Saturday, October 10, 2009

World Cup 2010 Qualifying coming down to the wire...

World Cup Qualifying is coming down to the wire. So it is probably time I looked at who has made it, the remaining permutations, who might miss out, what excitement we still have in front of us…and all of that kind of thing.

Let’s start with the important part: The All Whites. On Sunday 4.30am (NZ time) the All Whites will be facing Bahrain away in the first leg of two. The overall winner will make the World Cup. I am massively passionate in my support for getting the All Whites there and will be absolutely gutted if we miss out. It will just be out of this world if we can have 1982 all over again.

How have we got to this stage? Briefly, thanks to FIFA the All Whites have had two pieces of good fortune in our qualifying quest. The first was the decision to let Australia compete in the Asian Confederation. This allowed the All Whites a free run to win Oceania. Compare this to qualifying for 2006 when Australia won and then made the World Cup in an exciting two leg qualifier at the expense of Uruguay. The second was that the winner of Oceania would face the 5th placed Asian team rather than the 5th placed South American team. It was always going to be easier to face the likes of Bahrain or Saudi Arabia than someone like Venezuela or god forbid, Argentina.

But now we have to make the most of it. We have a good squad as far as Kiwi sides go (pretty useless compared with most sides but still). Nelsen is fantastic. A quality composed centre-back and a leader of men. It is a great boost to have him available. And without going into the rest of the team, we are in better shape than usual. Bahrain will be a very difficult proposition; it will be a fascinating and tense tussle.

OK, so let’s look at the rest of the qualifying.


Starting with 43 teams, and going through a convoluted qualifying process, we now have the four automatic qualifiers: Japan, Australia, South Korea and North Korea. North Korea is a surprise, qualifying for the first time since 1966 and politically speaking it is fascinating that both North and South Korea have qualified. All 43 teams were seeded before qualifying and North Korea were seeded only 9th. Iran were given 3rd and missed out. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain advanced to the play-off to find the 5th team (and thus the one to face NZ) and Bahrain won on away goals. Asia is a weak zone. Australia, South Korea and Japan have some quality (with reference to the world stage), the rest really do not.


Starting with 53 teams the final stage consists of 20 teams – 5 groups of 4. The winner of each group will go to the World Cup. As I write only one team has qualified: Ghana, who gave a very good account of themselves at World Cup 2006. The Ivory Coast has to all intents and purposes qualified being 6 points ahead of 2nd place in their group, 2 games remaining, and a 15 goal superior goal difference.

Group C will either be Algeria or Egypt. Two games remain, Algeria is 3 points ahead of Egypt and the last game of the round robin sees them head to head. Should they both win their penultimate games (Algeria home to Rwanda and Egypt away to Zambia) it is likely Egypt will need to win by a few goals over Algeria in the final game to sneak past their superior goal difference. Algeria has previously only made the World Cup Finals in 82 and 86.

The remaining two groups, A and B are tightly fought and could go down to the wire. Group A has Cameroon (7), Gabon (6), Togo (5) and Morocco (3) with 7, 6, 5 and 3. One would think Cameroon has the inside running but it is mathematically possible for any of the teams to win the group, and Togo (who featured in World Cup 2006) with Emmanuel Adebayor can never be written off.

Group B features heavyweights Tunisia and Nigeria alongside Mozambique and Kenya. Were Tunisia to qualify it would be their fourth consecutive World Cup. And with 8 points over Nigeria’s 6 they are currently in pole position, particularly as neither of their last two clashes is against each other. For myself, I love a World Cup to feature Nigeria and Cameroon so I’ll still be rooting for the Super Eagles. An interesting fact about African qualifying is that even though South Africa qualifies automatically by virtue of them being the host, they still compete in the qualifying tournament. Their results however do not count towards World Cup qualification but instead count towards qualifications for the African Cup of Nations (for all the other African teams it counts towards both).

North, Central America and Caribbean

Starting with 35 teams the final stage consists of a league of 6 teams with the top 3 qualifying and the 4th getting a playoff match with the 5th placed South American side. All 6 teams have two games left, none have technically qualified. The standings are very tight: USA (16), Mexico (15), Honduras (13) and Costa Rica (12). I’m confident the USA and Mexico will make it comfortably and Honduras and Costa Rica will have quite a battle to get the third automatic qualifying spot. Both teams have the USA left to play along with El Salvador for Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago for Costa Rica.

South America

South America has ten teams which play in a league. The top 4 automatically qualify and the 5th has a qualifying match with the 4th placed team from the North, Central America and Caribbean zone. As I write two teams have already qualified: Brazil and Paraguay. With two games to go another 6 teams are still in the hunt for the last 2 automatic spots, and also for 5th place and a likely victory over the 4th placed team from the North, Central America and Caribbean zone. These are Chile (27), Ecuador (23), Argentina (22), Uruguay (21), Venezuela (21) and Colombia (20). This group is incredibly exciting; I wish we had TV coverage of some of the games coming up! As you can see there is only 3 points currently between the 5 teams in 4th to 8th.

