FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – Mid-October 2013

Well that was eventful, wasn’t it? We’ve certainly come a long way since the start of qualifiers in June 2011. With this round of matches, the field is looking much more settled. We’ve whittled it down from 208 potential teams down to 43 teams, nearly half of which have already secured their trips to Brazil. At this point, nearly any match could make or break a team, so consider any games in November “Matches to Watch.” Here’s the updated rundown:

AFC (4.5 Spots)

Already booked – Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia
Still fighting it out – Jordan awaits the November Intercontinental Play-Off matches against the Uruguay from November 13-20.

CAF (5 Spots)

Already booked – No one
Still fighting it out – The final ten teams were paired September 16 for a home-and-away series. The teams still standing are Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon and Senegal. After the first round of matches, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Ghana have the advantage going into the matches November 16-19. Three of the four were playing at home, though, so it remains to be seen how they do on the road in the next set.

CONCACAF (3.5 Spots)

Already booked – USA, Costa Rica, Honduras
Still fighting it out -As I noted last time, Mexico had a potentially rough road ahead of them for qualification, and the Mexico-Panama game turned out to be pivotal in one of the most dramatic moments of qualifying for this round of matches. When all was said and done, Honduras qualified for Brazil, and Mexico earned a spot in Intercontinental Play-offs against New Zealand November 13-20.

CONMEBOL (5.5 Spots)

Already booked – Brazil (host), Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador
Still fighting it out – With the final rounds settled, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador locked in their trips to Brazil, but Uruguay will have to wait for the Intercontinental Play-Offs against Jordan coming up November 13-20 to see if they can secure their bid for Brazil.

Oceania (.5 Spots)

As mentioned above, New Zealand awaits its matches against Mexico in November.

UEFA (13 Spots)

Already booked – Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Spain
Still fighting it out: UEFA certainly went the farthest in formally eliminating teams in this round of the matches. Here are the teams that survived the cut:

  • Group A: Belgium is on to Brazil; Croatia advances to final qualifiers.
  • Group B: Italy had already secured its spot in Brazil, but Denmark failed to follow suit by finishing with the least points in the round among second-placed teams.
  • Group C: Germany sealed their spot in Brazil, but Sweden will have to face final qualifiers.
  • Group D: The Netherlands were already through going into these matches, but Romania edged out Hungary for a spot in the final qualifiers.
  • Group E: Switzerland is on to Brazil as well, with Iceland facing the home-and-away round.
  • Group F: Russia topped Portugal in the group by one point, securing themselves the trip to Brazil. Portugal will fight for its spot in November.
  • Group G: Bosnia-Herzegovina edged out Greece based on goals against, sending themselves to Brazil and Greece to the final round of qualifiers.
  • Group H: In the end, England managed to come out on top of the group with a ticket to Brazil, leaving Ukraine to fight it out in the final qualifiers.
  • Group I: Unsurprisingly, Spain and France finished top of group. Spain is already booked for Brazil, and France will do its best to come along for the ride with its games in November. Personally, I hope France fails. I’m still angry about 2010.

So in brief, the teams that will be playing in November are Croatia, France, Greece, Iceland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Ukraine.

Matches to Watch: Not a “match” persay, but the draw to match teams for the final round of qualification takes place Monday, October 21.



FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – Mid-September 2013

Quite a lot happened over the last week in World Cup qualifying, so let’s take an updated look at who’s in, who’s out and who’s still on the way:

AFC (4.5 Spots)

Already booked – Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia
Still fighting it out – Jordan awaits the November Intercontinental Play-Off match against the 5th-placed CONMEBOL team.

CAF (5 Spots)

Already booked – No one
Still fighting it out – With the group stage concluded, ten teams remain. They’ll be paired September 16 for a home-and-away series scheduled for October and November. The teams still standing are Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Cameroon and Senegal. The teams will be seeded based on the September 2013 edition of the FIFA World Rankings. Stay tuned for an update after the draw.

CONCACAF (3.5 Spots)

Already booked – USA, Costa Rica
Still fighting it out – The Hexagonal heated up Tuesday night, firing the USA and Costa Rica ahead to Brazil. However, even Jamaica is still technically in contention for a half spot (based solely on points) thanks to holding Costa Rica to a draw. With matches remaining against Costa Rica and Panama, Mexico has a potentially tough road ahead to avoid elimination. I look forward to watching the battle for third best heat up, but with Honduras still scheduled against Jamaica next month, they’re the safer bet to avoid intercontinental playoffs.
Match to Watch – Mexico-Panama on October 11

CONMEBOL (5.5 Spots)

Already booked – Brazil (host), Argentina
Still fighting it out – With 3.5 spots left up for grabs, Colombia barely missed qualifying on this round of matches and is more or less assured a ticket to Brazil. With Venezuela very nearly eliminated, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay will look to gather points as quickly as they can in their final two matches to avoid having to go to the Intercontinental Playoffs. While the CONMEBOL representative will likely win those playoffs, why take a chance?
Match to Watch – October 11 – Ecuador-Uruguay; October 15 – Chile-Ecuador

Oceania (.5 Spots)

New Zealand awaits the 4th-placed CONCACAF team in November.

