Judging by how Spain ran through what could have been considered a tricky 2010 World Cup qualifying group, one might feel that the other three sides in Group H might well just be playing for second and a likely second-round meeting with Brazil.
However, take a look at how each of those sides made their way to South Africa, and Spain could well be in for at least a test or two on the way to their expected place atop Group H.
Road to Qualification: 2nd in CONMEBOL qualification tournament (10W-3D-5L – automatic qualifier)
Led by Humberto Suazo’s 10 goals and a strong finish, Chile qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
Chile had an up and down start to qualifying, winning just four of their first nine matches. But a 1-0 home win over Argentina in October 2008, their first win over Argentina since 1973 (and their first in a World Cup qualifier), kick-started a finish that would push Chile into the World Cup. All in all, Chile would earn 20 of a possible 27 points in their final nine matches, and the only loss would be a 4-2 defeat in Brazil in which Brazil needed two goals in the final 20 minutes to take the three points.
A 4-2 win in Colombia in September assured Chile of a place in the four automatic qualification spots with one match remaining. A 1-0 win over Ecuador put the capper on a second-place finish, as they finished a point behind Brazil. Notably, Chile finished tied with Paraguay for the most wins (10) and just one behind Brazil for most goals (33 to 32).
Road to Qualification: Second Round: def. Puerto Rico 6-2 on agg., Third Round: 1st in Group B (4W-0D-2L), Fourth Round: 3rd (5W-1D-4L – automatic qualifier)
Like Group F member New Zealand, Honduras qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1982, in a both impressive and dramatic fashion.
After putting Portugal away in the second round, Honduras had a tight battle with Jamaica and Mexico in the third round. Going into the last two matches, Honduras and Mexico were in pole position to advance, but Jamaica’s 1-0 win over Honduras meant that Honduras still had to get a positive result in their final match against Mexico to move on.
A 1-0 win over Mexico not only saw Honduras advance but also finish top of the group, and it was on to the final round. In the final round, Honduras won only one of their first four matches, but three wins on the trot put them in a strong position going into their final three matches. Unfortunately, back-to-back defeats to Mexico and the U.S. left Honduras needing a win in El Salvador and some help to avoid the CONCACAF/CONMEBOL playoff.
In El Salvador, Carlos Pavon’s 64th minute goal gave Honduras a 1-0 win, and a last-second equalizer by Jonathan Bornstein saw the U.S. and Costa Rica draw 2-2. That combination of results saw Honduras and Costa Rica finish tied for third on 16 points, but thanks to a superior goal difference, Honduras had all the reason to celebrate like this.
Road to Qualification: 1st in UEFA Group 5 (10W-0D-0L – automatic qualifier)
Fresh off of their Euro 2008 win, Spain proceeded to blow through their World Cup qualifying group unbeaten, untied, and rarely scored upon. Valencia trio David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata were all integral parts of their run, as they combined for nearly half of Spain’s 28 goals, and as prolific as they were in attack, they were also tight at the back, allowing only five goals.
Their run wasn’t without its close shaves, as they needed second-half winners in home wins over Bosnia and Turkey and away wins over Belgium and Armenia. But there was never any serious threat to Spain’s place atop the group, and their World Cup place was clinched with two rounds to go, thanks to a 3-0 home win over Estonia. After finishing up with away wins over Armenia and Bosnia, Spain ended 11 points clear of Bosnia at the top and joined the Netherlands as the only sides with perfect records in qualifying.
Road to Qualification: 1st in UEFA Group 2 (6W-3D-1L – automatic qualifier)
After their inauspicious start to qualifying, Switzerland didn’t look anything like being a World Cup team, but that slow start might have been just what the Swiss needed to make their run to the top and qualify for the World Cup for a second straight time.
In their opener in Israel, Switzerland threw away a 2-0 lead in the second half, allowing two goals in the final 20 minutes to be held to a 2-2 draw. It didn’t get any better from there. In their next match in Zurich, they were shocked 2-1 by Luxembourg, who picked up an extremely rare competitive win thanks to a late winner by Anthony Leweck.
That shock obviously woke Switzerland up, as they won their next five matches to move into top spot heading into the home stretch. A late Eren Derdiyok equalizer in Latvia kept them on track, and a 3-0 ‘revenge’ win in Luxembourg put Switzerland in position to clinch top spot and a World Cup place with a point in their final match. They got just that, drawing 0-0 with Israel in Basel to finish a point ahead of Greece.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.