Now that it is reached squeaky bum time in the World Cup Qualifiers, here is an update on how Liverpool’s players are faring in getting to Brazil for next summer’s showcase.
Let’s start in Europe with Group A, where Simon Mignolet’s Belgium have qualified for the finals in style. Mignolet has lost his first team spot to Chelsea’s highly sought Thibaut Courtois, who is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid. The Belgians won 2-1 in Croatia, with both of their goals scored by another of Chelsea’s loanees, Romelu Lukaku. The extremely talented Belgium squad is heading for what they hope will be their most successful World Cup campaign since 1986, when they were beaten by eventual victors Argentina, at the semi-final stage. They finish out their group on Tuesday evening, in what will surely be a party atmosphere in Brussels, against a Wales side that are currently in disarray.
In Group B, Liverpool vice-captain, Daniel Agger’s Denmark are having a more difficult time of it. Danish hearts were broken by a 90th minute equalizer from former Red, Alberto Aquilani, who salvaged a 2-2 draw for Italy. Arsenal’s Niklas Bendtner, put the Danes ahead twice, to be pegged back by a goal from Southampton striker Dani Osvaldo (capitalizing on an error from Agger). The draw leaves Denmark third in their group, level on points with Bulgaria, but with a goal difference that is seven goals poorer than their Balkan counterparts. Denmark are at home to Malta in their last group game, and will be hopeful of a favor from the Czech Republic, who face Bulgaria in Sofia, but more on this group shortly.
Martin Škrtel scored an own goal, as his Slovakian team were beaten 1-0 by Greece. The Slovaks will be favorites in their final group game against Latvia, with only pride at stake, as neither team are able to qualify for Brazil.
Both the Red’s captain, Steven Gerrard and top –scorer, Daniel Sturridge started for England, in their Group H game victory against Montenegro, at Wembley. Sturridge started nervously, but grew into the game, winning and scoring a penalty, to seal England’s 4-1 victory. His partnership up front with Wayne Rooney showed some promise, but is still a work in progress. Gerrard captained the Three Lions, on his 106th England appearance, equaling Bobby Charlton in fourth place on the all-time list. With Ukraine also victorious, England needs a victory (which they should secure) in their final game against Poland, to secure first place in the group. Raheem Sterling was a late call up for the Polish game, as a replacement for the injured Tom Cleverly, but looks unlikely to play.
Liverpool’s major transfer deadline day signing, Mamadou Sakho played in a 6-0 friendly victory for France, against Australia. France face their last World Cup Qualifying Group I game on Tuesday, against Finland, needing a victory to secure at least a playoff position. With only the eight best placed of the nine second placed teams getting into the play-offs, France currently have fourteen points, with Group B’s Bulgaria and Denmark on thirteen. A French victory would consign both Bulgaria and Denmark to missing out on the World Cup Finals, regardless of their Group B results. France can yet mathematically top the group, but that would require Georgia to beat Spain, in their final qualifier.
In Africa, the qualifiers are currently whittled down to five play-off matches, with the five winners headed to Brazil. Kolo Toure was an unused substitute in Ivory Coast’s 3-1 victory against Senegal, Les Éléphants looking certainties to go through after next month’s second leg. Elsewhere on the continent, Liverpool’s loan signing, Victor Moses is set to face Ethiopia this week in his Nigerian team’s play-off. Nigeria, the current African Cup of Nations Champions are the strong favorites.
Meanwhile in South America, Luis Suarez’s Uruguay lost 1-0 to Ecuador. Suarez did not have much of a chance to shine, as the Uruguayans were second best in the altitude of Quito – the world’s highest capital city. Uruguay, fifth in the group, plays their final group game against group leaders Argentina, with a very slim hope of automatic qualification. With the top four teams qualifying for Brazil, third placed Ecuador face fourth placed Chile, in their final game, knowing that a draw will ensure both sides qualify. Uruguay would then face Jordan next month, in a two-legged play-off, for the finals.
Lucas Levia featured as a second half substitute for Brazil, in their 2-0 friendly stroll against South Korea. Whilst as hosts they do not need to qualify for the World Cup, Lucas is hoping to break into Felipe Scolari’s team, after a two year absence from the Selecao.
With only a few games left to go, in all of the Confederations, Liverpool look set to have a healthy representation in Brazil next summer. Glen Johnson, Philippe Coutinho, both currently out through injury, also seem set to feature, and there is still the hope of a few dark horses like Jordan Henderson, who may yet make the cut. Roger Hunt, a winner with England in 1966, is the only player to have won a won a World Cup medal, while representing Liverpool, but there will be several more hopefuls in the running in 2014.