While Argentina are an overwhelming favorite to win Group B, their road to the round of 16 won’t be an easy one.
Argentina are joined in Group B by three tough opponents in Greece, Nigeria, and South Korea, and not only are all three give Lionel Messi and his merry band of sidekicks a hard time, but they’re all capable of progressing as well.
And judging by what we saw from Argentina in qualifying, their passage to the second round and beyond should be considered anything but a mere formality.
Road to Qualification: 4th in CONMEBOL qualification tournament (8W-4D-6L – automatic qualifier)
Argentina got off to a fast start in World Cup qualifying, winning their first three matches without allowing a goal. However, they would muster only one win and four draws over their next seven matches, and after a 1-0 defeat to Chile in October 2008, coach Alfio Basile resigned, with none other than Diego Armando Maradona taking his place.
While the hire certainly raised a few eyebrows, the same can be said for the results that followed. A 4-0 win over Venezuela in the first qualifier with Maradona in charge was followed days later by a shocking 6-1 defeat away to Bolivia, and three consecutive defeats followed a win over Colombia and left Argentina‘s hopes very much in the air with two matches remaining.
Road to Qualification: 2nd in UEFA Group 2, def. Ukraine 1-0 on agg. in playoffs
Greece had quite a favorable group, as they drew Switzerland, Latvia, Israel, Moldova, and Luxembourg. As expected, they wound up finishing in the top two, but thanks to two defeats to Switzerland (not to mention allowing a late equalizer in a shock 1-1 draw in Moldova in September) saw Greece finish a point behind the Swiss for top spot.
Otto Rehhagel’s side went up against Ukraine in the playoffs, and after a goalless draw in Athens, Greece went ahead in Donetsk with a first-half Dimitris Salpigidis goal and held on from there to earn only their second World Cup berth (previous appearance came in 1994).
Road to Qualification: Second Round: 1st in Group 4 (6W-0D-0L), Third Round: 1st in Group B (3W-3D-0L – automatic qualifier)
Nigeria rolled into the final round of qualifying by sweeping through undefeated and un-tied in their six second-round matches. They would keep that unbeaten streak throughout the third round, but after three draws in their first four matches, Nigeria went into the final round two points back of Tunisia and in need of an away win vs. Kenya and some help from Mozambique.
Mozambique duly delivered, netting a late winner to score a 1-0 home win, and from there, it was up to Nigeria to take care of business. After falling behind early against Kenya, taking a 2-1 lead in the 64th minute, and allowing a 77th minute equalizer to put their hopes in doubt once again, Obafemi Martins sent Nigeria to the World Cup for the fourth time (first since 2002) with an 81st minute winner in an amazing 3-2 win.
South Korea (AFC)
Road to Qualification: First Round: bye: Second Round: bye, Third Round: 1st in Group 3 (3W-3D-0L), Fourth Round: 1st in Group B (4W-4D-0L)
Like Nigeria, South Korea went through World Cup qualifying without suffering defeat, but their route to qualifying for a seventh straight World Cup was far less dramatic of a rollercoaster.
After their seeding allowed them to bypass the first two rounds of the Asian qualification tournament, three wins and three draws (two vs. North Korea) were enough for South Korea to easily advance to the fourth and final round.
In the final round, they were once again paired with eventual qualifier North Korea, and they were also drawn with Iran and Saudi Arabia, who’d qualified for the 2006 World Cup. However, South Korea emerged unscathed from that tough group and finished four points ahead of North Korea and Saudi Arabia to book their place in South Africa.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.