Once again, not great news for the teams I follow. Peru lost 1-3 at home to arch-rivals Chile and sink deeper into the bottom of the table. Colombia beat second-bottom Bolivia 2-0, but with Uruguay's 2-0 win over leaders Paraguay, the Southern Cone further strengthened its hold on the qualifying positions.
In Europe, Portugal had another 0-0 draw, this time at home to Sweden, apparently squandering numerous chances and confirming once again that you never make it without a decent striker. They're four points behind Hungary and leaders Denmark (who have a game in hand), and only one point ahead of Sweden, also with a game in hand. It's really not looking good for the Portuguese.
On a more positive note, Spain and the Netherlands are in pretty impregnable positions in their groups, although the way the Dutch play nowadays I can't really call myself a supporter any more. Despite a number of talented players, the current outfitis nothing like the attractive sides of 1998 and 2000, let alone that of 1974. Scotland still lost 0-3 to them, and will need to battle it out with Iceland and Norway for a playoff spot. Italy's 2-0 win over Montenegro put them clear at the top, with Ireland being held to 1-1 against Bulgaria. Israel has slipped to third, one point behind Greece and Switzerland, but that group is still wide open.
Most interesting is probably group 3, where Northern Ireland beat Poland 3-2 to go top. Five teams (Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia) are separated by just three points, and with two of them never having qualified before, there is lots to play for.
What could compensate for most of my favoured teams facing elimination? The United States being defeated by El Salvador would be a heart warming story. And that looked like being on the cards, when the Central American team went 2-0 up after 72 minutes. But the US fought back, Germany-like, to score in the 77th and 88th minutes to draw 2-2.
31 March--1 April
A bad start, with Colombia being defeated 2-0 in Venezuela in the earliest game of the round. Yes, that's right. A loss to the baseball-playing 'vinotintos'. It looks like Colombia's hopes of a qualifying spot are also slipping away.