Three more places for the World Cup in South Africa were decided over the week-end, with the final six to be determined on November 18. Congratulations to African powerhouses Nigeria and Cameroon, who clinched on the last match day ahead of Tunisia and Gabon, respectively. Congratulations to New Zeeland as well, back in the World Cup for the first time since Espana ’82. In Europe, France is in a commanding position following its win in Dublin, while in Latin America Uruguay simply cannot lose at home to Costa Rica to clinch.
Russia is in serious trouble of not going to the World Cup after losing concentration. Up 2-0 at home, Guus Hiddink’s men not only allowed a late goal but Slovenia finished the match in full attack mode and nearly equalized. This momentum will likely carry over. Slovenia will play with great spirit and confidence, it will be up to the experienced Russian players to step up and lead a unified effort to emerge with a result from Ljubliana. Guus Hiddink will do his part, as always, but he is in a win win situation. Either he takes Russia to the World Cup to try and replicate the success at the Euros, or Russia fails to qualify paving the way for his exit, something that Guus is keen on judging by his stint with Chelsea.
Portugal did not look good at all for long stretches against Bosnia and is extremely lucky to take a one goal lead into Sarajevo. For about the first 10-15 minutes of each half Portugal controlled the tempo, but otherwise Portugal seemed poorly organized, lacking cohesion and imagination. The problems are greater than Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence. Simao and Deco did nothing. There is no bona fide goal scoring center forward. Nani danced around a little, but with little effect. Thiago Motta and Hugo Almeida came on way too late, while Pepe is out of place at the defensive midfield position. Bosnia created only a few chances, but must feel enormously unlucky not to come home with a precious away goal after hitting the post three times, including twice on the same play at the very end. The Bosnians will play with great confidence and the energy of an entire nation behind them. Portugal is in such trouble that CR may renew his pleas to play, whatever shape he is in. A World Cup without C. Ronaldo? Entirely possible now.
Ukraine – Greece turned out to be a dreadful affair on so many levels. Greece tried to get to the World Cup playing with one lone striker and ten other guys running around with little discernable purpose. The stadium half empty. Ukraine was slow and predictable, sometimes clumsy – like the guy who dribbled himself about of bounds, other times agonizingly frustrating – like missing silly chances. Greece did manage to score a legitimate goal that was mistakenly disallowed for offside, but otherwise hardly pushed and played without the urgency needed, considering that they will now have to qualify for the World Cup in frigid Kiev.
If neither Ukraine nor Greece looked worthy of the World Cup, both Egypt and Algeria did. It will be a shame that one will be left out after a thrilling encounter in Cairo, one of the best matches seen in recent memory. With Egypt’s 2-0 last gasp win, the teams will play one sudden death play-off match on Wednesday in Sudan for the right to participate in South Africa. Algerian neighbors Tunisia went into its last qualifier as group leader and in complete control of its fate, but will now have to watch the World Cup on TV after losing in Mozambique. Tunisia’s loss provided the needed opening for Nigeria, who took care of its mission by winning 3-2 a difficult match in Nairobi against Kenya, courtesy of two Oba Oba Martins strikes. Nigerian jubilation, Tunisian gloom.
Cameroon won its final game in Morocco to wrap up its group and join fellow African nations Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria in South Africa.