We are coming to the end of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying path. 31 teams have now qualified for the tournament, with only Peru and New Zealand left fighting for the final spot. While the usual suspects will be there – we’re thinking of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, England, France, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, among others – and that some fairy tales will be at the party, mostly Egypt and Iceland, notable absentees will watch from their sofas, like Chile, the United States, and most recently, Italy.
We now get to the end of the play-off stage. Peru and New Zealand have one game left to play after a scoreless draw in New Zealand for leg 1, and will have everything to fight for when they meet tonight for leg 2 in Lima.
What we’re trying to say is that Laurent Ciman and Blerim Dzemaili have been called up by their respective national team, in very different contexts. If Belgium is already through to the World Cup final, Switzerland has to go through Northern Ireland to win its ticket.
Laurent Ciman, Belgium
3-3 draw v Mexico at King Baudouin Stadium, in Brussels (Ciman played 90 minutes)
1-0 win v Japan at Jan Breydel Stadium, in Bruges (Ciman was an unused substitute)
After playing 90 minutes in a 3-3 draw against Mexico, Laurent Ciman started the night on the bench for the Red Devils. The Belgians opted for three men at the back instead of the five-man defense they had agaist Mexico. They would go on to beat Japan 1-0 off a Romelo Lukaku goal.
Blerim Dzemaili, Switzerland
1-0 win v Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, in Belfast (Dzemaili played 83 minutes)
0-0 draw v Northern Ireland at St. Jakob-Park, in Basel (Dzemaili played 61 minutes)
Yes, Switzerland will be invited to Russia next summer. The Swiss did what they had to do at home, after a 1-0 win in Belfast. Blerim Dzemaili was again on the starting line-up, just a little higher up than the midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka-Denis Zakaria, who were less influential in this game than in Belfast, but still helped create more chances than their Northern Irish counterparts. Nevertheless, the visitors had their opportunities, especially one at the death, when Ricardo Rodriguez cleared his line after a header by Jonny Evans. Overall, Switzerland’s qualification is logical and deserved, even if their lack of finishing in front of goal is disturbing; let’s not forget as well that Northern Ireland’s defensive record is amongst the best in the UEFA zone during this qualifying campaign.
Richard Collinge, Scotland
1-0 loss v Netherlands at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen
The Impact’s Head of Therapy and Readaptation, Richard Collinge, has been called up by the Scottish interim manager, Malky Mackay, for this friendly game against the Netherlands. It will be a first international experience for Collinge, who was born in England. Impact Media spoke with him last week.