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world cup qualifying

The race for South Africa

October 8, 2009
By Dale Johnson


Can qualify automatically: Denmark, Sweden, Portugal/Hungary
Can reach play-off: Denmark, Sweden, Portugal or Hungary
Saturday: Denmark v Sweden, Portugal v Hungary
Wednesday: Sweden v Albania, Denmark v Hungary, Portugal v Malta

Will Cristiano Ronaldo miss out on the finals?
GettyImages / OlivierMorinWill Cristiano Ronaldo miss out on the finals?

Saturday is the pivotal day in Group One, with the top four playing each other. Regardless of the result in Denmark, Portugal or Hungary will be out of the running for an automatic spot as they play each other and a draw at the Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa would leave both all but out of the tournament; otherwise the losing team will be eliminated. This is because Sweden are at home to Albania in the last round and will win that game.

• Jon Carter: There's still a lot to play for

Denmark will qualify with a win at home to Sweden (LIVE ON ESPN UK at 1900 BST), but can also book their place with two home draws. Hungary have completely lost their form after being well placed so the Danes will be confident.

Sweden's seemingly assured three-point haul against Albania gives them a degree of breathing space for the play-off spot. But defeat in Denmark's Parken Stadion, and victory for Portugal over Hungary, will leave Portugal the seemingly simple task of beating Malta to make the play-offs.

Should Portugal beat Hungary and Sweden draw they go into Wednesday's crucial matches level on points with near identical goal difference. Then it would be a simple shootout for the biggest margin of victory. If that does happen, a home defeat for Denmark against Hungary could amazingly see Sweden or Portugal win the group with a large victory - and Denmark out of it all together in third on goal difference.

Can qualify automatically: Switzerland, Greece, Latvia or Israel
Can reach play-off: Switzerland, Greece, Latvia or Israel
Saturday: Luxembourg v Switzerland, Israel v Moldova, Greece v Latvia
Wednesday: Latvia v Moldova, Switzerland v Israel, Greece v Luxembourg

Switzerland are hot favourites to win the group as they are away to Luxembourg on Saturday, though remarkably the minnows' only victory in qualifying actually came on Swiss soil. It seems unthinkable that Luxembourg could produce another shock, even though they will be at home at the Josy Barthel Stadium. Victory would leave the Swiss needing just a point against Israel.

The meeting between Greece and Latvia is the crucial game with both nations level on points and separated by just one goal. A win for either side at the Karaiskakis Stadium will all but guarantee a play-off place, with favourable fixtures to follow on Wednesday. A draw would hand qualification to Switzerland and both Greece and Latvia would then battle it out to win by the biggest margin on the final day.

Israel have a mathematical chance of winning the group if Switzerland do not beat Luxembourg. They would then overtake Switzerland with a win over them on the last day. But Israel would need Greece and Latvia to pick up no more than four points from their final two games. Victory for either on Saturday would make it extremely likely one team would reach 20 points thus edging out Israel.

If Greece draw with Latvia and Switzerland draw with Luxembourg, it is still possible all four could finish on 18 points and it would go down to goal difference. That would put Israel in a stronger position but Greece and Latvia would have the chance to boost their goal difference. Switzerland would likely finished fourth, amazingly.

For Israel to make the play-offs they will surely have to win both games and hope Greece and Latvia draw. They would then need both Greece and Latvia to slip up on Wednesday or win by a small margin.

Can qualify automatically: Slovakia, Slovenia
Can reach play-off: Slovakia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Poland
Saturday: Czech Republic v Poland, Slovakia v Slovenia
Wednesday: Czech Republic v Northern Ireland, Poland v Slovakia, San Marino v Slovenia

Stanislav Sestak
GettyImages / PictureSlovakia's Stanislav Sestak has scored six goals as the finals come into full view

Without doubt this is group has produced the biggest surprise, with both the Czech Republic and Poland unable to qualify automatically. Slovakia have almost made it to their first ever finals tournament and entertain Slovenia, the only team who can stop them, at home on Saturday. A point will book their place in South Africa. Slovenia must win that game before they have a "gimme" match against San Marino. Considering they are likely to score a few goals against San Marino they would almost certainly win the group if Slovakia did not win in Poland.

The play-offs are a little more complicated, though. With Northern Ireland having just one game left, and Slovenia still to play San Marino, they are effectively out of the running already.

With the San Marino-Slovenia match surely bringing an away victory, both the Czechs and the Poles are relying on a favour from Slovakia. If Slovenia do not lose to Slovakia it is odds-on that the Slovenians will finish second.

Even so, with the Czechs and the Poles playing each other on Saturday only one will have a realistic chance of making the play-offs on Wednesday. If the Czech Republic and Poland draw then it effectively means Slovenia will be guaranteed the play-off place due to their final fixture.

If Poland win, they need Slovenia to lose in Slovakia and Poland must then beat Slovakia by a greater margin than Slovenia beat San Marino. It seems extremely unlikely. If the Czechs win, their fate will be in their own hands against Northern Ireland if Slovenia lose to Slovakia. If Slovenia draw with Slovakia, then the Czechs must defeat Northern Ireland by a greater margin than Slovenia beat San Marino.

Can qualify automatically: Germany, Russia
Can reach play-off: Germany, Russia
Saturday: Finland v Wales, Russia v Germany, Liechtenstein v Azerbaijan
Wednesday: Azerbaijan v Russia, Germany v Finland, Liechtenstein v Wales

The first straight-forward group, with Russia and Germany playing each other at the Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday (LIVE ON ESPN UK at 1600 BST). If Germany win they will be through, as they will be with a draw in Russia and a home win over Finland.