UEFA (13 Spots)

Already booked – Netherlands, Italy
Still fighting it out: Of the 53 teams still playing, only 31 are in contention at this point in the game (including the two above), and several of those are hanging on by a thread. Here’s where the groups stand:

  • In Group A, Belgium and Croatia are guaranteed first- and second-in-group, leaving the rest of the teams effectively eliminated. The two teams are still trying to settle who goes top of group, so their head-to-head match on October 11 should be the Match to Watch.
  • For Group B, Italy took top spot, leaving a mess of teams in its wake vying for second place. Technically only Malta is not still in the running for this group. Bulgaria’s game against the Czech Republic will probably be the make-or-break point for second place, but there are enough variables in play that it’s not yet a full-fledged Match to Watch.
  • Group C‘s Germans are guaranteed to advance either to Brazil or the next round of qualifiers at this point. Ireland’s poor performance over the past week has left them virtually eliminated, as their first match in October is against group-leading Germany. The more interesting match will be Sweden-Austria, in which Sweden has the power to lock themselves into a position to advance.
  • For Group D, the Netherlands have sealed the deal, leaving Hungary, Turkey and Romania to fight it out for second (Kazakhstan and Faroe Islands are definitely done). None of the three face each other again in this series, but Romania has the unique advantage of being the only one not still slated to face off against the Netherlands, leaving them optimistic going into October. As such, though, there is no single Match to Watch that will have major implications for this group.
  • In Group E, Switzerland increased its lead to 5 points, which is not quite enough to let them sleep easy between now and October. Cyprus is the only team that couldn’t at least advance to the next round of qualifiers at this point, so there could be a lot of shifting going into the last pair of match days. Of that, Norway will have the best control of its chance at second place, playing both Slovenia and Iceland, but Iceland will likely retain the advantage going against Norway after its match against Cyprus. Slovenia is unlikely to have the same confidence, as its second match is against Switzerland. As with Groups B & D, there is a lot undecided at this point, but Iceland-Norway should play a large role in finalizing the standings.
  • Group F sees Israel hanging on desperately to avoid elimination, but its match against Portugal on October 11 could be its swan song for this competition. With few road blocks in the next two games, it looks as though Russia will finish top of group with Portugal right behind them unless one of the now-eliminated teams manages to force a draw.
  • As we move to Group G, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are locked in at the top of the group. With two sets of matches remaining, the teams are tied at the top of the group with no other contenders in reach. While each team will get its chance to beat up on bottom-of-group Lichtenstein, Greece will have a bit more of a challenge in its game against Slovakia than Bosnia is likely to have against Lithuania.
  • Down in Group H, Moldova and San Marino are the only two teams that can’t be said to be in contention for first or second place. A tight race among England, Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland has emerged after England and the Ukraine played to a draw. As it happens, October 11 sees Montenegro face off against England, with the Ukraine taking on Poland. That should help differentiate the group a bit further going into the final matches of the group, in which England takes on Poland while Montenegro and the Ukraine have slightly easier work against Moldova and San Marino respectively.
  • Finally, in Group I, Spain and France have secured the chance to advance at least to the next round of qualifiers. Thanks in part to a France-Georgia draw, Spain appears to have an excellent opportunity to take top-of-group next month as the only team in the group with two matches remaining.

Matches to Watch: October 11 – Belgium-Croatia; October 11 – Sweden-Austria; October 11 – Montenegro-England; October 11 – Ukraine-Poland; October 15 – Iceland-Norway; October 15 – England-Poland


Ten of the 32 spots in Brazil have been secured now, and of the 204 nations that compete in FIFA competitions, 49 teams remain eligible to fill the remaining 22 spots. Of those 22 spots, 11 should be secured next month from October 11-15, more than doubling the number of teams with Brazil on their calendar. UEFA should pare down its contenders considerably during these two match days. Expect to see Colombia, Honduras, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain among the ranks of those with firm tickets for June 2014.

We’ll learn more about the CAF schedule for October and November after the draw on September 16, but the match dates should overlap those of the other confederations. The draw for UEFA’s final round of qualifiers will take place October 21, the Monday after the October qualifiers conclude.

FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – September 2013

Over the course of the next week, we’ll have plenty of exciting matches to which we can look forward, but not all of the major confederations are going to move the needle that far. Which countries are in most danger of falling off the bus to Brazil, and which are about to book their tickets? Let’s start with the groups getting their houses in order the most far in advance of the final draw on December 6:

AFC (4.5 Spots)

Already booked – Japan, Iran, South Korea and Australia
Still fighting it out – Jordan and Uzbekistan will face each other September 6 and again September 10 to determine which team goes to the Intercontinental Play-Off match against the rejected team from CONMEBOL, which will promptly make the winner of this series irrelevant.
Matches to Watch: Technically two, but really, it’s a bit of a non-issue soooooo zero

CAF (5 Spots)

Already booked – No one
Still fighting it out – Of the 40 teams technically still playing September 6-10, only 10 will survive to the next round of qualifiers. On that basis, more than half the teams going into this round of matches have zero chance of going through. Based solely on points acquired, 21 of the teams are done.

