Now that the Confederations Cup is safely tucked away in Brazil, we can once again turn our attention to the real contest. The qualifying rounds for the 2010 FIFA World Cup are still being played out, but here is a brief rundown on who's shaping up as the likely field and what we can probably expect to see.
This is part four of a four-part series. On this page, the main contenders from the American Confederations (CONCACAF and CONMEBOL) are discussed. To see predictions for the other confederations, please use the links in the following table of contents.
|Part One - Africa
Part Two - Asia and Oceania
Part Three - Europe
Part Four - The Americas (this page)
a. Costa Rica (to qualify)
The Ticos have done well to win all but one of their Round Four matches to date. Now they are almost ready for a second successive attempt at the World Cup. In 2006 they did not get past the Group Stage, but they did manage to score goals against Germany and Poland, so they must be rated as having at least some hope of scoring some more.
Where their team has been let down previously is in defense, as they conceded more goals than they scored. Hopefully this has been tightened up and Costa Rica is ready to put on an improved performance.
b. United States of America (to qualify)
The U.S. soccer team has rarely attracted a lot of attention in the past. Even getting a draw with Italy in the 2006 World Cup did not seem to make much of an impression, despite the fact that Italy went on to win the Cup.
That has all changed now. Just a couple of days ago they fought out a tough final with Brazil in the Confederations Cup, adding to their list of recent achievements.
Given a relatively good draw, the U.S. could certainly progress to at least the second stage, if not further. It all depends on how commercially intelligent the FIFA management are when they work out how to set up the groups.
The longer that the U.S. stays in contention, the more revenue it will generate for FIFA and other interested parties. This could be worth billions, but they'll need to do for the U.S. what they did for Spain in 2006. Shouldn't be too hard to arrange!
c. Honduras (to qualify)
Well, this was a genuine surprise. Mexico expected to be in the final three, but instead we have Honduras looking like a contender.
For the benefit of the very young and those with foggy memories, Honduras won the CONCACAF Championship in 1981, and then played some great-looking (but unsuccessful) football in the 1982 World Cup, where they managed to get two draws before being gunned down by Yugoslavia (not literally, of course!).
Having said that, did you hear the warning shot? I'm referring of course, to the performance of Honduras during the 2001 Copa América, in which they played all the way to the semifinal. Along the way, they knocked Brazil out with a 2-0 victory, before being defeated by Colombia just one match shy of the final.
d. Mexico (to qualify)
This is touch and go for the moment. Mexico has dragged its feet this year, and will need to improve sharply if it's going to be ready for another crack at the big time.
Mexico was knocked out in the second stage in 2006, but the team was lucky to make it that far. Angola held them to a 0-0 draw, and Portugal defeated them 2-1. It was only a win over relative underdogs, Iran, that kept them in. It was Argentina that ended the run, although the margin was very close, and considering the quality of the opponent, it was not a bad effort.
The only thing we know at the moment is that they will be playing against Ecuador. If the match is played in Quito, then Mexico's chances are significantly reduced.
Definitely have to consider Mexico as a real outsider for now.
a. Brazil (over-qualified)
You knew these guys were going to be here, didn't you? There is nothing really that I could say that you would not already know. Brazil is simply the best, always has been, and probably always will be.
Brazil is set to play against Argentina (expect a win or draw), Chile (expect a win), Bolivia (expect a huge win—they have something to prove against Bolivia), and Venezuela (expect a win). If that all works out as I expect, they should end up with 39 points, well clear of any challengers.
We must keep in mind that Brazil has had an extraordinary number of draws recently, and nearly stumbled into another one against South Africa.
b. Chile (to qualify)
These guys are currently riding shotgun. So far they've had wins over Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela. Predictably, they got served by both Argentina and Brazil, and they've also suffered losses to Paraguay (who are doing a great job at the moment) and Ecuador. Both matches against Uruguay have ended in a draw.
Chile now has assignments against Venezuela (expect a win), Brazil (expect a loss), Colombia (expect a loss), and Ecuador (expect a win). If that all works out as I expect, they should end up on 32 points.
c. Paraguay (to qualify)
I have never seen Paraguay play as well it's playing at the moment. In recent times they have defeated Brazil by 2-0, the only team to have beaten them in the past 18 matches. They also notched up a 5-1 win against Ecuador, and have held Argentina to a 1-1 draw.
Paraguay are now hovering just below Chile and just above Argentina. The competition at the top is very tight.
Upcoming matches include Bolivia (expect a win), Argentina (expect a loss, unless Argentina are still fizzing), Venezuela (expect a win), and Colombia (strong chance of a win). If all that goes as expected, then Paraguay should end up with 33 points, which could be enough to move them into second place.
d. Argentina (to qualify)
Strange to see Argentina so far down the list. Not sure what has happened to cause such a big reversal in their form. They started out well with good wins over Chile, Venezuela and Bolivia. Then a loss to Colombia was the start of a series of winless matches that was not broken until they picked up a narrow win over Uruguay.
Chile proved too good in their home match against Argentina, and then the Argentinians rallied back with a great 4-0 trouncing of Venezuela. Then came a great shock—Bolivia triumphs by 6-1 (by far the best we have seen from Bolivia recently, and also the worst we have seen from Argentina). Maradona even acknowledged this, saying: "We have to give merit to Bolivia who were better than us in every part of the field."
Maradona was a great player for Argentina, and it was sad to see him fall from grace so dramatically. He has done well to reconstruct himself, and there is no doubting his passion and enthusiasm for Argentinian football. These performances must be raising questions in some people's minds, however, as to whether he is being inspirational enough to the team at present.
Argentina came back to score revenge against Colombia, taking them by 1-0, but were then defeated by Ecuador 2-0.
Future assignments do not look encouraging either. The next match is a home game against Brazil (anything could happen), then they play Paraguay (should win, far from certain), Peru (expect a win), and Uruguay (could win).
Just assuming that they are in good form for these matches, getting all four wins would give them a total of 31 points, which is only going to be enough if the other teams do not perform as well as they are expected to.
Still, Argentina does not need to finish on top here, they just need to hold onto fourth place.
e. Ecuador (to qualify)
It would be great to see Ecuador in another World Cup. They played some entertaining matches last time. Even if they stay in fifth spot, they will still have a chance. It will just mean that they need to defeat Mexico in the playoff.
Best results to date have been wins over Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Ecuador has also managed to get draws with Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
The worrying problem for Ecuador is that so far in their preliminary matches they have a much better record in home games (their sole away win was against Peru, and that was by a narrow margin). Not that there is anything particularly new in this revelation, but it is relevant because three of Ecuador's scheduled matches are away games.
Assignments include Colombia (expect a loss), Bolivia (possible loss or draw), Uruguay (expect a win), and Chile (expect a loss). If all of these matches go as predicted, Ecuador can expect to pick up another four points, giving them a total of 24.
With Uruguay nipping at Ecuador's heels for the fifth place spot, it will help Ecuador a great deal to exceed my expectations.
Well, that's the end of this four part series. Thanks for your company. I am aware that there are some quite controversial predictions in here, and everyone will have divergent opinions. Please keep in mind that there are still many months to go before the final field is announced, and long range forecasting is always going to be an inexact science.
Feel free to add a comment if you'd like to share your own opinion or predictions on what will happen. Whether your own team manages to stand or fall, hopefully we can all look forward to another exciting and entertaining tournament in South Africa in 2010.
[End of part four]