With four FIFA World Cup™ places at stake at the European play-off draw, the world was watching to see which teams would contest the double-headers that will decide Europe's final qualifiers for Brazil. After the draw, FIFA.com spoke to the attending coaches to get their immediate reaction and try to find out how they see the games playing out.
Portugal – Sweden
“Sweden is a tough opponent, with one of the biggest players in world football; Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But he’s not the only reason that brought them to the play-offs: they are a very physical team, strong in the air too. But that won’t change our plan, no matter who the opponent was going to be: we want to compete, try to play good football, fight for a victory and get a spot in Brazil. We know the difficulties we’ll face, but we are convinced that we’ll make it to Brazil. That said, in order to make that happen, we’ll need to play two great games and compete as a great team would. It’ll be crucial to get a good result in the first game and then see how we fare the second leg. The goal is the same, but we will need to strategies to reach it.”
Paulo Bento, Portugal coach.
“This is a tough challenge but that would have been the case with every team of course. Portugal are for sure a very good team, and these will be two exciting games. Portugal are a very good team that we saw at EURO 2012. They almost qualified for the final, only barely losing to Spain on penalties. They are at a very high level but as we have seen in the qualifiers they have also struggled against some weaker opponents. But they're an absolute top team when everything is considered. Plus, seeing CR7 and Zlatan? That is an extra bonus. These are two top stars and they are very important for their teams. This will be an extra match in the match”.
Erik Hamren, Sweden coach
Ukraine – France“It will be a good draw if we qualify! But of course, as we were not seeded, we had the risk of playing Portugal or Croatia, two teams with history and experience, but it won’t be easy against Ukraine either. They are unbeaten for seven games, they don’t concede a lot of goal and it will be a long trip for us, but playing the second leg at home is a good thing for us. The fact we beat them at the EUROs won’t play that much of a part, every game has to be judged on its own merits; it was a group game, but now we are talking about knock-out games. Our whole future will be played in the space of four days. We have to be confident but also show respect to Ukraine, who will certainly give 100 per cent.”
Didier Deschamps, France coach.
Greece – Romania
“It will be an open qualifier, where both teams have the same ambitions and same capacities. Romania are a strong team which have grown in recent years and finally managed to reach the good level they had in the past. I say it’s going to be very difficult for both teams, but I truly believe that we can make it. Both games will be very competitive. My first thought when I saw Romania as our opponent? I thought that I had to study them very well, see as much as I can and identify their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think it’s abig deal to play at home in the first leg. If I had to choose, I’d probably prefer to play the second leg at home, but it’s not significant. My message for Greek fans is: believe in this team and give us all of your support at the first leg, which will be a decisive match. We need that stadium to be full, to make it all together to Brazil.”
Fernando Santos, Greece coach.* *
“Greece will be extremely difficult, We're the underdog, this is very clear to me. Greece are a very experienced team, with players who have managed plenty of successive wins and only lost one match in their qualifying group, They got 25 points and they're ranked 15th in the world. In my opinion, that's the hallmark of a formidable team."
Victor Piturca, Romania coach.
Iceland – Croatia
“Any team that we would have played would have been tough for us. Croatia is an interesting team to play. I have some experience from the time I was with Sweden, so I’m looking forward to the game. On paper, we are the underdog, but we have surprised some teams during the qualification so far and of course I hope we can do it again. In a qualification play-off over two games, you always have a chance. With the skills and the character of my players, I’m rather positive. If we can keep a clean sheet in the first game, then it’s an advantage to go away.”
Lars Lagerback, Iceland coach.
“I’m happy with the result of the draw, but we know it’s going to be a challenging match, as they were also second in their group. Therefore, we are expecting a difficult fight. But luckily we are playing the second match in Zagreb. We are already travelling to see the players and to see their physical and mental state. Naturally, we now have to analyse the opponent and the style of play in order to get the team ready.”
Niko Kovac, Croatia coach.