The Race Is On For South Africa 2010
Money, business, takeovers, Arabs, Dubai, wages, resignations, meetings blah blah blah, I think I just died of boredom. What have any of them got to do with football? I am sure most of us here love the game itself, not the circus that surrounds it.
With that in mind, lets take a look at this weekend's upcoming World Cup 2010 Qualifiers from a truly global perspective, and get back to talking about football. The European qualifiers will be reviewed in a separate article.
The South American qualification series is already well under way, with 6 of 18 rounds already completed. Paraguay have leaped out of the blocks and lead the way with 13 points from their six matches, and this record will be sorely put to the test as they line up against second placed Argentina on Saturday in Buenos Aires.
Argentina have failed to win in their last three qualification matches, so will be keen to get their campaign back on track, while the Paraguayans were heavily beaten in Bolivia last time out. Expect a tight affair, with a draw a distinct possibility.
Brazil meanwhile are down in fifth place in the standings, Dunga's all-star team failing to get any momentum going. They face a tricky trip to Chile on Sunday. The Chileans are one place above them in fourth spot. Brazil always find a way to qualify, and surely will do again given the talent at their disposal, but I could see Chile springing a surprise here to pile the pressure on.
Elsewhere Ecuador, who have qualified for the last two tournaments (reaching the last 16 in 2006), face a must win match at home to Bolivia. The duo sit in eigth and ninth respectively in the standings, and whoever loses here can probably book their 2010 summer holidays, as they won't be going to South Africa. Ecuador should have enough on their own patch.
In the other games, Colombia face Uruguay, and last placed Peru are at home to improving Venezuela. Colombia have already downed Argentina in Bogota, so should take the honours there, while Venezuela are outside bets for the fifth placed play-off spot and can do their prospects no harm with a win in Lima.
Round Eight kicks off on Tuesday, with Paraguay expected to down Venezuela. On Wednesday, Brazil will surely steel themselves to beat Bolivia at home, and Argentina should win in Peru. Uruguay v Ecuador and Chile v Colombia are tougher calls, and they could well produce some draws to complete this crucial double header of matches.
If you think the South American campaign is a drawn out affair, then wait until you see the African qualifying system. Already well into its second of three rounds, the campaign has seen footballing minnows Comoros, Somalia, and Guinea-Bissau eliminated in Round 1.
Round 2 sees 48 teams split into 12 groups and playing 6 matches each, with 12 group winners and 8 next best teams making it to the final qualifying round. The next week sees the 5th collection of matches played, and it's all or nothing for some competitors.
In Group 1, Cameroon will ensure qualification to Stage 3 with a win away at Cape Verde. Group 2 sees leaders Guinea facing a tough trip to inflation busting Zimbabwe, with the losers likely to be under serious pressure from Kenya in the final match.
Angola, surprise qualifiers in 2006, face a must win match away to Benin to avoid this campaign ending swiftly in Group 3.
Nigeria are running away with Group 4 with a 100% record, but fellow giants Ghana still have work to do in Group 5, and must win in Libya to ensure their place in Stage 3.
Group 6 sees Senegal hoping to clinch their place with a win in Algeria, with Gambia still in contention. Ivory Coast should top Group 7 with a win in Mozambique. Perennial qualifiers Morocco will be through to Round 3 with a win over Ethiopia in Group 8.
Burkina Faso are the surprise team of the tournament so far, they lead Group 9 ahead of Tunisia with a 100% record, having won in Tunisia. They will clinch the group should they complete a famous double at home.
Mali lead Group 10, with Chad surrounded in controversy having been barred from the African Nations Qualifying (the campaign serves as qualifiers for both tournaments), but allowed to compete by FIFA for the World Cup places.
There looks unlikely to be a repeat of Togo's unlikely qualification in 2006, as they recover from the shocking violence that marred their match with Mali in the 2008 African Nations Cup qualifier. They currently sit bottom of Group 11.
Group 12 sees DR Congo battling with Egypt for top spot, with the winners of their meeting ensured progress to Round 3.
This is certainly a marathon not a sprint!
AFC & OFC
This weekend sees the big kick-off in the final stage of the Asian Qualifying zone, with Australia competing in the zone for the first time. After an already gruelling series, they are joined in Group A by Japan, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, and Qatar.
Australia kick off with a tough tie in Uzbekistan next Wednesday, with Japan starting away to Bahrain on Saturday. Bahrain then travel to Qatar on Wednesday.
The top two teams in each group qualify for the finals, with the two third placed teams playing off for the chance to meet the top qualifier from the Oceania zone for the final qualifying place.
New Zealand will ensure that they are the Oceanic representatives in that match if they can defeat New Caledonia in Noumea on Saturday.
How about an Australia v New Zealand match up for a place in the World Cup Finals? It could well happen.
Group B in Asia looks set to be very closely fought. It consists of both Korea Republic (South Korea) and Korea DPR (North Korea), and if they could fight to the death for top spot they probably would do. Iran and Saudi Arabia have a history of qualification, but will find their record serverely tested in this group that also includes UAE.
UAE kick off proceedings against Korea DPR on Saturday, followed by Saudi Arabia vs Iran. The first of the Korean derbies takes place on Wednesday, in Shanghai, China, because of a row over the playing of the National Anthems the last time they met. That match could be a bit tasty!
The third of four stages of the North and Central American qualifying campaign began in August, with 12 teams left in three groups of four.
In Group 1, Trinidad and the USA will be expected to qualify for the final six team group, and they both started with a win. USA visit Cuba on Saturday, followed by a home tie Trinidad on Wednesday. Trinidad precede that match with a home game against Guatemala.
Group 2 sees Sven-Goran Eriksson's Mexico play Jamaica and Canada in successive home games on Saturday and Wednesday. With Honduras the other team in this interesting group, that should be tight.
Costa Rica will be expected to coast through Group 3, and having already beaten El Salvador they should have to much quality for Surinam and Haiti, whom they meet this week.
The top two teams in each of the three groups qualify for Round 4, with the top three teams from Round 4 qualifying for the World Cup. The 4th placed team will then play off against the 5th placed team from South America for the final qualification spot.
If you have read all the way to here, well done!
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