10 October 2005

World Cup Qualifying Update

A full weekend of games, and we're looking at a much-clarified picture. No surprise, things are shaping up rapidly. After the weekend, we have 14 more nations booking their trips to Germany.

The matches are done and we now now who will represenet Africa: Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Angola, and Tunisia. This is a real turnover, as only Tunisia has previous World Cup experience. Traditional powers such as Cameroon and Nigeria will be watching from home. This should add a bit of spice to Germany 2006. Will one of these teams become media darlings?

Thanks to a 3-0 win over the US, Costa Rica has now qualified, joining United States and Mexico. This will be Costa Rica's third trip to the finals.

Two teams are still fighting for fourth place, and the playoff against the fifth Asian team: Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala. T&T has the lead on 10 points, with Guatemala behind at 8. But Guatemala has the easier match, at home to Costa Rica, while Trinidad & Tobago must travel to Azteca to play Mexico. Guatemala has the advantage in a tie, due to a 5-1 beating at home. Guatemala kicks off first, so it should be an entertaining evening.

As I've mentioned before, four teams are already qualified from Asia: Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and South Korea. Two teams are still fighting for fifth: Uzbekistan and Bahrain. The first leg was a 1-1 draw, in Uzbekistan. So everything will hinge on Wednesday's match in Bahrain.

South America (and Oceania)
Four teams are now in: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Ecuador. Fifth place brings a playoff with Australia (the Oceania winner). Three teams are fighting for that place: Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Uruguay have a one-point advantage and a home match against Argentina. Colombia visit Paraguay, while Chile are home to Ecuador. Anything could happen here.

and finally:

The picture is much clearer now. Seven teams are assured of qualification:
- Germany
- Ukraine
- Croatia
- England
- Italy
- Netherlands
- Poland
- Portugal

Of course, that leaves seven spots still up for grabs. The complexities are still immense.

Group One: The Netherlands are qualified, while Romania and the Czech Republic are still fighting for second. Romania have a one-point lead but no more games. The Czechs are traveling to Finland. Depending on what happens in Group Eight, the second-place team may qualify automatically.

Group Two: Ukraine is in. The playoff spot is currently held by Turkey with a one-point lead over Denmark and two points over Greece. Turkey travel to Albania; Denmark visit Kazakhstan, and Greece host Georgia. I would expect to see Turkey go through to the playoffs.

Group Three: Portugal are in. The playoff spot will be determined by a head-to-head match between Slovakia and Russia (Slovakia hosts). The two teams are even on 22 points, with a draw between the two. A tie would see Slovakia through, due to goal differential within the group.

Group Four (AKA "the group nobody wants to win"): Israel lead on 18 points, but have no more matches. Switzerland and France have 17 points, with a head-to-head lead for the Swiss. And Ireland are close behind on 16 points. France is home to Cyprus, while Switzerland must travel to Ireland.

Group Five: Italy are qualified. In the fight for the playoff spot, Norway have a three-point lead over Slovenia. However, Slovenia have the home match against Scotland, while Norway travel to Belarus.

Group Six: Poland and England are one-two. They play each other for first place, but the second-place team will still have enough points to avoid playoffs.

Group Seven: Another tight group. Serbia and Montenegro have 18 points. Spain have 17. Bosnia-Herzegovina have 16. Serbia host Bosnia; I can only imagine that the match will be played in near-riot conditions. Meanwhile, Spain will travel to San Marino.

Group Eight: Croatia and Sweden are fighting for first place; with Croatia two points in front. Croatia has enough points to progress automatically, even if they finish second, while Sweden would face a playoff. Croatia travel to Hungary, while Sweden host Iceland.

So... that's the picture. Wednesday should be very interesting. Probably your best bet for tracking the games is on Soccernet, despite their poor interface. You might also check the BBC Scores. I haven't yet used the Yahoo scoreboard, but in general they have the best World Cup site. (Only fitting, as it's the official site of FIFA.) And finally, I recommend Wikipedia as the best source for historical background on teams and previous World Cups.

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