France and Croatia both received plum draws from the FIFA European World Cup qualifying section play-off tombola, however at 13/10 in bwin’s to qualify betting it looks like Sweden could be the value bet of the octet to reach Brazil 2014.
France and Croatia are 1/4 and 3/10 to qualify after drawing Ukraine and Iceland respectively.
Commonly held knock-out competition wisdom suggests that being drawn to play away first puts a side in an advantageous position, with the idea that a good result (ideally with away goals included) can be secured in the first leg before being seen out in the return match in front of home support.
The sides that contested the semi-final at France 1998 would have been favourites for qualification even if they’d been drawn to close out their play-offs on foreign soil when the balls met the bowls at FIFA.
Portugal dropped points against Northern Ireland, Israel and Russia during a laboured campaign.
Paulo Bento’s side had a distinctly queasy ride through Group F with draws home and away against the Israelis.
Meanwhile some hot-headedness from Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty and a superb second-half hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo saved them from the ignominy of earning just one of six possible points from their clashes with Northern Ireland.
Squeaking a 2-1 win in Luxembourg was another example of their inability to cut loose against inferior foes.
Sweden scored seven times against World Cup third-favourites Germany in Group C.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Blue-Yellow overcame two relatively credible competitors for their play-off berth in the Republic of Ireland and an improving young Austria side to Portugal’s one (Israel).
However, their mostly mundane run to a knock-out spot was lit up by two great games with the Germans.
Their draw in Berlin – in which they came back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 – suggests that they come into their own against big teams with an impressive array of talent.
With the advantage of playing the second leg on Swedish soil against a side struggling for form and fluency the Swedes could surprise a few people by overcoming Portugal, bwin’s odds-compilers among them.