The long, two-year road to South Africa has finally come to a conclusion. So far, 23 teams, including host South Africa, have qualified for the World Cup (here’s a list of 2010 world cup teams).
Four will be known after the Nov. 14 matches, while the remaining five will be known after Nov. 18. Let’s take a look at all the remaining qualifiers, including the situation in Africa.
France have never come this close to not making the World Cup- and a failure to appear in South Africa next summer would spell the long-overdue end of Raymond Domenech’s job and a virtual apocalypse for Les Bleus. On the other hand, Giovanni Trapattoni’s squad have nothing to lose- making it this far is an incredible achievement in itself. This contest might seem tight, but if you look at the team-sheet it looks overwhelmingly in favor of France. But as we have seen before Domenech’s France is unpredictable, for the good or the bad.
I predict France to win it, flat out.
Portugal had a rickety qualifying campaign, and only a brilliant run of form towards the end of campaign allowed them to salvage a qualifying spot ahead of Hungary and Sweden. Manager Miroslav Blazevic has pulled off an amazing feat by uniting a country which is traditionally divided under ethnic lines and creating a national identity through a strong, cohesive, national football team.
The Bosnia of Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic, Sejad Salihovic, and Zvjezdan Misimovic is brilliant- but let’s not forget that Portugal, although missing Cristiano Ronaldo, can boast the considerable talent of Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Simao, Nani, the in-form Hugo Almeida, and defensive lynchpin Pepe.
My prediction? Portugal to edge it.
Greece v Ukraine
Greece have fallen a lot since their spectacular EURO 2004 victory in Portugal. They failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, interestingly at the hands of current play-off opponents Ukraine, and had a miserable outing at EURO 2008, where they finished bottom of their group with 0 points. Ukraine, although they didn’t make it to EURO 2008, reached the quarter-finals in 2006 and have since been winning matches, including a 1-0 defeat of England that snapped the Three Lions’ perfect record.
This will be the tightest of them all- but most factors indicate a narrow win for Ukraine.
Russia v Slovenia
The facts speak for themselves: Guus Hiddink has never failed to qualify a team for a major finals. And by looking at Russia’s opponents, it doesn’t seem like that is going to change. Although Slovenia played admirably to make it this far, they have very little credible talent compared to a Russia boasting Roman Pavlyuchenko, Pavel Pogrebnyak, Andrey Arshavin, Alan Dzagoev, and Yuri Zhirkov.
Expect Slovenia to fight hard and to the death, but Russia will make it through.
New Zealand v Bahrain
The first leg was played in the last round of qualifiers, and it ended 0-0 in Bahrain. Bahrain want this more than ever, as they came this close four years ago. New Zealand have only qualified once for the World Cup, in 1982. But the All Whites were horrific this summer in the Confederations Cup, outplayed by all their opponents. Bahrain are far more tenacious and this spot matters more to them, but New Zealand have more experience and talent.
Nonetheless, I believe that Bahrain will make it on away goals.
Costa Rica v Uruguay
Costa Rica are insulted at the prospect of having to go through a two-legged play-off to get to a tournament in which they have qualified easily for in the past. As for Uruguay, the two-time world champions were brilliant in the qualifiers, only just missing out on the last automatic place to Diego Maradona’s Argentina. Uruguay came this far four years ago, only to be beaten by Australia. Uruguay are more talented than Costa Rica at the moment, and deserve this play-off more.
Uruguay to win it.
Africa enters its last round of qualifiers on Nov. 14, with one meaningless match to be played out on Nov. 15. I will do a prediction of groups rather than individual matches.
Cameroon are one point ahead of second-placed Gabon, with a +5 goal difference compared to Gabon’s +3. Cameroon are away to Morocco, who, despite possessing talented players, are yet to win a match in this group, while Gabon play away to Togo. Cameroon will have little problem disposing with Morocco, but the same can be said of Gabon.
My prediction: Cameroon
Tunisia are two points clear of Nigeria, and both teams have the same goal difference. Nigeria are away to Kenya while Tunisia travel to Mozambique, who are unbeaten at home. Unfortunately, it seems like the Golden Eagles’ World Cup drought will continue unabated.
My prediction: Tunisia
Algeria are a comfortable three points clear of rivals Egypt, and have a +7 goal difference compared to Egypt’s +3. The two face off in Cairo, and the match will be on fire. Egypt and Algeria are traditionally rivals, and tensions reached boiling point in 1989 when there was the same situation as there is now, only it was for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Egypt won the match 1-0, allowing them to go through.
But this time, if they win 1-0, Algeria will still make it through. Algeria just have to draw, win, or lose 1-0, whereas Egypt have to win by three or more goals to qualify automatically. In the off chance that it ends 2-0 in Egypt’s favor, a one-off match will be played in Sudan on Nov. 18 to decide which team makes it. Algeria have waited far too long for this.
My prediction: Algeria
So there you have it: a comprehensive preview to the final round of FIFA World Cup 2010 qualifiers. Make sure you also read Alex Stamp’s excellent article on famous world cup play-off ties.