Sunday, September 21, 2008

World Cup 2010 Round-up

We know it's been a week or two since the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers took place, but we never quite got round to summing up all the action from outside Europe, so here's our whistle-stop tour of all you need to know, starting with…

South America
It seems we were a little hasty to cast our judgement on Brazil after the September 6th/7th matches. Brazil's surge up to second spot in the table came to a crashing halt when they could only draw 0-0 with bottom-dwellers Bolivia. With Argentina also drawing against the lower-placed Peru 1-1, Paraguay were able to extend their lead at the top by beating Venezuela 2-0.

Cristian Riveros and Nelson Valdez put the game out of reach before half time in Asuncion to leave the Paraguayans four points clear of Brazil, Argentina and a Chile side that bounced back from their 3-0 drubbing against the Brazilians by beating Colombia 4-0.

That result sees Chile push the faltering Colombians out of the automatic qualification places with Uruguay occupying the play-off spot following their goalless stalemate against Ecuador.

Oh and one other piece of late breaking news: Colombia's head coach Jorge Luis Pinto has been fired after his team's recent run of poor form. His replacement's first game will be next month against Paraguay… nice.

Yes, the CONMEBOL section resumes with another double-header programme between October 11th and 15th where the top three all look to be facing (supposedly) weaker opposition. In this part of the world, however, don't be surprised if the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay all slip up somewhere along the line.

North and Central America
As predicted by us (and probably most of you, to be fair), each of the three Third Round groups in the CONCACAF section are all being led by the strong favourites in each one.

The USA have a 100% record after three games in Group 1, the second of which was the historic meeting with Cuba in Havana on September 6th. Clint Dempsey's first half goal proved to be enough in what was a slightly uninspiring performance in front of a partisan crowd of 8,000, and with a more convincing 3-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago taking place four days later, the States look almost home and dry already in their group. Guatemala are their nearest challengers some five points behind, and despite beating Cuba 4-1 at home they could only earn a 1-1 draw with the Soca Warriors.

In Group 2, Mexico have a maximum nine points to their name and look totally at ease against all-comers thus far. Earlier this month, they beat Jamaica (who this week announced former England star John Barnes would be their new head coach) 3-0 before a narrow 2-1 win over Canada ensued. Honduras almost matched the Mexicans goal for goal after beating the Jamaicans 2-0 four days after their own 2-1 win away to Canada on September 6th. Honduras are now second in Group 2, three points behind Mexico.

Finally in Group 3, Costa Rica lead the way with three wins out of three. In their pair of games this month they managed to score ten (seven at home to Suriname) and concede just one in their away win in Haiti.

El Salvador are doing their best to stay in touch but find themselves three points behind. They managed to notch up a 5-0 win at home to Haiti along with a 2-0 away win in Suriname.

The next double header's played on October 11th and 15th and sees a reversal of the previous two fixtures taking place. That means Cuba go to the USA looking for their first win, Mexico go to Canada hoping to avoid another scare and Costa Rica look to inflate their +10 goal difference tally with a repeat performance against Haiti and Suriname.

We've much to get through here as there's just one fixture remaining for most teams in each of the twelve groups. That means if you're not one of the countries still in with a chance of finishing top, you're probably stand a fair chance of getting one of the eight best runners-up places which also guarantees entry to Round 3.

A few months ago, we told you that Nigeria had become the first team to confirm their place in the next stage of the African qualifying competition, and this month three more managed to join them - Cameroon and Benin.

In Group 1, Cameroon got the vital win they needed by beating the Cape Verde Islands 2-1 but the islanders could yet grab one of those valuable second place finishes if they can get at least a draw against Tanzania next month.

In Group 3, Benin beat nearest challengers Angola 3-2 this month leaving the Angolans and Uganda to fight over the runners-up spot. The final round of games in the group see Uganda play at home against the already qualified Benin while Angola are at home to bottom-placed Niger. An intriguing finish to that group looks to be on the cards.

