With the regular season over in most of Europe’s major leagues our attention switches to World Cup qualifying this weekend with some big games taking place around the world on the road to Brazil 2014. Here are your 3 to See for the weekend 7th-9th June, crunch matches you should not miss:
Montenegro vs Ukraine
Friday 7th June – 19.30 GMT
UEFA World Cup qualifier, Group H
From an English perspective this could be a pivotal game in Group H, as group leaders Montenegro look to safely navigate one of the trickier ties of their World Cup qualifying campaign at home to Ukraine.
Montenegro as a football entity didn’t even exist this time 10 years ago, but broke away from Serbia in 2006 and began playing as a fully ratified, independent nation in 2007. Since then their development has been remarkable, exemplified by the fact they have England, inventors of the game as we know it, trailing two points behind them and looking up nervously.
Led by manager Branko Brnovic, Montenegro are unbeaten in six games so far, winning 4 and drawing 2. With a team that includes the eminently talented Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic in forward areas, they are not to be underestimated. A win would take them 5 points clear of England with 3 to play.
Hosts of Euro 2012, Ukraine haven’t really picked up any form in qualifying thus far. A disappointing 0-0 draw in Moldova hampered their progress but they do have ability and were minutes away from beating England at Wembley last September until a Frank Lampard penalty denied them 3 points.
After this Montenegro travel to Poland and then Wembley to meet England in what could be the group’s deciding match. As such, they cannot afford to drop points here.
Argentina vs Colombia
Friday 7th June – 23.05 GMT
CONMEBOL World Cup qualifier
Friday night sees a mouthwatering game in South American World Cup qualifying as Argentina take on Colombia, two teams I am tipping to do well in Brazil next year (qualification permitting).
Argentina have been flying since the appointment of Copa Libertadores-winning coach Alejandro Sabella, and his shrewd management has made a stark contrast to the Diego Maradona era of four years ago.
Sabella has made small but necessary changes here and there, to both tactics and personnel (including casting Carlos Tevez aside), and it has worked wonders. La Celeste are runaway leaders with 11 games played and only 1 defeat, to Venezuela back in 2011. They lead the group by 4 points, have scored 24 goals and only conceded 8 in the process.
Colombia’s last appearance at a World Cup ended with goals from Darren Anderton and David Beckham, whose iconic, bending free kick secured England a 2-0 victory, eliminating the South Americans and introducing the then 23-year-old Manchester United starlet to the world stage. That’s how long it’s been. The year was 1998.
With players like Falcao, James Rodriguez and Fredy Guarin at their disposal an exciting, attacking new Colombia is emerging on the world stage at present, and they currently sit 3rd in qualifying with the second best scoring rate. Six points and a game in hand separates them from Uruguay in the first non-qualifying spot (5th place must face a playoff), and anything earned at the Monumental will give them a huge push to Brazil.
The big news in this game is the likely absence of Lionel Messi, who continues to struggle with an injury picked up in Paris a few months back. As such, Santos forward Walter Montillo is expected to start in his place. Messi will start on the bench, with the team announced in Argentine media as follows:
Sergio Romero, Zabaleta, Federico Fernández, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Di María; Montillo, Gonzalo Higuaín, Agüero.
Value for Colombia to pick up a point or more? If you’re having a bet Cheeky Punter’s football page has a list of bookmakers to choose from.
Villarreal vs Almeria
Saturday 8th June – 18.00 GMT
Spanish Segunda Division
It’s the last day of the season in Spain’s second tier and this is a huge game for a simple reason: the victor wins promotion back to La Liga. It’s winner takes it all.
Villarreal, Champions League semi-finalists only 7 years ago, are level with Almeria on 74 points after 41 games played. Win or draw and they will return to La Liga after one season in the Segunda. Lose and Almeria will leapfrog them and condemn the Yellow Submarine to promotion playoffs.
Villarreal’s story is a remarkable one, and it is amazing to think they were playing against Manchester City and European champions Bayern Munich in the Champions League just one year ago. Their fall from grace has been swift, but they’ve recovered sufficiently to be 90 minutes away from a return to the top flight.
For more on this, European football expert and friend of Just Football Andy Brassell has an illuminating piece on the recent history of Villarreal here.
What are your predictions for these 3 games? Which games will you be watching this weekend? Let us know by leaving your thoughts on the above games, and the games you’ll be keeping an eye on, below.