Chile should make it easily, Argentina have the advantage of (on paper) the easiest game of the 6 in the next round against Peru and so have a good chance to make 4th or 5th. Venezuela have to play both of the top 2 Brazil and Paraguay which is tough but as both these teams have qualified, may even help them. There are two particularly massive and fascinating games coming up: Ecuador v Uruguay in the next round of matches and Uruguay v Argentina in the final one. There are so many permutations in this group it is so exciting and so hard to analyse. I would love Maradona to fuck up and hence have Argentina miss out!


Europe has 53 teams consisting of 8 groups of 6 and one group of 5. The 9 group winners qualify. The 8 best runner-ups are then paired into 4 two leg qualifiers to find the final 4 European qualifiers. Currently only 3 teams: Spain, England and the Netherlands, have officially qualified. All teams have a maximum of two games remaining for them to play in their group.

Group 1 has Denmark (18), Sweden (15), Portugal (13) and Hungary (13) – all with 2 games left – competing for top spot (and 2nd). The next set of games sees Denmark v Sweden and Portugal v Hungary; both will be huge games. It would be nice to see Portugal miss out. Would also be nice to see Hungary get through for the first time in ages but I do also like Denmark and Sweden. I certainly see Sweden as the only real threat to Denmark’s top position as should they beat Denmark to pull level with them, they only have Albania to dispose of in the final round. They would then require Denmark not to beat Hungary due to Denmark’s significantly superior goal difference.

Group 2 has Switzerland (17), Greece (14), Latvia (14) and Israel (12) – all with 2 games left – competing for top spot (and 2nd). Switzerland is in a good position to win the group with their next game being against Moldova. Greece v Latvia will be a titanic battle and could settle 2nd place.

Group 3 has Slovakia with a clear advantage to take 1st place and only Slovenia (5 points behind with 2 games to go) who could thwart it. The fight for second place is intense with Slovenia (14), Northern Island (14), Czech Republic (12) and Poland (11) in competition. Northern Island is at a disadvantage with only one game to go compared with the others 2, and a tough one away at Czech Republic at that. Slovenia has the advantage of having their last game against perennial easy beats San Marino.

Group 4 is quite simply a fight between Germany and Russia as to who will take 1st place and automatic qualification, and who will take 2nd and the lottery of a qualifier. Germany is one point ahead of Russia and victory over Russia in the next game will make the final round of matches redundant. But a Russian win (and they are at home) would put Russia in a dominant position.

Group 5 – Spain has already qualified, and hasn’t dropped a point. Bosnia-Herzegovina is in 2nd and only Turkey can overtake them, and they are 4 points behind with two games to go. Bosnia-Herzegovina can take 2nd with victory away at Estonia in the next game but should they fail to do so and Turkey win away at Belgium they will be highly nervous, especially as their final match is against Spain.

Group 6 – England has already qualified, also with maximum points from their 8 games. 2nd spot is between Croatia and Ukraine. Croatia is two points ahead of Ukraine but only have one game remaining compared with Ukraine’s two. Ukraine’s next match at home against England could be the key especially as both Ukraine and Croatia have their final match away against a minnow. I hope Croatia get through.

Group 7 has Serbia (19), France (15), Austria (11) alongside Lithuania and Romania both on 9 who harbour only mathematical delusions of being able to qualify. With 2 games left it is likely Serbia will finish 1st and France 2nd although looking at the upcoming fixtures it is more likely for France to catch Serbia than Austria to catch France.

Group 8 has Italy (20), Republic of Ireland (16) and Bulgaria (11) with 2 games remaining. Hence it is possible but highly unlikely that Republic of Ireland will catch Italy and Bulgaria will catch Republic of Ireland. Even were Republic of Ireland to beat Italy in their next game, Italy’s final game is a straightforward one against Cyprus. Bulgaria has by far the easiest last two games and may have a chance if Republic of Ireland lose against Italy and then slip up against Montenegro.

Group 9 has already finished. The Netherlands won with maximum points and Norway took second over Scotland on goal difference. They will probably be the 2nd placed team to miss out on the qualifiers though as they only amassed 10 points from this group.

My biggest hope in European qualifying is for Republic of Ireland to make the World Cup!

The whole thing is incredibly exciting.

Come on you All Whites!!

SPAIN - Champions!!!!


Portugal 2-3 Germany
Croatia 1-1 Turkey, Turkey win on penalties
Netherlands 1-3 Russia (after extra-time)
Spain 0-0 Italy (Spain win on penalties)

Notable points:

Croatia Turkey was a tour de force with Croatia taking the lead in the 119th minute (1 minute remaining of extra-time) and Turkey somehow managing an equaliser in the dying seconds. Croatia were unlucky in this game. Russia's victory over the Netherlands was massive, particularly after Holland had thrashed some big names in the group stages


Germany 3-2 Turkey
Russia 0-3 Spain

Germany-Turkey involved two teams I detest! But what an exciting game it was, and Turkey were unlucky after such a spirited and quality performance. Spain were dominant, an interesting final loomed.


Germany 0-1 Spain

Spain were champions and deserved champions. A mercurial football country who always promised so much and delivered so little finally had a trophy. Fantastic stuff :)