  • Groups C (Cote d’Ivoice), G (Egypt) and H (Algeria) may as well take the week off for all the good it will do them, as their leaders are going on to the next round of qualifiers.
  • In Group A, Ethiopia’s the likely candidate to advance as they’re facing bottom-of-group Central African Republic.
  • Group B will see the winner of Tunisia-Cape Verde Islands through (MATCH TO WATCH – September 7). Their previous face-off resulted in a 2-1 win for Tunisia featuring four Yellow Cards and no scoring after about a minute into the second half.
  • Group D will see the winner of Ghana-Zhambia go through as they race to the next stage on September 6 in another MATCH TO WATCH. Zambia edged Ghana 1-0 in their last match, but overall Zambia’s been marginally more likely to hold for the tie than the win (Ghana 4-1-0 in group vs Zambia’s 3-0-2), and a tie will not get them through to the next round.
  • Group E will see Congo play bottom-of-group Niger, which should give it the edge to stay ahead of the result of the Burkina-Faso – Gabon match. While Burkina Faso and Gabon could feasibly catch up to Congo should they fail against Niger, it seems unproductive to spend much time speculating about it.
  • In Group F, we have another MATCH TO WATCH on September 7 with Nigeria taking on Malawi to determine which team advances. Their last face-off in June resulted in a 1-1 draw, so it should be a tight game.
  • Skipping ahead to Group I, the MATCH TO WATCH is Cameroon vs Libya on September 8. Libya won the last head-to-head in June by a score of 2-1, but Cameroon takes the group in the event of a tie.
  • Finally, in Group J, Senegal faces off against Uganda for top of group on September 7 in the final CAF MATCH TO WATCH for the coming week. As with Group F, the last time these two teams faced off resulted in a 1-1 draw, A repeat affair would put Senegal through, so Uganda must win to advance.

Matches to Watch: September 6 – Ghana-Zambia; September 7 – Tunisia-Cape Verde Islands; September 7 – Senegal-Uganda; September 8 – Cameroon-Libya

CONCACAF (3.5 Spots)

Already booked – No one
Still fighting it out – Still doing that Round of Six thing. September won’t really firm much up, but the US-Costa Rica match on September 6 is a MATCH TO WATCH as they’re both jockeying for first place of the group at the moment. With each of the six teams playing twice over the next week, Mexico and Honduras will also be fighting it out the same night to try to catch up on the leaders before Mexico goes on to face the US on September 10. Americans – or really any fan of CONCACAF – can appreciate how intense these games are, earning this match its MATCH TO WATCH status as well. Jamaica will have to pull something out against either Costa Rica or Panama, neither of which seems particularly likely and one of which may give Costa Rica to lock in valuable points in the top half of the group while the US and Mexico slug it out. I can’t imagine it will be much of a show, though. Honduras will be struggling to define itself against the teams just ahead (Mexico) and behind (Panama) to buy itself a little room to breathe in October’s matches.
Matches to Watch: September 6 – USA-Costa Rica; September 10 – USA-Mexico

CONMEBOL (5.5 Spots)

Already booked – Brazil (host), Argentina
Still fighting it out – The CONMEBOL format is usually a marathon series of 18 matches per team (16 matches this year with Brazil already qualified), so it’s very difficult to eliminate teams early, particularly given the competitiveness of the region. That said, the teams only have 3 or 4 matches remaining in their qualifying. so half of the remaining qualifiers will be played over the next week. Bolivia and Paraguay will need to secure wins to keep from being eliminated from contention. At best, they’re playing for the intercontinental play-off right now. Out of the 8 matches being played over the next week, I’d say any combination of Colombia, Ecuador and Chile is worth keeping an eye on as they battle to be next to qualify officially.
Matches to Watch – September 6 – Colombia-Ecuador

Oceania (.5 Spots)

New Zealand is still just hanging out waiting to face off against the 4th-placed CONCACAF team in November.

UEFA (13 Spots)

Already booked – Ha!
Still fighting it out – Nine groups totaling 53 teams, and only three can be said to be eliminated at this point – Faroe Islands, San Marino and Scotland.

