Key matchups in the World Cup playoff picture

The European teams who qualified for the World Cup playoffs now know their fate, but who will come out on top and make it to Brazil?

After finalising the automatic World Cup qualification places in the European section, the draw for the playoffs was released today, with the first legs taking place on the 15th of November, less than a month away. The matchups are obviously intriguing, as the World Cup picture begins to take shape. With Premier League players bound to be key during the playoffs, and here are the key players and matchups ahead of the games.

Portugal v Sweden

The main headline early on from this matchup is that one of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss out on a place at the World Cup, much to the frustration of football fans everywhere. Portugal missed out on automatic qualification by just one point, meaning they face the playoffs yet again, whilst Sweden finished eight points behind runaway Group C winners Germany. Whilst Zlatan will be the focal point of Sweden's play, the contributions of surrounding players such as Rasmus Elm, Sebastian Larsson and even Johan Elmander will shape their chances. Portugal seem to have the upper hand across the field, but have regularly disappointed in recent years.

Ukraine vs France

A rematch of the storm affected group match from Euro 2012, Ukraine will fancy their chances of an upset against France, despite Les Blues going into the game as favourites. Manager Mykhaylo Fomenko will be disappointed to have been pipped to top spot by England, but spearheaded by Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, expect Ukraine to cause Didier Deschamps' side problems over the two legs. Bless with talented youngsters like Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Clement Grenier, France will be expected to progress, though the trip to Kiev will certainly be banana skin.

Greece vs Romania

In what looks like the most mundane tie of the playoffs, goal-shy Greece face off against a Romania side that conceded just 12 goals in 10 qualifying games, which included eight goals against the free-scoring Dutch. Led by captain Vlad Chiriches of Tottenham, their attacking play is likely to centre around winger Gabriel Torje and Stuttgart's Alexandru Maxim, both who possess the flair to unlock a stern Greece defence that let in just four goals in the group stage. They have bedded in a number of young players in recent times, with Giannis Fetfatzidis, Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Kostas Mitrogolou likely to feature heavily for Fernando Santos' side.

Iceland vs Croatia

The whole world will be pulling for Iceland, who would be the smallest country by population to ever qualify for the World Cup should they see off Croatia. They face a tough task though, with Niko Kovac's side harnessing top talents like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and youngster Mateo Kovacic, but after Iceland managed to clinch the second spot in Group E ahead of Slovenia and Norway, they will believe they can spring an upset. Tottenham playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson will be key to their chances, but Kolbeinn Sigthorssonwill look to continue his fine form for Ajax and fire his side to Brazil.

image: © Helgi Halldórsson/Freddi

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