While I was squirreling away on my studies and unable to blog, the latest round of double-headers in World Cup qualifying took place. For the teams I follow across three continents, it went about as badly as it could do.
The worst reversal was in the North American zone where a perfect storm of results saw Guatemala lose 1-2 away to lowly Cuba while Trinidad & Tobago pulled off an upset 2-1 result over the previously impregnable United States. The last round of the group was played on November 19, and Guatemala's demise was confirmed as they lost to the US while Trinidad & Tobago comfortably defeated Cuba.
Those two teams now go into a final group with El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico to decide three qualifiers and one playoff candidate.
Results were hardly better in South America. In the previous two rounds Peru showed signs of shedding basket-case status, but in the latest double header they lost 0-3 away to Bolivia and 0-1 away to Paraguay to sink to dead last and lose any chance of qualifying for South Africa. The real disappointment, however, is Colombia. A 0-0 draw with Brazil at the Maracana might have seemed like an achievement to balance a home loss to Paraguay. But having made some early running, the Colombians have now scored only four measly goals in ten games and are lingering in seventh.
The most notable result was a 1-0 win for Chile over Argentina, which would have been a memorable occasion for the Chileans, but mainly served to consolidate the Southern Cone countries into the five potential qualifying spots.
In Europe, Portugal didn't score a goal in either of their games (incuding a 0-0 draw at home to Albania) and are in an uncomfortable equal third position going into the next round of matches. It's all been pretty smooth so far for Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Fabio Capello's rejuvenated England, all of whom are at least three points clear at the top of their groups. The other big team to be in some trouble is France, in a three-way tie for third, five points behind Serbia and Lithuania.
It's still pretty early days in Africa, with 20 teams for the final qualifying groups only just decided. In Asia, however, it's looking good for previous qualifiers Australia, Japan, Iran and South Korea. If those four emerging powers stay in their current positions, the fifth Asian team to meet New Zealand in a playoff looks like being Qatar, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea.
It will make for an interesting situation. New Zealand's government derailed the national football team's home tie against Fiji by refusing a visa to the reserve goalkeeper because he was related to a member of the sanctioned military administration. Given that at least two of our likely playoff opponents hail from objectionable totalitarian dictatorships (assuming we exclude relatively 'liberal' Qatar), will we also be scrutinising the team members for connections with those in positions of political privilege in their home country?