  • In Group A, Belgium and Croatia will be hoping to seal their places as first- and second-in-group respectively. While I’m looking forward to seeing the two go head-to-head in October, I don’t know that there’s much reason to tune in for Group A short of tracking standings.
  • For Group B, Italy is facing off against the second- and third-in-group teams Bulgaria and Czech Republic, giving them a chance to buy themselves extra breathing room.
  • Group C‘s Germans are leading the way by 5 points, but there are several teams contending for second that hope to gain some ground over the next week. Austria, Sweden and Ireland all need wins to push themselves ahead, and Ireland’s in a particularly unique position to control its own destiny with matches against both teams over the next week. Austria will have a challenge in its other match against Germany, but Sweden should have some easy points from Kazakhstan based on previous performance.
  • For Group D, the Netherlands have a commanding lead of 7 points over Hungary, with Romania a point further behind. With matches against the two bottom-of-group teams, Netherlands should be among the first in Europe to book their tickets to Brazil. The Hungary-Romania match should be worth watching, as it will give one team the fuel it needs in the home stretch of qualifying. Romania has a bit of an edge in the long stretch in that its schedule does not include any more matches against Netherlands, whereas Hungary faces off against them come October.
  • In Group E, Switzerland has a not-insurmountable 4-point lead over next-best Albania, but Switzerland has matches against third-in-group Iceland and fourth-in-group Norway, giving it a chance to expand the gap between the top two teams and the rest of the pack. Albania will be playing Slovenia and Iceland, neither of which are particularly important matches in the long run aside from the potential overall points that could be accrued.
  • Group F still has Portugal, Russia and Israel vying for position, so any combination of the three may prove to be a match worth watching.
  • As we move to Group G, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are still feeling pretty comfortable at the top of the group. Greece will be going up against the bottom two teams in the group in this round while Bosnia faces off against #3 Slovakia … twice. Depending on how Slovakia stacks up, they could give Greece the edge going into the last round of games.
  • Down in Group H, Montenegro holds the lead for points but has also played one more match than England or the Ukraine, which are in second and third place in the group respectively. While Poland may challenge Montenegro, England and the Ukraine should coast past Moldova and San Marino respectively. The biggest match of the group this time around will be as England and the Ukraine face off, giving one team a chance to edge past Montenegro as they even up on matches played.
  • Finally, in Group I, Spain and France are still fighting for top of group honors. With no major anticipated hiccups, Spain should edge France out for top of group, with France going on to the next round of qualifying play-off matches.

Matches to Watch – September 6 – Italy-Bulgaria; September 6 – Ireland-Sweden; September 6 – Hungary-Romania; September 10 – Italy-Czech Republic; September 10 – Ireland-Austria; September 10 – Russia-Israel; September 10 – Ukraine-England


So there you have it – the 14 most important matches on which to keep tabs over the next week and the general lay of the land. I’ll try to post another update as we get ready for October, as the jockeying for position over the next several days should cause a pretty good shift in standings in a couple of these groups (well, except in Asia and Oceania, of course). With much of the focus on Africa and Europe (and of course the USA), I expect the Jordan-Uzbekistan series won’t get much ink outside of Jordan and Uzbekistan, particularly given their eventual CONMEBOL opponent.

Cheers to the AFC and Oceania for getting things settled sooner rather than later; jeers to UEFA and CAF for still having another entire round of play-offs to go after this group round is settled; general ambivalence toward CONMEBOL’s long, drawn-out marathon of matches making it less fun to watch their matches.

FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Dummies Update – mid-June 2013

With four days remaining before the World Cup qualifying teams retreat until September (with one exception for a single game scheduled for August), you might be wondering, “What does this weekend even matter? The World Cup is still 363 days away!” First of all, props to you for the countdown. Well spotted. Second, what do you mean, what does it matter? Teams are dropping like flies, other teams are nearing the chance to book their trip to Brazil and it’s still awesome international soccer (or football, whatever).

That said, if you’re just going to soak up the FIFA Confederations Cup for the next 16 days or so “because it matters NOW,” here’s the quick rundown of why you’re wrong what you’re missing:

AFC (4.5 spots)

Japan has booked its trip to Brazil, and that’s kind of a big deal, but that still leaves two and a half spots for contention. Right now, of the 10 teams still playing, Lebanon, Qatar and Iraq are non-issues – they’re just minor speed bumps for the teams that still have a chance. Iraq will likely roll over for Australia, allowing the Aussies to seal in 2nd place in their group.

In the other half of the qualifiers, Iran and Korea Republic (South Korea to us Americans) are going to have a serious battle for top of group. Winner goes to Brazil; loser might get eliminated entirely. The other determining factor will be whether Uzbekistan can knock out Qatar (see: Minor Speed Bumps). If the Uzbeks (that’s not really a thing) can get three points, then the ramifications of that match could have a huge impact on what happens to the loser of South Korea-Iran. In short, these two matches will be CRITICAL in determining representatives for 2014.

Here’s how this works:
Uzbekistan loses or ties: South Korea and Iran are both through
Uzbekistan wins, South Korea/Iran tie: South Korea is through; Iran and Uzbekistan go to tie breakers by goal differential. Iran presently has a goal difference of +5; Uzbekistan has a goal difference of +1.
Uzbekistan wins and South Korea wins: Iran is eliminated
Uzbekistan wins and Iran wins: Iran goes through alongside whichever team has the best goal difference. At present, South Korea’s goal difference is +7, while Uzbekistan’s goal difference is +1.

In short, there’s plenty of math to keep you entertained, but Iran is fighting for its life while the Uzbeks would have to have a huge goal difference swing in their favor to knock out South Korea.

