Thursday, 15 October 2009

World Cup Update: October 14th 2009

For Europe, South America and the CONCACAF region, yesterday saw the last chance for teams to grab an automatic qualifying place for the 2010 World Cup. It was also the last chance for some teams to claim a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card - or a play-off place, as it's known in football circles.

Here's our round-up of all the important news from each of those regions…

South America
Almost without exception, the one key qualifier that everyone ranked above any other yesterday was between Uruguay and Argentina. The last time Argentina failed to qualify for the World Cup was 1970, but there was a very real chance that their luck would run against their bitter rivals from across the River Plate.

A lot was resting on the match - Uruguay needed to win as well to secure their spot in the Finals next year - but the result was too close to call. When the match got underway it was Uruguay, playing in front of a sizeable and partisan home crowd, that played out the first half more convincingly. Shots from Diego Forlan and Alvaro Pereira added to the tension in the Argentinean defence as Gabriel Heinze earned a booking for a rash tackle on Maxi Pereira.

Into the second half and with the game still goalless, the away team looked a little more purposeful but there was still little to choose between the two sides when Uruguay had Martin Caceres sent off for a second bookable offence. From the ensuing free kick, Juan Sebastian Veron ended up firing in a shot which pinballed around the area before falling into the path of Mario Bolatti who put the ball in the back of the net.

With six minutes left on the clock, Argentina had picked up the decisive goal which earned them the three points they needed to claim fourth spot in the group. It means Diego Maradona will see his team play in South Africa next year, although many are already doubting whether he will be in charge when that happens.

Uruguay, meanwhile enter yet another inter-continental World Cup play-off, this time against Costa Rica (of which more later). They were able to claim fifth place in the South America table after the only other challengers, Ecuador, lost 1-0 away to Chile.

Elsewhere, Peru managed to claim only their third win in 18 matches when they beat Bolivia 1-0 while Colombia picked up a consolation 2-0 victory over Paraguay thanks to goals from Gustavo Ramos and Hugo Rodallega. Brazil played out a goalless draw against Venezuela but had Sao Paulo defender Miranda sent off after 56 minutes for elbowing Giancarlo Maldonaldo.

Full results and standings here.

North and Central America
As mentioned previously, it'll be Costa Rica that go into a play-off with Uruguay after they could only draw 2-2 with the United States. As we reported yesterday, Costa Rica had to win their match to snuff out any chance of Honduras grabbing the vital third spot in the table, but a 94th minute goal from Jonathan Bornstein pulled the plug on that happening.

The Ticos had been 2-0 up in the game against the already-qualified US thanks to a brace from Byran Ruiz in the first half, but the Americans pulled one back in the 72nd minute through Michael Bradley.

An eventful second half saw the US lose the services of Oguchi Onyewu with a knee injury that will keep him out of the side for several months. With seven minutes left on the clock, Bob Bradley's side were down to ten men having already used their full complement of subs, but remarkably in the last seconds of injury time Chivas USA midfielder Bornstein snuck into the area and headed in for 2-2.

That result denies Costa Rica an automatic qualification place in their third successive Finals and they must now face Uruguay over two legs on November 14th and 18th (the first leg taking place in Saprissa).

And they would have been off to South Africa already had it not been for Honduras who got the win they needed thanks to a 63rd minute goal by Carlos Pavon against El Salvador. It means Honduras finish third on goal difference ahead of Costa Rica to seal their first appearance at a World Cup since 1982. Well done to them.

In a largely inconsequential match to complete the action in North and Central America, Mexico drew 2-2 away to Trinidad & Tobago to finish as runners-up to the USA.

Full results and standings here.

Finally to Europe (and it's probably the first time we've said that in all the time we've been doing World Cup round-ups) where the final two automatic qualifiers were identified last night.

One of them was Switzerland who have led Group 2 almost from start to finish largely beyond our journalistic gaze as Group 2 has been arguably the least interesting of all the nine in the entire continent. That said, they finished top after a 0-0 draw at home to Israel while the runner-up spot went to Greece who finished one point adrift of the Swiss despite beating Luxembourg 2-1.

The other automatic qualifier on the night was Slovakia who finished two points clear of Slovenia in Group 3. The Slovakians claimed their victory thanks to an own goal in the third minute of their match in Poland. In blizzard conditions, Seweryn Gancarczyk deflected the ball into his own net early on to leave the visitors with the task of defending their lead for the remaining 87 minutes.

The fact that they did so efficiently meant Slovenia had to settle for the play-off spot despite beating San Marino 3-0. They'll go into the hat along with Portugal from Group 1 who finally completed a shaky campaign with a 4-0 win over Malta and Ukraine from Group 6, 6-0 winners in Andorra last night.

Full results and standings here.

So with all of the above taken into account along with the remaining play-offs and qualifiers to come in Africa next month, here's who's qualified for World Cup 2010 and who still has work to do:

Qualified: Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy and the Netherlands.
Play-offs: Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, France and the Republic of Ireland.

The European play-offs will take place over two legs on November 14th and 18th and the winners of the four ties will progress to South Africa. The draw for the European play-offs takes place on Monday 19th October 2009.

South America
Qualified: Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina.
Play-off *: Uruguay

North and Central America
Qualified: USA, Mexico and Honduras
Play-off *: Costa Rica

Qualified: North Korea, South Korea, Australia and Japan.
Play-off **: Bahrain

Qualified: Ghana and Ivory Coast
Could yet qualify: Cameroon or Gabon, Tunisia or Nigeria and Algeria or Egypt

Play-off **: New Zealand

More news on the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition next week...

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