Will Ronaldo shine again?
This is the party that England and their fans are so happy not to have been invited to: the nail-biting, heart-stopping, two-legged play-offs for the right to go to football’s foremost fiesta, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Instead European teams of the calibre of Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine and France will be scrapping it out on Friday night and in return legs next week. Two of these big guns will have to go.
And as everybody is well aware, it also means that one of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two of the best in the world, won’t be dancing the samba next summer either as Portugal battle it out with Sweden.
Portugal are 4/6 with Coral to win this home tie and 4/9 to make it through over the two legs, but this could be a lot tighter than those odds suggest.
Sweden are a tough unit, who did as well as could be expected in finishing runners-up to Germany in their qualifying group, while Portugal, although probably the better side man-for-man, don’t always deliver on their promise. A draw (11/4) will set up things very nicely.for the return leg in Stockholm next Tuesday – maybe 1-1 (13/2).
Both Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic scored hat-tricks for their clubs last weekend and it would be no surprise if they were on the scoresheet again – the Real Madrid star is 8/11 to find the net over the 90 minutes (3/1 first or last), while the PSG striker is 6/4 (11/2 at any time).
With so many Premier League players in their squad (Olivier Giroud, Loic Remy, Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye), as well as familiar names like Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery and Paul Pogba, most England fans would probably enjoy seeing France at the World Cup Finals more than they would Ukraine.
And though this might also be far from straightforward, the French should come out on top against the team who gave England most to do in Group H. A draw (9/4) would be a good result for Didier Deschamps’ men to take back to Paris and finish the job.
Iceland, never noted as a footballing hotbed, has World Cup fever at the moment with their team on the verge of participation in the Finals for the first time ever.
Croatia stand in their way and are understandably strong 2/9 favourites to go through, but, inspired by the evergreen Eidur Gudjohnsen and Spurs midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland are more than the sum of their parts and might be capable of springing a surprise, at least in this home leg. Coral go 11/4 and a tempting 14/1 it finishes 2-1.
Greece (evens to win the first leg and 4/6 to go through) missed out on automatic qualification only on goal difference and should have too much for Romania, although, like the other three fascinating ties, this is no foregone conclusion.