MATCH(ES) TO WATCH: Iran-Korea Republic/Uzbekistan-Qatar
FAVORITES: Japan (obvi), Australia, Korea Republic, Iran

CAF (5 spots)

The African Confederation has a longer road ahead of it than its Asian counterparts, but it has definitely eliminated a number of teams from its ranks already. For whatever reason, the CAF likes to put everyone in 10 groups of 4 and then take the winners of each of those groups and pit them against each other. Each group member plays six matches, and most of those teams will be playing their fifth of six matches this weekend (if they haven’t already). Here’s a quick rundown of who we could see secure a spot in the next round of qualifying elimination:
Group A – HUGE match Sunday as top contenders South Africa and Ethiopia face off. Central African Republic and Botswana are completely eliminated, so this match could lock it in for Ethiopia or give South Africa a little room to breathe going into September’s sixth match. In their previous face-off, play resulted in a draw, so this game should be one worth watching!
Group B – Tunisia is playing Equatorial Guinea, which it dominated last time 3-1. A win for Tunisia puts them through to the next round of qualifying. It seems safe to say we’ll see them go through, particularly given that their next opponent is last-placed Cape Verde Islands.
Group C – With two matches to play, Ivory Coast hasn’t officially sealed the deal, but a second win over Tanzania will save their spot in the next round of CAF qualifiers.
Group D – Zambia and Ghana are neck and neck in Group D, and they each have relatively tame opponents this time around. This group won’t be decided until September 6, when these two are forced to go head-to-head, but I’d give the edge to Ghana.
Group E – The Congo needs a quick win – or even a tie – to lock this group out of reach of Burkina Faso. Their last head-to-head resulted in a 3-0 win in favor of Congo, so I wouldn’t hold out much hope for Burkina Faso on Saturday.
Group F – This group has already played its fifth matches. Nigeria and Malawi will face off September 6 to see who advances. Their last head-to-head ended in a 1-1 draw. I think Nigeria will be able to hold Malawi off long enough to make it to the next round of qualifiers, but it could be anyone’s game.
Group G – Egypt. Just Egypt. The only reason they’re not officially through is because they’re ONLY five points ahead of Guinea, but they’ll get their points from Mozambique this weekend to lock that in.
Group H – Algeria has a clear edge over Mali going into this weekend’s matches, but the teams will each be playing the lower-scoring teams in the group. Algeria may be able to advance their standing in the group, but it’s really up to Benin to hand them the honor of Top of Group by knocking Mali out of the running.
Group I – This entire group is in a dead heat. Almost regardless of who wins this weekend, there will still be contention for top spot going into September. This group is something of a crap shoot at this point, but the numbers point toward Libya edging out Cameroon in September.
Group J – Much like Group I, this group has a very small gap between top of group and bottom of group at this point. Senegal is technically top of group, but only because they managed to hold onto a tie rather than an outright loss like Uganda. Angola can’t seem to do anything BUT play to a draw. If Angola holds Uganda to a draw, Senegal may have a chance to increase its lead with a win over Liberia (the only team in the group with 2 losses), but it will still be a very, very tight race going into September.

MATCH(ES) TO WATCH: Ethiopia-South Africa, Ivory Coast-Tanzania, Congo-Burkina Faso, Mali-Benin
FAVORITES: Ethiopia, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Congo, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Senegal

CONCACAF (3.5 spots)

In the Round of Six, your odds of actually being eliminated are less than your odds of going through, so you really have to botch the job not to be considered in the running at this point  *cough* Jamaica.  With so many matches left to play (4 for Mexico and Jamaica, 5 for everyone else), it’s hard to feel as though this weekend’s matches will have much of an impact with the exception of giving the US team a chance to increase its lead over Mexico to 5 points, but Costa Rica will have a chance to increase its totals as well. While the AFC and CAF games are knocking teams clean out of competition, the CONCACAF matches this weekend are mostly going to be continuing to jockey for position.

MATCHES TO WATCH: USA-Honduras, just because
FAVORITES: The usual suspects USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras

CONMEBOL (5.5 spots)

When you have 10 teams to start and one of them qualifies as the host nation, the remaining nine teams have a better chance of qualifying than of being eliminated. While CONCACAF had to go through three rounds of qualifiers to reduce its company to the final step before international play-offs, CONMEBOL can’t even be bothered to split anyone into groups, and now they’re not even playing again until September. This is nothing new for them, though. *insert resentment*

With 9 teams playing home and away series, that’s 16 games per team (down from the usual 18 – they can thank Brazil for their two extra rest days). Of those 16 games per team, about 3/4 of them have been played now. With 4 match days remaining, that’s a 9-12 point swing in the tank to mix things up.

All that being said, I think it’s safe to say Paraguay and Bolivia have been downgraded to “speed bump” status. As for the rest, call me when they get a better qualifying format. This one takes FOREVER. Seriously, though, Argentina and Chile will go through easily followed by three teams that are going to lose to Argentina an as-yet-undecided remainder of the pack.

MATCHES TO WATCH: (None remaining in June)
FAVORITES: Argentina, Chile

OCEANIA (.5 spot)

You’re kidding, right? New Zealand can’t do much of anything until CONCACAF sorts things out, so they’re just enjoying their summer, which is really a winter. Also, the water swirls the wrong way. Eventually, they’ll probably play Iran, Uzbekistan or Australia. I’d love to see Australia-New Zealand, personally.

