Wednesday, 14 October 2009

World Cup Update Part 2: The rest of the world

Somewhat later than planned (for which we apologise), here's a round-up of last weekend's action from the World Cup qualifiers outside of Europe.

South America
With Brazil and Paraguay already in situ for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals, it was Chile who were the next to take their chance by beating Colombia 4-2 in Medellin. Despite providing some tough opposition for most of the match, the Colombians were unable to fight back from Chile's brace of goals in the 71st and 78th minute from Jorge Valdivia and Fabian Orellana.

The result is a fitting cap on an excellent campaign for Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentinean coach of Chile who has seen his side pick up nine wins and three draws from their seventeen matches. Chile make their return to the World Cup having last competed in 1998 and will relish their billing as third-best team in South America ahead of Argentina who trail the Chileans by five points going into today's matches.

Speaking of Argentina, their faltering stumble gets ever worse having only just scraped a 2-1 win at home to Peru, easily the worst team so far in this qualifying campaign.

Diego Maradona's team selection raised a few eyebrows ahead of the match, Carlos Tevez and Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero being two players to start from the bench. Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid, however, was given his first cap and duly put Argentina in front three minutes into the second half and the score stayed at 1-0 until one minute from time.

Amid a torrential downpour, an increasingly nervy Argentina capitulated at the death when Hernan Rengifo scored a dramatic equaliser for Peru but remarkably this was not to be the final notable event of the match. Three minutes into injury time, Martin Palermo (making his first appearance for Argentina in ten years) side-footed in to put Argentina 2-1 up to seal the win… or so it seemed. Straight from the restart, Rainer Torres tried a shot from long distance which hit the Argentinean crossbar.

That, however, really was the last of the action in a remarkable match which just about keeps Argentina's hopes of qualifying alive. All now rests on their final match against bitter rivals Uruguay today, and the match is given all the more significance because Uruguay can also still qualify - as long as they beat Argentina.

Uruguay are just a point behind their opponents having beaten Ecuador 2-1 in Quito - a vital result for Oscar Tabarez and his team - but one which doesn't quite snuff out Ecaudor's chances of qualifying either. Put simply, if Uruguay beat Argentina by a reasonable margin and Ecuador beat Chile in the same fashion in Asuncion, Ecuador will gain the play-off spot while Argentina face the prospect of watching the 2010 World Cup from the comfort of their own homes. It's a long shot, but it could happen.

Elsewhere, Brazil finally lost their unbeaten run after a 2-1 defeat against Bolivia. As mentioned on the Sound of Football podcast this week, Bolivia have remarkably notched up victories against Argentina, Paraguay and now Brazil yet find themselves next to bottom in the qualifying table. As Graham rightly said, however, they, along with a predictable victory over bottom club Peru, were the only wins they've picked up, hence their current position.

Paraguay, meanwhile, won 2-1 away to Venezuela to draw level on points with Brazil but stay second in the table ahead of the final round of games which looks like this:

Peru v Bolivia (21:00 BST)
Brazil v Venezuela (23:00 BST)
Chile v Ecuador (23:00 BST)
Uruguay v Argentina (23:00 BST)
Paraguay v Colombia (01:00 Thursday BST)

Full results and table available here.

North and Central America
The USA and Mexico have claimed their places in South Africa next year with wins against Honduras and El Salvador respectively. The USA's 3-2 win was as much about the failing of Honduras to take their chances as it was about American determination to succeed. Honduras took the lead after 47 minutes through Julio de Leon but Conor Casey, chosen in preference to Jozy Altidore, equalised three minutes later.

Casey added a second in the 66th minute to put the Americans 2-1 up before Landon Donovan scored from a free kick five minutes later. De Leon, however, grabbed his and Honduras' second twelve minutes from the end and were it not for Carlos Pavon's penalty clearing the crossbar late on, they could have had a dramatic equaliser, but it was not to be. Bob Bradley's men held on to reach their sixth successive Finals - a wonderful achievement given the tough nature of the qualifying group.

Mexico, meanwhile, looked a different animal altogether from their Sven-era malaise as they beat El Salvador 4-1 at the Azteca. The win draws to an end El Salvador's hopes of getting to South Africa while Mexico claim second spot in the group, a point behind the US.

Costa Rica are almost there. They're currently third after an easy 4-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago but still need to beat the Americans in their final game to be assured of the last automatic place. A draw won't be enough if Honduras win away in El Salvador because of goal difference and could allow the Hondurans to go through instead.

Full results and table available here.

Joining Ghana in the Finals in 2010 will be the Ivory Coast who, thanks to a goal from Didier Drogba against Malawi, finish as winners of Group E. The match ended 1-1 and means Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast's main challengers in the group, cannot catch Drogba and Co. ahead of the last round of games next month.

Algeria are within touching distance of a place at the World Cup. Their 3-1 win over Rwanda in Group C leaves them three points ahead of African champions Egypt at the top going into the crucial decider between the two challengers in Egypt later today. A 2-0 win for Egypt over Algeria will mean both teams finish level on points and goal difference in the group, thereby leading to FIFA's officials checking the head-to-head record between the sides.

Algeria have already beaten Egypt 3-1 so far in the competition, therefore Egypt not only need to beat Algeria by two clear goals but also need to score at least three themselves to avoid any protracted arrangements for separating the two sides.

Elsewhere, Cameroon lead by a single point at the top of Group A after they beat Togo 3-0. Newcastle United's Geremi was on hand with the first of their goals to end any hopes of Emmanuel Adebayor getting to South Africa, but Cameroon must first beat bottom-placed Morocco if they're to get there themselves at the expense of Gabon. Form suggests this is very likely to take place.

Finally to Group B where Tunisia have almost wrapped up their campaign after a 1-0 win over Kenya at the weekend. With Nigeria beating Mozambique by the same scoreline, Tunisia must do likewise next month to keep Nigeria out of a second successive World Cup.

Full results and tables available here.

Asia / Oceania Play-Off
The first leg of the decider between Bahrain and New Zealand ended 0-0 and was a tentative affair, Bahrain once again playing cautiously and defensively while the All Whites used their prerogative as the away side to break on the counter-attack - both to little real effect.

There wasn't much to call between the two teams, so with the second leg switching to New Zealand in a month's time one can only assume the advantage lies with Bahrain thanks to the away goals rule. There's also the Arab team's ability to pull a result out of the bag under pressure as they showed in their recent Asia play-off against Saudi Arabia, so expect more fireworks of the same kind next month.

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