Sunday, October 18, 2009

Road to South Africa: Almost Done

In the end, Argentina qualified for the World Cup with a 1-0 away win over a hapless Uruguay. I didn't see this, but apparently Diego Maradona's triumphant, vulgar outburst at the post-match press conference was something to behold. It's worth reading Marcela Mora y Araujo's piece in the Guardian, and the following comments section, for an analysis of this, certainly for those who share an interest in both football and Latin American culture. The use of violent sexual imagery to express competitive success reminded me of my recent reading of Mary Weismantel's analysis of Latin American race and gender relations.

There would have been great rejoicing in Honduras, who qualified for the first time since 1982. That was a bit tough on Costa Rica, who were at one stage 2-0 ahead of the already-qualified United States, only for the Americans to equalise in the 95th minute and send Honduras through on goal difference. Costa Rica will now go into a playoff against Uruguay.

Ecuador's 0-1 away loss to Chile meant that no Andean country now has a chance to qualify. There were consolation wins for Colombia, 2-0 away to Paraguay, which pushed them past Venezuela into 7th, and Peru, whose 1-0 result at home over Bolivia was still not enough to divest themselves of the wooden spoon after Bolivia's 2-1 home result against Brazil in the previous round.

In Europe, Switzerland got the point they needed against Israel to consign Greece to the playoffs, while Slovakia's 1-0 away win in Poland was enough to send them through to a first-ever World Cup as an independent nation. I imagine that would have been greeted with great celebrations, since qualification also came at the expense of more-fancied neighbours the Czech Republic. Portugal also managed to confirm their playoff spot with a 4-0 win over Malta.

The playoffs of the second-placed European teams will be on November 14 and 18, and these will line up France, Portugal, Russia and Greece on one half of the draw against Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Ireland and Ukraine on the other. Now, much as I would prefer to see the likes of Portugal and Russia go through, I wonder whether it's really fair to have seedings for these playoff matches. After all, every team involved has already been second-best in its group over the course of 12 matches, so surely at that point seeding is irrelevant and every one starts square? Things are tough enough for small countries as it is, and FIFA's system makes it harder still.

The same dates inNovember will be when all the remaining places are decided. The final matches in Africa see Cameroon, Algeria, and Tunisia aim to confirm their advantage over Gabon, Egypt and Nigeria respectively. It would be a pity not to see the dangerous Nigerians at the World Cup, and Egypt looked capable of causing an upset at the Confederations Cup this year, but I guess that shows how tough the African qualifying groups are.

November 14 is also the crucial date for the culmination of New Zealand's unlikely qualifying campaign, still alive after the 0-0 draw in Bahrain. The return leg will take place here in Wellington, in front of what is expected to be a crowd of around 35,000 people. More on that in another post.

List of qualified teams so far

South America: Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina
North America: United States, Mexico, Honduras
Asia: Australia, South Korea, Japan, North Korea
Africa: Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, South Africa (hosts)
Europe: Netherlands, Spain, England, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia

A correction to my last post. Chile's 4-2 away win over Colombia that sealed their qualification was in fact played in Medellin, not in Bogotá.

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