MATCHES TO WATCH: Peter Jackson vs JRR Tolkien
FAVORITE: New Zealand (I don’t know why I even bother)

UEFA (392 13 spots)

And of course, last but certainly not least (at least according to them), UEFA. With 13 spots up for grabs, you’d think this would be like the CONMEBOL situation all over again, but UEFA gets organized about this lot and actually gives us a chance to figure out who has a shot and who doesn’t sometime before, I don’t know, October? While I’m still not a fan of the quick way they execute eliminate half their second-place teams, I suppose at least they know it may be coming early on. That said, they only have one match between now and the big September 6 date (lots of qualifiers kicking back off that day), so here’s where we stand at (roughly) the end of summer qualifying dates:

Group A: Belgium and Croatia are set to fight it out at the top – the other four are nearly mathematically eliminated.
Group B: If you expect a team other than Italy to go top of group, raise your hand. No one? Okay. Then for second place, we’ve got a tight race between Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, but I wouldn’t count Denmark out entirely just yet. There are still several games to go. (Malta, on the other hand … )
Group C: I’d love to see Germany and Ireland come out of this group, but it could just as easily be Germany and Sweden or, I begrudgingly admit, Germany and Austria. In short, Germany and _________. September should help split a few hairs on that race, but it’ll be close right up to the end.
Group D: While not mathematically official without at least one more win (or three ties), Netherlands is going top of group. Between Hungary and Romania, I’d put my forints on Hungary.
Group E: I’m getting tired of writing, so I’ll just say I’m thinking Switzerland and Norway. More to follow after September’s games.
Group F: Three of the six teams are essentially eliminated, and it’s unlikely Portugal won’t finish top of group. Russia and Israel will fight it out for second place, but I think Russia will probably come out on top in the end.
Group G: Bosnia and Greece are off to solid starts in this group, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them maintain that to finish in first and second respectively.
Group H: Montenegro leads the group only because they’ve played one additional game. My (metaphorical) money is still on England with Ukraine or Poland locking up second.
Group I: Spain over France for 1 and 2. ’nuff said.

FAVORITES: For top of group, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, England and Spain; advancing to the head-to-head, I’ve got Croatia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, Norway, Russia, Greece, Ukraine, France

Spring Race Recap (2013 Edition)

I’ll be honest – I’m pretty terrible about remembering to recap races. I always think to myself, “I’ll just take an extra day and reflect on this race before writing about it,” and then it never happens. I’ve run 16 races in the last year, and can you guess how many I remembered to recap? That’s right. Zero. So much for “time to reflect.” That said, with the changing of seasons (finally) straight from “drowning away winter” to “oh my God that’s hot,” I figured I should – at the very least – do a Spring Race Recap, and what a spring it’s been.

This spring, I had half a dozen races to hold myself accountable, keep myself moving and check in with the local running pack. It’s been an eventful and emotional season for my running progression, but I made it to summer, and there’s something to be said for that. Thus, with no further extended prologue, I present to you my very first Spring Race Recap (2013 Edition):

Jack Kenny Gaelic Gallop 5K (March 2)

This race took place in West Peoria on a very brisk morning. I had the running tights on that I’d acquired at Running Central for just such occasions, and even with those and several other layers, I was still shivering as I helped erect barricades prior to the race (since the race benefits the non-profit for which I work, it was only fitting that I volunteer on race day as well). This race has traditionally kicked off the Peoria-area running season, and while the area keeps adding more and more races to the annual calendar, this was my first run of the year. Unfortunately, it came as I was still recovering from a pretty wicked chest cold.

As you can guess from the title of the blog, the type of wicked chest cold that would keep me home from work for a day or two is only magnified by my asthma, making breathing difficult even when relatively sedentary. However, when race day came, I was down to bouts of coughing and was confident I would be able to get away with using my inhaler and powering through. That was NOT the case. I definitely ended up slowing way down a few times and even stopping for cough breaks, but aside from rapidly becoming the most miserable 5K I’ve ever attempted to run, I had fun hanging out with people who supported the St. Patrick’s Society and Children’s Home.

Blarney Blitz 5K (March 16)

As an RCRM event, this race went down in Peoria Heights with the start line at Running Central. For an inaugural event, I had a lot of fun. I trimmed a couple minutes of coughing off my Gaelic Gallop time to put me at a more respectable 29:23. I also had a chance to run with my friend Matt from Menards. It’s always more fun when you run with friends!

Yes, I wore this hat for both March 5Ks. The first time for style, the second time to blame "wind resistance" for any time deficits.

Yes, I wore this hat for both 5Ks. The first time for style, the second time to blame my time on “wind resistance.”

