Both Brazil and Portugal had their missteps in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but after turning it on when it mattered, one can only hope that we’ll see their best in South Africa.
Brazil and Portugal might garner the most attention in the group, for different reasons, but just as many eyes should be on their counterparts.
Brazil’s prowess in attack is no secret, but the same should be said about a dangerous and prolific Ivory Coast side, who tore through their qualifying campaign and brings no shortage of talent to the table.
Just like the Ivory Coast used the 2006 World Cup to show their potential and build some momentum for the future, North Korea will be looking to do the same in South Africa, and judging by their defensive record in World Cup qualifying, they could have what it takes to, at the very least, make life very frustrating for their group foes.
Road to Qualification: 1st in CONMEBOL qualification tournament (9W-7D-2L – automatic qualifier)
Despite ultimately finishing atop the table and keep alive their record of qualifying for every World Cup (the mark will go to 20 straight in 2014, since they’re the hosts and all), it would be kind to say that there was something left to be desired about the majority of Brazil’s qualifying campaign.
They opened with a 0-0 draw away to Colombia, and the draws wouldn’t stop there. In all, there were more draws (six) in the first 11 games than wins (four). The one saving grace was the fact that, as inconsistent as the masters of attack were in front of goal, it didn’t prove as costly as it could’ve, as their only loss in that span was a 2-0 defeat in Paraguay.
As should have been expected, Brazil caught fire eventually, reeling off five wins in a row and scoring 16 goals in the process. A convincing 3-1 away win over fierce rivals Argentina secured their place in the World Cup with three rounds to go, and even a loss and a draw in their last two qualifiers didn’t prevent Dunga’s side from finishing top, as a goalless home draw with Venezuela in the final round saw them edge out Chile and Paraguay by a point.
Ivory Coast (CAF)
Road to Qualification: Second Round: 1st in Group 7 (3W-3D-0L), Third Round: 1st in Group E (5W-1D-0L – automatic qualifier)
After getting their feet wet on the international stage in 2006, the Ivory Coast will have a chance to further impress on the home continent after easily booking their place in the World Cup.
Their early performances in the second round weren’t their best, with a close win over Mozambique and draws with Madagascar and Botswana, but they separated themselves from the pack in the end to win their group easily.
The third round should have perhaps been tougher, as they were paired with Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Malawi. But it was quite the opposite, as the Ivorians would kick it into top gear and score 19 goals over their six matches (six by Didier Drogba) on the way to finishing four points clear of Burkina Faso.
North Korea (AFC)
Road to Qualification: First Round: def. Mongolia 9-2 on agg., Second Round: bye, Third Round: 2nd in Group 3 (3W-3D-0L), Fourth Round: 2nd in Group B (3W-3D-2L – automatic qualifier)
Unlike Australia, Japan, and South Korea, North Korea were forced to play an extra round, as their seeding (9th – only the top five seeds received byes through the first two rounds) was not high enough to bypass a first-round tie. That tie was a breeze, however, as North Korea would dispatch Mongolia easily, winning 4-1 in the away leg and 5-1 in the home leg.
Their seeding was high enough to bypass the second round, and in the third round, they would be grouped with South Korea, Jordan, and Turkmenistan. An airtight backline saw North Korea through to the final round with ease, as they didn’t allow a single goal in their six first-round matches.
In the final round, North Korea were paired once again with South Korea, along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. South Korea strolled to top spot with an unbeaten mark, but the race for the second automatic qualifying spot was a tight one between North Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
Going into the final round of matches, North Korea and Saudi Arabia were both on 11 points and set to face off in Riyadh, with Iran (on 10) facing a tie with South Korea in Seoul. Thanks to a late Park Ji-Sung equalizer vs. Iran, second (and third and a playoff spot) would come down to North Korea and Saudi Arabia. North Korea held for a goalless stalemate, and thanks to having an edge in both goal difference (+2 to 0) and head-to-head results (a home win + the away draw), North Korea automatically qualified for their first World Cup since 1966.
Road to Qualification: 2nd in UEFA Group 1 (5W-4D-1L), def. Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 on agg. in playoffs
It would have been considered a massive disappointment if Portugal had missed out on the World Cup after back-to-back appearances, but it was very nearly a reality.
After starting qualifying with a rout of Malta, Portugal won only one of their next six matches (a last-minute 2-1 win in Albania), drawing four and losing 3-2 at home to Denmark. With three rounds left, Portugal sat in fourth on ten points, behind Denmark (17), Hungary (13), and Sweden (12) and in real danger of missing out on even the playoffs.
However, back-to-back wins over Hungary and a little help from Denmark (who beat Sweden 1-0 in the eighth round of matches) put Portugal in second with a match to go, and a 4-0 home win over Malta saw them finish one point ahead of Sweden and three ahead of Hungary for second behind Denmark.
Portugal were handed a tie against a tough Bosnia side, and not much would separate the two sides in either leg. But a Bruno Alves goal in the first leg in Lisbon and a strike by Raul Meireles in the away leg in Zenica would be enough to send Portugal to a third straight World Cup.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.