March 31-- April 1 continued
The stunning result of the round was Bolivia's 6-1 win over Argentina in La Paz. It's a tough place to play: at 3,600 metres, walking a couple of blocks is enough to make you out of breath; I've no idea what playing football at that altitude is like. Yet, at the same venue Chile won and Colombia and Uruguay drew. Questions have to be asked about Argentina's tactics and commitment. I'm not sure about Diego Maradona as coach. Almost without exception, male Argentinians hero-worship him; I wonder whether he manages to have a balanced professional relationship with his players. Of course, a great player does not necessarily make a savvy manager.
The end result of the latest two rounds is that, with Paraguay only picking up one of four possible points, qualifying spots are still wide open with six games left. Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia are only three to five points off fifth place, and an Andean team could yet make it to South Africa. Not Peru, though -- they were trounced again, this time 3-0 by Brazil, and are now last by five points.
In the North American zone, the US beat Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica dampened El Salvador's hopes with a 1-0 home win, and Honduras upset Mexico 3-1. The US and Costa Rica are looking good, but all teams still have a chance to qualify.
In Europe, both Denmark and Hungary won soundly, leaving Portugal six points back in third spot and facing an uphill struggle just to get a playoff spot. Spain completed home and away wins over nearest rivals Turkey to all but seal their spot at the World Cup, while Holland has maximum points are six games as well and has effectively qualified. England maintained a perfect record by beating the Ukraine 2-1, while Germany and Italy are both comfortable at the top of their groups, though Italy was held 1-1 at home to Ireland after playing most of the game with ten men.
Scotland beat Iceland 2-1 to retain second spot in Holland's group, while Israel lost 1-2 away to Greece to slip to third behind Greece and Switzerland. Home and away wins over Lithuania have resurrected France's position, now just two points behind leaders Serbia, whom they have already beaten. But the fairy story continued to be Northern Ireland, who beat Slovenia 1-0 to hold top spot in the most intriguing group. The dark horses there are Slovakia, who are only a point behind with two games in hand.
Hmm, and I suppose I should mention Australia, who with their 2-0 home win in Uzbekistan, have one foot in Capetown. The other Asian group is more interesting, with South Korea winning 1-0 over their estranged North Korean neighbours to hold top spot. In the ongoing race to be New Zealand's playoff opponent, it's now looking like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, but Iran, Uzbekistan, and Qatar are still in the hunt. The odds are on the All Whites going somewhere hot and sandy.