Heights Half Marathon (April 13)

This race was in its second year, and the 2012 edition was the first half marathon I had run that wasn’t a OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (read: Indy Mini). The first time I ran it, the crowd was relatively conservative in numbers, and it was fairly brisk. However, the race goes along the World’s Most Beautiful Drive (Grandview Drive), so the wind is pretty hard to control on the bluff. This year had a few similarities to the inaugural year, but there were definitely some improvements. First, due to the date of Easter, the event was moved a little later in the year, which meant that while the start of the race was pretty cold, it was right in the “jacket/no jacket” range. The first couple miles caused me to worry about nipple chafing were a bit chilly, but then my body warmed up and I got rocking along. The hardest part this year was that the wind on the bluff made you feel like you were constantly running into the wind, regardless of which direction you were actually running. I enjoyed the added challenge of the hills and wind, though, as well as the on-course support from spectators. The Sole Sisters had even set up a jelly bean station on one of the loops for runners.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the 2:17:17 I logged, even though it was slower than last year’s time. I’ll readily admit that with the perma-cold, I hadn’t been out training the way I had the previous year, so it is what it is.

Run for Boston (April 22)

Part of the crowd for the Run for Boston at RC

Part of the crowd for the Run for Boston at RC

After the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, the Running Central and RCRM crew worked rapidly to get a run set up in Peoria for the “Run for Boston.” Shirts were sold at the event and all proceeds went straight to the The One Fund in Boston. I have no idea what my time was for the 3 miles I did, but the square outside Running Central was packed solid with hundreds of runners, all along for a cathartic journey together. I chose to run 3 miles, but there were options to do one mile or “more” than 3 miles, which basically meant that you passed the last police car at the turnaround, stayed to the side of the road, and came back when you felt like you’d run far enough and hard enough and long enough to start feeling a bit more normal again.

Wabash always fights!

Wabash always fights!

OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (May 4)

Going strong on my fourth trip through the IMS

Going strong on my fourth trip through the Indy Motor Speedway

As a bit of background, 2012 was the first year I really thought of myself as a “runner” because I signed up for a series of different races at different lengths and in different cities. However, it was in 2010 that I ran my first half marathon. After being challenged by some of my friends, I registered for the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, commonly known as the “Indy Mini.” The race is the largest half marathon in the nation at 35,000 runners and actually spends a couple miles on the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway (no gels on the Speedway!). This has since become a fixture on my calendar (I joked with the Illinois Valley Striders that I have a “standing five-year contract”), which made this my fourth running of this particular course.

My favorite parts of the race are:
1. Clocks at every mile marker – Since up until this year, I was living in a world without Garmin, the clocks helped me stay on pace.
2. Crazy numbers of local musicians – Every time you leave the range of one performer, you’re entering the range of the next. It might as well be a Rock ‘n Roll event given how much attention is paid to on-course entertainment.
3. Hunormous pre- and post-party – The Expo is a HUGE can’t-miss event (I say this having missed it this year due to travel constraints), and after the race, without the Family Area letters, I’d never be able to find anyone. “Where are you?” “M” “Be there in five.”

As always, my least favorite part of the course was the part you’d expect to be the BEST – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While it’s cool to say you ran the track, the heat from the pavement, the lack of music (inside the Speedway, there are groups of cheerleaders from area schools but no bands; alternatively, some sections of the track have blaring pop music on the loudspeakers), and the lack of any kind of change in scenery just makes it feel like a grind. Sure, it’s cool to run across the Yard of Bricks and get water or Gatorade in a real pit stop area, but that doesn’t make the track stop radiating heat at you the whole time you’re doing it. On the plus side, though, this year’s weather was the most tolerable of all the years I’ve run it. Previous iterations have started with everyone in sweats and extra layers or with people sweating before even hitting the start line. It’s kind of a crap shoot. This year, weather = awesome.

As an added bonus this year, having run the Heights Half Marathon early in 2012, I finally realized that I could put my seed time faster this year and get in a better corral than I’d been in the past three years. With this having been my only race, I’d never known I COULD finish it faster. The timing was important because I have gotten into the habit of registering for the following  year’s race the night before running the race itself. Without the inaugural Heights Half, I’d likely have started much further back than I did.

Factoring in the sea of people through which to wade, I’d guessed I’d be at about a 2:15 this year. I was pretty close – I finished with a 2:18:14, which dropped my course PR by FIFTEEN MINUTES. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to weave through a huge crowd of people determined to run a slower pace than you! Somehow, even in that sea of people, I always see a few friends on the race course, most of whom are nice enough to slow down long enough to say “Hey!” before engaging their rocket boosters running past me. I’m “officially” shooting for a 2:10 next year, but we’ll see what happens. There’s a part of me that wants to slow it down a bit and pair it with the Flying Pig the following day in Cincinnati as part of a back-to-back challenge many runners do.

