during the Euro match against Portugal. After scoring his second goal of the match, the striker raised his shirt and lowered the top of his shorts to reveal the name of a betting firm, which was not an official tournament sponsor. Tobias Mikkelsen of Bundesliga side Greuther Fuerth, who scored in Denmark’s recent 3-1 loss to Slovakia, is expected to replace the Juventus striker. The Danes also possess a strong centre-back pairing in Liverpool’s Daniel Agger and Wolfsburg’s Simon Kjaer.
The Czech Republic will open their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign without injured captain Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky sustained an Achilles tendon injury in the 2-1 win over Greece at the European Championships in June and has not played for his club Arsenal since. The Czech’s made it to the quarter-finals of Euro, losing 1-0 to Portugal. They topped Group A ahead of Greece, Russia and Poland by winning their last two group matches after suffering defeat to Russia. They qualified for the tournament after finishing second behind Spain in their qualifying group and beat Montenegro 3-0 on aggregate in the two-legged play-offs. Striker Milan Baros has retired and coach Michal Bilek has named two 20-year-old forwards in his 21-man squad. Uncapped Matej Vydra, who scored two goals in his first three matches for Watford this season, and Vaclav Kadlec of Sparta Prague, who has one cap, were both included. The Czech’s are led by Chelsea’s experienced shot stopper Peter Cech. Their most recent match ended in a 0-0 draw away to Ukraine.
The last three meetings between theses sides have ended in draws. However, in Denmark’s last qualifying group, which was for the Euro Championships, they won all four home matches and are tipped to beat the Czech’s here.