Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo sits on the pitch during the 2014 World Cup Group F qualifying soccer match against Russia at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow October 12, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER))
On Friday, the World Cup 2014 qualifiers resume with a number of crucial matches that will determine the whether certain team can still dream of heading to Brazil next summer. Here are the 10 crucial matches to look out for on March 22.
Peru vs. Chile - CONMEBOL
Prior to the fall qualifiers, Chile stood atop the CONMEBOL standings and looked like a shoe-in for the World Cup. During those three games, Chile lost to Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador and those three teams leapfrogged the Chileans in the standings. Argentina has 20 points, Ecuador has 17, and Colombia now has 16; Chile holds the sixth spot with 12 points and is tied with Uruguay and Venezuela for the final two berths. The fourth spot guarantees entry into the World Cup, while the fifth allows for a playoff to fight for a spot. With Venezuela taking on Argentina, Chile must win this game against the weak Peruvian team. A loss here sets them up for a tough tilt against Uruguay on Tuesday that could put them further back in the standings.
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Argentina vs. Venezuela - CONMEBOL
With 20 points, Argentina can lose its next two games and still be in a qualification spot. With two losses in its next two games, Venezuela could be out of the fourth spot and potentially miss the chance to qualify for its first World Cup since 1978. After this game against Argentina, Venezuela hosts a red-hot Colombia squad that could easily take them down. This team needs to earn at least a point to gain confidence heading into their tilt with Colombia. A loss on Friday could set them on the road for a dual disaster. Venezuela did defeat Argentina in their second qualifier back on Oct. 11, 2011, so they should have the necessary confidence to compete in this one.
Uruguay vs. Paraguay - CONMEBOL
Uruguay has fallen down the standings over the last few qualifiers but is locked in a three-way tie with Venezuela and Chile for the final two spots. The match with last-place Paraguay is a must win, especially with Chile facing a weak Peruvian side. Venezuela is set to take on Argentina, a team they beat before, so all bets are off in terms of picking favorites for that game. Uruguay cannot continue to lose winnable games like they did against Bolivia in their last qualifier; that could put them out of the World Cup.
USA vs. Costa Rica - CONCACAF Fourth Round
After losing their opening match to Honduras in the hexagonal stage of the CONCACAF, the Americans desperately need to top Costa Rica at home. A loss on Friday would set them up for disaster heading into the Tuesday tilt in Mexico as the Americans are prone to defeat at the Azteca. Three losses in their first three matches would force them to win five or six of their final seven; they won six of ten for the 2010 World Cup and seven of 10 in qualifying for the 2006 tournament. More importantly, the third and final berth has always required at least 16 points in the last three World Cups; if the Americans lost on Friday and Tuesday, they would need to win five and draw one in their final seven to earn these 16 points.
New Zealand vs. New Caledonia - OFC Third Round
With only two remaining matches, New Zealand and New Caledonia are fighting for the top spot in the OFC. New Zealand can clinch the World Cup berth with a victory or draw over New Caledonia on Friday. This means that the Caledonians will likely play an aggressive style that should make for an entertaining match.
Serbia vs. Croatia - UEFA Group A
Serbia made the 2010 World Cup and many expected the team to take advantage of a relatively easy group. However, the team has floundered through four matches with no goals in three of the games; the result is four total points in group play and six points separating them second place Croatia. A loss in this match would create a nine point gap with Croatia with five games left to play. Meanwhile Croatia needs to win to keep pace with Belgium and avoid the second seed and a potential playoff.
Czech Republic vs. Denmark - UEFA Group B
After a solid showing in the 2012 Euro Cup, the Czechs have gotten off to a mediocre start in the qualifiers with five points in their first three matches. They are in third place and only one point behind Bulgaria for the playoff spot. This match means all the more to the Danish who have two points in three matches and were expected to be top contenders in the group. A loss or draw could create a tremendous gap for them to overcome in the final six matches of group competition.
Hungary vs. Romania - UEFA Group D
Both of these squads are tied for second place in Group D with nine points. It is unlikely that either team wins the group against the Netherlands, but their six point gap over the remaining three sides in the group indicates that these two teams will likely be dueling it out for the playoff berth. The winner of this match obtains the upper hand.
Israel vs. Portugal - UEFA Group F
Another battle between two second place squads. Russia seems to have a strong handle on this group and Portugal cannot afford to continue losing points as they did in their shocking 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland. Moreover, Cristiano Ronaldo's legacy for the Portuguese side also depends on this qualification as he has looked lost through the first four games with only one tally for his nation.
Poland vs. Ukraine - UEFA Group H
Poland and Ukraine hosted the 2012 Euro Cup and both sides failed to qualify out of the group stage. This game is crucial to each side's World Cup aspirations as Poland trails England by five for the playoff berth while Ukraine has two points in three games and has yet to pick up a win. A loss in this game essentially eliminates Ukraine. With England likely to defeat San Marino, Poland desperately needs this one as well.