In the other groups, there are more permutations surrounding who could go through than there are English words in Juande Ramos' vocabulary. In Group 10, any of the four teams involved could yet progress, although leaders on goal difference Mali had to suffer a recent defeat against second-placed Congo. They'll be grateful to face bottom-of-the-group Chad next month while a resurgent Sudan play hosts to the Congolese.

Group 12 is almost as tight with the top three all still looking to go through to Round 3 in October. Egypt have a three point lead at the top and should be all set to confirm their place when they play Djibouti next month as their opponents are yet to pick up a point thus far. But it's the teams in second and third place, DR Congo and Malawi that will battle it out to go through when they meet in Blantyre in three weeks' time. DR Congo won 1-0 in their first encounter in June but may be feeling less than confident after their recent defeat by the same score at home to the Egyptians.

Only one point covers the top three in Group 6, so that means Algeria's slender lead of one point may yet prove insufficient as Gambia and Senegal follow on in hot pursuit. As it is, Algeria may be the more relaxed going into the final fixtures on October 11th and 12th as they play the only team in the group that can't go through - Liberia. Senegal play Gambia in Dakar needing to win if they're to reach the Finals again after a six-year absence.

In a tight Group 7, Ivory Coast find themselves leading the way despite drawing three of their five matches so far - the most recent being against Mozambique a fortnight ago. The Ivorians' final game comes at home to their only challengers, Madagascar. A draw will be enough for Ivory Coast to go through, but a win for their opponents by four clear goals will see them swap places. At that point, The Elephants will have to suffer the lottery of the runners-up placing system, but to be honest, we don't think it'll come to that. Both sides drew 0-0 in Antananarivo back in June, and a similar result may yet prevail.

By way of a sum-up, here's the need-to-know on the remaining groups. Libya need just a draw against second-placed Gabon in Group 5 while a slip-up for Gabon could let Ghana through to take one of the top two spots if they can beat lowly Lesotho.

Morocco play host to Mauritania next month looking for the win that will secure their place in Round 3. They currently lie second in Group 8 behind Rwanda, but a win will put the Moroccans top on goal difference. In Group 9, however, Tunisia look as though they'll have to qualify as one of the best runners-up. They're currently three points behind leaders Burkino Faso with a much inferior goal difference. The two sides recently fought out a goalless draw in Burkino Faso leaving the hosts as good as qualified for the next stage.

Finally in Group 2, a draw between Kenya and Guinea will be good enough to see the former go through, and perhaps the latter too if they turn out to be one of the best runners-up while in Group 11, Zambia will be watching on helplessly as Togo play at home to Swaziland. A draw or a win for Togo will see the Zambians make it to the third round while a win for Swaziland will mean they're knocked off the top and entering the runners-up lottery.

It's still early days here in the fourth and final round so there's not too much in the way of excitement at the moment. In Group 1, Japan got a win in their first and only match so far, 3-2 away to the Bahrainis while Australia also got their campaign underway with a 1-0 away to the Uzbeks. Qatar top the group, though, after beating Uzbekistan 3-0 and drawing 1-1 with Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia are top of Group 2, picking up four points out of their first six with a draw at home to Iran and a win in the United Arab Emirates. North Korea join them on four points following an impressive 2-1 win in the UAE and a 1-1 draw with their South Korean counterparts.

The top two in each group are guaranteed a place in the 2010 Finals while the two teams finishing third play each other in a play-off, the winner of that going on to another play-off with the winner of the Oceania section. If only we knew who that might be...

New Zealand are the winners of the Oceania section after a brace of victories over closest challengers New Caledonia. That means with one match left to play against Fiji, the All Whites are assured of a high-profile showdown with one of the Asian elite as well as a place in next year's FIFA Confederations Cup.

Well done to them on a competent qualifying campaign and let's hope they can go one better by reaching South Africa in 2010, if only to silence those people who snigger about the Oceania section being a waste of time.

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