After the race, I made up for missing this year’s Expo by dropping by the Wabash College tent at the post-race party for the first time and scoring a free metal water bottle while catching up with alum Jon Pactor (one of my fraternity’s alumni advisors). Then Katie and I headed back to the hotel so I could shower before heading to Lafayette for South Street Smokehouse and a pub crawl downtown. Not the best hydration strategy, but I was definitely drinking lots of fluids …

Anyway, that’s my somewhat disjointed and not terribly helpful series of race recaps from this spring. Stay tuned for a more coherent cohesive recap of the Midnight Mayhem trail race at Black Partridge Park that I ran with CITRA this past Friday night as well as a recap of the inaugural Run River City Marathon, in which my wheels fell off and also my legs almost did too. I think we can all agree that both inaugural races were adventures …

For Boston, For Boston

For the last 18 hours or so, I’ve had the lyrics of Dropkick Murphy’s “For Boston” stuck in my head. Specifically, the mental playback has been from the first verse:

For Boston, for Boston, 
we sing our proud refrain 
for Boston, for Boston
’tis wisdom’s earthly fane
for here we are one 
and our hearts are true 
and the towers on the heights
reach to heav’n’s own blue.
for Boston, for Boston
’til the echoes ring again”

I tried to smile. Really, I did. It just wasn't happening.

I tried to smile. Really, I did. It just wasn’t happening.

Today, in honor of the victims of the explosion at the Boston Marathon, #RunChat asked runners to wear race shirts to work today. Since my office is relatively casual, I grabbed my Indy Mini shirt from last year and laced up the neon green AdiZero Sonic 3s for the day. Will it change anything to wear this shirt? Probably not, but it makes me feel connected, makes me feel less like I’m drifting and makes me feel like I’m wrapped in the running community’s embrace as we all try to cope with the senselessness of this tragedy.

As I sit in my office, I’m reminded of an e-mail I once received from (then) Wabash College President Andy Ford as a college freshman in 2001 …

“Terrorists want to disrupt our lives. I urge you to deny terrorists this victory. Let’s continue going to classes, continue teaching, continue working, and maintain our community. These terrorist acts illustrate the need for people who think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely. Let’s stay at this most important work together.”

Whether this was the act of one person or a larger group, Ford’s words still ring true in my ears. Let’s stay at this important work together …

Two Puffs and Push It

Or, “Why This Blog is Called ‘Asthmarathon Man'”

Growing up, I would start and end my day with a pair of inhalers and occasionally a nasal spray in addition to having to have an emergency inhaler on me at all times. At the age of eight, I was attending a workshop for controlling asthma attacks and had my own peak-flow meter – with chart – at home. I had to blow into this plastic tube three times each sitting, morning and night, to keep an eye on my total lung capacity.

An example of a peak flow meter not unlike the one I had

An example of a peak flow meter not unlike the one I had

By high school, I had the joy of learning about a machine called the nebulizer, in which you put medicine and a saline solution and then breathe in the fumes. The point of the nebulizer is to deliver medicine when your lungs can’t hold breath long enough to get medicine from the inhaler to settle. For those who don’t know, it’s recommended you hold in the puff from an inhaler anywhere from a count of 10 to a count of 20, which at times can be a challenge if you’re in serious respiratory distress.

A breakdown of the major parts of a nebulizer

A breakdown of the major parts of a nebulizer

Upon going to college, my need for the nebulizer and the morning/evening inhalers passed, and I was left with the emergency inhaler. I distinctly recall a few times I attempted to run along with either my fraternity brothers or just in generally high spirits and had to grasp for the canister that would restore my breath.

Now, I’m a runner. Well, I’m a sort of runner. I know my PRs for a given distance, but I’m content running my own race at my own pace. Some might call me a Penguin. I enjoy signing up for races not to win but to push myself to my own limits and maybe make some new friends in the process. There’s something about running in a pack that makes me feel safer, more complete. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t been in a crowded start line, who hasn’t toasted another finisher at the post-race beer tent, who hasn’t gone to a potluck with members of his/her local running group. Humans are, by nature, social animals, and running in a pack at my own pace makes me feel complete, as though maybe I’m not as restricted as I once feared I would be my entire life.

However, I’m still not completely out of the woods. Before every race, I still reach for that inhaler. Last fall in a half marathon, I left it in the car after a pre-race hit and found myself gasping for air during the race, not accounting for certain allergens during a half marathon that ran through a cemetery and a park. I seriously contemplated leaving the race course to get it or gasping my need to the police working the crosswalk. However, stubborn runner that I am, I pushed through it, coached myself to calm down, regained my breath and finished – albeit a bit more slowly than I’d hoped. This year, my goal is not to do that.

My first race of the year was the St. Patrick Society of Peoria Gaelic Gallop. While only a 5K, I was recovering from a chest cold – often more serious for me than I let on – and I found myself struggling for breath in the chilly winter air. The worst part is not struggling to the finish line, hoping you still get a decent time in spite of yourself. It’s not the fear that you could end up having to stop altogether and call a 5K a failure. It’s knowing that your body is going to punish you for your arrogance. That the lack of oxygen is translating to a buildup of lactic acid that wouldn’t otherwise be warranted at that distance. That the body is going to take longer to recover than conditioning would suggest.

All that being said, I run because I love to run. The half marathon has proven to be a distance I can (usually) conquer without requiring my inhaler on the course, and I find it to be a good way to push myself. This year I’m hoping to go sub-2 as a new PR (just missed it by less than 2 minutes last year in Louisville), but I’ve got a larger goal in mind too – to complete my first ever 26.2-mile marathon this May. You can be sure my inhaler will be on the course with me.

Take two puffs, a few deep breaths, and push it!