The Preliminary Draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™
in Durban has thrown up an interesting European qualifying Group 4,
although Germany and Russia will fancy their chances of occupying
the top two spots by the end of the campaign. On the road to the
first FIFA World Cup finals on African soil, the two favourites
will do battle with Wales, Finland, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein,
although the underdogs will be doing everything in their power to
seal first-ever berths at a FIFA World Cup™ finals.
The games between Germany and Wales represent an early reunion between former foes, as the nations recently met in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying, where the Welsh battled to a creditable goalless draw in Frankfurt. Russia and the Germans are both through to the European Championship finals, whereas Finland narrowly missed out in a group also including Azerbaijan. The race for a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup looks likely to serve up exciting and interesting football right through to the last round of matches in Group 4.
Germany: Germany rate as one of the world's leading footballing nations by virtue of a fine record including three FIFA World Cup triumphs. With just two exceptions in 1930 and 1950, a Germany team has contested every FIFA World Cup finals. A third-place finish at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ on home soil underlines the Germans' status as top favourites in Group 4.
Russia: After contesting the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals, Russia missed out in qualifying for the 1998 tournament, before turning in a disappointing performance at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™. Russia also failed to appear at the 2006 event, but with Guus Hiddink at the helm, the Sbornaja have built up a head of steam and earned a berth at UEFA EURO 2008. The Russians will be regarded as in with a decent chance of making it to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Liechtenstein: With just 30,000 inhabitants, Liechtenstein is one of the smallest countries to embark on qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The team from the Alpine statelet certainly rate as underdogs, but their last FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign featured two wins and two draws, including a 2-2 draw at home to Portugal, and there may be more surprises in store this time round.
Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan rank alongside Liechtenstein as an outside shot in European qualifying Group 4. The nation bordering on the Caspian Sea finished bottom of their section in their two previous FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, but results such as a 2-0 victory over Slovakia and a narrow 1-0 defeat to England hint at potential for the future.
The players to watch
Miroslav Klose (GER), Michael Ballack (GER), Dmitri Sychev (RUS), Aleksandr Kerzhakov (RUS), Sami Hyppia (FIN), Craig Bellamy (WAL)
The crunch match
Germany - Russia.Both nations are through to UEFA EURO 2008 and rate as favourites in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ European qualifying Group 4. Germany boast a good record in internationals against Russia and the former USSR, winning eight of the twelve meetings, with two draws and two defeats. The sides last met in 2005, playing out a 2-2 draw in Monchengladbach.
A look back
Germany 2 USSR 1, 25 July 1966, Goodison Park. The countries met for the first time at a FIFA World Cup finals. At the semi-final stage of the 1966 event in England, Germany overcame the USSR 2-1 at Goodison Park with goals from Helmut Haller and Franz Beckenbauer.
3-0: Germany defeated the USSR/Russia by this score at the 1972 and 1996 European championships, going on to claim the trophy on both occasions.
Did you know?
Liechtenstein's clubs compete in the Swiss league, but contest the national knockout Cup under local association auspices.
Can Germany plot a smooth course through qualifying Group 4, or will Russia and the other nations in the section cause the three-time FIFA World Cup winners to stumble?