Road to South Africa

The World Cup picture got clearer Saturday on a thrilling day of qualifiers that left winners celebrating in the streets from Copenhagen to Santiago, while the heartbreak of missing out on South Africa will linger for a long time for some. Congratulations to Chile, Mexico, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast and the United States, who joined the other finalists, but also to tiny Bosnia who clinched a play-off spot and a chance to qualify for the tournament.

Slovenia and Slovakia are also either in or in the European play-off mix. Greece, Portugal, France, Ukraine, Switzerland, Russia and Ireland appear to complete the play-off picture in Europe. However, Sweden, Czech Republic and Croatia will not be featured in South Africa, unless Malta, San Marino and Andorra produce miracles. Ukraine’s win over England knocked Croatia out, while Denmark’s 1-0 win against the run-of-play basically eliminated Scandinavian rivals Sweden, who had two goals disallowed. Bitter loss for the Swedes who controlled much of the game. On the other side it was the sweetest possible way in for the Danes on Coach Morten Olsen’s 100th match in charge. No Ibra at the World Cup.

Cameroon remains on track to join Ivory Coast and Ghana in South Africa, while Nigeria maintained a slim hope alive dramatically with a goal deep into injury time against Mozambique. Tunisia, however, maintained control over its own fate and needs only a tie in Mozambique to be in.

Dramatic finale is set in group C of the African region when Egypt will host North African rivals Algeria on November 14 in Cairo. A 2-0 win by Egypt would leave the teams on identical points, GF and GA, presumably requiring a play-off.

In Asia Japan, Australia and the two Koreas have already qualified, while Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will compete in a two legged play-off for the right to play Oceania winners New Zeeland for a World Cup berth.

Bravo Mexico and bravo to the US national team on another successful qualification campaign, though it must be noted that chance and Honduran misfortune played a great part in the outcome. Amidst political chaos, Hondurans put everything aside for a glorious chance to qualify for the World Cup automatically, at home. It wasn’t meant to be. Honduras’ loss, coupled with Costa Rica’s win, means that everything will be decided on Wednesday. Costa Rica can claim the last automatic berth with a win away to the USA. A Costa Rica draw or loss, allows Honduras to seal a place in South Africa with a win in El Salvador. The team that misses out on automatic qualification and finishes fourth will face a play-off against the fifth-placed team in South America – Argentina, Ecuador or Uruguay – and will likely not get to South Africa.

Tremendous drama in South America, with everything to be decided on Wednesday. Chile sealed its spot to the exhilaration of the Chilean nation, but one of the three remaining contenders will be devastated on Wednesday to have missed out on the World Cup. Not to be missed: Uruguay – Argentina in Montevideo, Chile – Ecuador in Santiago, Wednesday, October 14, 2009.