Two of the nations under the most scrutiny going into the 2010 World Cup are England and the United States, and not only are they paired together in Group C, but they’re also set to face off in what should be a must-see group opener.
However, while England and the U.S. are the two headline-grabbing sides in Group C, Algeria and Slovenia are not to be overlooked in the least, based on their qualifying achievements.
Algeria went through two of Africa’s big boys to advance to the World Cup for the first time in more than two decades, and Slovenia proved their worthiness of being in South Africa with a similar feat, coming through a deep qualifying group and then pulling off a playoff shocker to clinch their place and a chance to make some headlines of their own in June.
Road to Qualification: Second Round: 1st in Group 6 (3W-2D-1L), Third Round: T-1st in Group C (4W-1D-1L), def. Egypt in 1-0 in Group C tiebreaker
Algeria have Tijan Jaiteh to partly thank for their first World Cup berth since 1986. The Gambian midfielder scored an unlikely 87th minute equalizer on the final matchday in the second round of qualifying to knock out Senegal and send Algeria into the next round.
Even being in position to be able to make it to the next round looked like a tough task after losing two of their first three matches, but Algeria rallied to win their next two and a goalless draw away to Liberia proved to be enough to get them through by a point, thanks to Jaiteh’s strike.
Egypt might have been the favorite to take the World Cup berth in their group, but the rivals would match each other result for result, and after Egypt matched Algeria’s two-goal home win with a 2-0 home win over Algeria on the final match day, it came down to a one-off tiebreaker after the two sides finished level on every tiebreaker in the book.
In the playoff, which was held in Sudan, midfielder Antar Yahia scored a brilliant 40th minute goal to put Algeria up, and Algeria would hold on for the win that sent Algeria into the finals.
Road to Qualification: 1st in UEFA Group 6 (9W-0D-1L – automatic qualifier)
Buoyed by the appointment of Fabio Capello as manager, England put the disappointment of missing out on Euro 2008 behind them and secured a place in South Africa in dominating fashion. England finished with the second most wins (9) and points (27), most goals (34), and highest goal difference (+28) in the European zone.
An opening 2-0 win over Andorra wasn’t particularly impressive, but little else wasn’t, and in the end, the lone blemish on their record was a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine in what amounted to a meaningless tie for England.
After having their Euro 2008 hopes dashed by Croatia, England earned their revenge via two resounding victories. The second, a spectacular 5-1 mauling at Wembley, secured England’s place in the World Cup with two matches remaining.
Road to Qualification: 2nd in UEFA Group 3 (6W-2D-2L), def. Russia on away goals (2-2 on agg.) in playoffs
One of the most surprising, if not the most surprising, names in the field is Slovenia, who qualified for only their second World Cup by emerging second from an extremely tough group and then pulling off the shocker of the playoffs by defeating Russia.
Slovenia were drawn in an extremely tough group with Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and ever-improving Northern Ireland. But after a so-so start (two wins, two draws, two defeats), Slovenia caught fire down the stretch, winning four matches to close out their campaign and finish in second, two points behind Slovakia and four ahead of the Czech Republic.
In the playoffs, Slovenia went down 2-0 inside an hour in the first leg in Moscow, but an 88th minute goal by Nejc Pecnik proved to be a whole lot more than consolation. In the second leg, Zlatko Dedic netted in the 44th minute, and Slovenia held on in the second half for the win and a place in South Africa.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.