Israel’s road to Brazil 2014 takes shape

Blue & White up against Portugal, Russia, N. Ireland, Azerbaijan & Luxembourg in World Cup 2014 qualifying matches.

israel soccer 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
israel soccer 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel will only complete its Euro 2012 qualifying campaign in three months’ time, but on Saturday it already found out whom it will be facing for a place in the 2014 World Cup.
The national team, which is dreaming of reaching its first World Cup since 1970 and its second in history, was placed in Group F with Portugal, Russia, Northern Ireland, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg at the draw held in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
The group winner will progress directly to the finals in Brazil, to be held from June 12 to July 13, 2014, while the eight best runners-up from the nine groups will play off for the remaining four berths over two legs from November 15-19, 2013.
Israel will begin its qualifying campaign in September 2012, and will play its final match in October 2013, with the order of the games to be decided at a later date.
Portugal and Russia will be the clear favorites to advance from Group F, but Israel will believe it has an outside chance of finishing among the top two after avoiding the likes of Spain, Germany and Netherlands from the first seeding pot and a strong second seed like France.
Portugal boasts superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and currently leads its Euro 2012 group. The Portuguese, who are at number 7 in the FIFA rankings, have played in each of the last three World Cups and will be expecting to progress to their fourth straight tournament following Saturday’s draw.
Russia has only reached one of the past four World Cups, but it was a semifinalist in Euro 2008 and is well placed to progress to its third straight European Championship.
Northern Ireland has played in world soccer’s biggest event three times before, but not since 1986.
The Northern Irish are currently fifth from six teams in Group C of Euro 2012 qualifying.
Any team hoping to finish among the top two in Group F will likely need to beat both Azerbaijan and Luxembourg twice.
Azerbaijan has lost five of its six Euro 2012 qualifiers to date, while Luxembourg is rooted at the bottom of Group C with one point from seven matches.
Israel will play its next Euro 2012 qualifier on September 2 when it hosts Greece at Bloomfield Stadium.
The blue-and-white is currently in third position in Group F with 13 points from seven matches and still has an outside chance to reach next summer’s finals in Poland and Ukraine with three more games to play.