If Russia win they will then only have to beat Azerbaijan to top the group. They could also draw in that final game if Germany failed to win at home to Finland. If Russia draw with Germany they have to hope for a slip-up by the Germans at the Fubball Arena Munchen on Wednesday to sneak in.

Qualified: Spain
Can reach play-off: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey
Saturday: Estonia v Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia v Spain, Belgium v Turkey
Wednesday: Turkey v Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina v Spain, Estonia v Belgium

Just a two-way battle for a play-off spot, with Bosnia four points ahead of Turkey. Bosnia travel to Estonia on Saturday, who they beat 7-0 earlier in qualifying, so it seems certain Bosnia will win that game to make the play-offs. And with 100% Spain to come on Wednesday they will want to finish the job.

Goal difference means Turkey must win both of their remaining games and hope Bosnia pick up no more than one point.

Qualified: England
Can reach play-off: Croatia, Ukraine
Saturday: Belarus v Kazakhstan, Ukraine v England
Wednesday: Kazakhstan v Croatia, Andorra v Ukraine, England v Belarus

Again, just second place to play for with Saturday's clash between Ukraine and England the key. Croatia and Ukraine are certain to win their other games in the group, which basically means Ukraine must beat England, ending their perfect record, to stand any hope of making it through. And if they do beat Fabio Capello's men, the play-offs appear to be in the bag.

Can qualify automatically: Serbia, France
Can reach play-off: Serbia, France, Austria, Lithuania, Romania
Saturday: Serbia v Romania, Austria v Lithuania, France v Faroe Islands
Wednesday: Romania v Faroe Islands, France v Austria, Lithuania v Serbia

Raymond Domenech
GettyImages / BorisHorvatDomenech's France should be in a play-off

Qualification is almost booked for Serbia. They should only need two points to hold off France on goal difference. Even if they fail to win at home to a disappointing Romania on Saturday they have another chance against Lithuania, who they beat 3-0 at the Stadion Crvena Zvezda a year ago. They also won away to Romania in March which suggests they should have enough.

France must win both of their games and hope Serbia can only muster a point. Austria's slim hopes of qualification rely on them winning at home to Lithuania on Saturday with France getting no more than a point at home to Faroe Islands. Austria would then have to win at the Stade de France on Wednesday. Even Raymond Domenech could not mess things up that much, surely. Lithuania and Romania have pure mathematical hopes which have no chance of coming to fruition.

Can qualify automatically: Italy, Ireland
Can reach play-off: Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria
Saturday: Cyprus v Bulgaria, Montenegro v Georgia, Ireland v Italy
Wednesday: Italy v Cyprus, Bulgaria v Georgia, Ireland v Montenegro

Italy are very much in control. Ireland would have to win at home to the group leaders on Saturday and beat Montenegro midweek, while hoping the Italians fail to win at home to Cyprus. It seems unlikely, and Italy will surely go through automatically. A point in Ireland will guarantee it.

Bulgaria's hopes of a play-off berth are slim due to Ireland's date with Montenegro. They must beat Cyprus and Georgia and hope Ireland only get one point from their final two matches. That said, Ireland did draw 0-0 with Montenegro a year ago so if the Irish lose to Italy maybe there is a glimmer of hope.

Qualified: Netherlands
Can reach play-off: Norway

Norway's chances of making the play-offs rely on a bizarre combination of results which would make them one of the eight best second-placed teams. They will be watching events closely on Saturday to see if they are still in the running on the final day.

• Jon Carter: There's still a lot to play for

Qualified: Brazil, Paraguay
Can qualify automatically: Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia
Can reach play-off: Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia
Saturday: Ecuador v Uruguay, Argentina v Peru, Colombia v Chile, Venezuela v Paraguay
Sunday: Bolivia v Brazil
Wednesday: Peru v Bolivia, Brazil v Venezuela, Paraguay v Colombia, Chile v Ecuador, Uruguay v Argentina

Diego Maradona: Work to do
GettyImages / DanielGarciaDiego Maradona: Work to do

Qualifying in South America has been very, very close with six nations in with a chance for the final two automatic places plus the one play-off position, though sense suggests only four of those countries have a realistic chance.

Chile have a five-point cushion, and while they face six-pointers against others in with a chance of qualifying, the fact that many teams face each other should ensure they qualify for the finals even if they were to lose both matches.

Ecuador must beat Uruguay at home on Saturday to keep qualification in their own hands. Should they win that game then they will meet Chile on the final day. In this case, there is the chance that the loser of that match could be overtaken by Argentina for an automatic place.

Argentina know their task is simple: they must win both of their remaining matches and hope the results involving Chile or Ecuador go their way. In their favour they entertain bottom-of-the-table Peru on Saturday. If they lose that they can just about kiss goodbye to South Africa. In fact, anything less than a win could see them out of the top five with a game to go. They then face a real test away to Uruguay, though the full significance of that game will depend on Saturday's results.

Venezuela have fixtures which are difficult to read as they play the two nations which have qualified and that includes a trip to Brazil. But with qualification booked it may be that Paraguay and Brazil do not play full-strength sides. Even so, victory in both matches, which is what they would need, seems unlikely.

Colombia have it all to do, three points off the pace for an automatic spot. They must beat both Chile and Paraguay which again seems unlikely.


Can qualify: Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, Morocco
Saturday: Cameroon v Togo, Gabon v Morocco
November 14: Morocco v Cameroon, Togo v Gabon

In a very strong group, it is surprise package Gabon which have made it even closer by winning in Morocco and at home to Togo. It means anyone can still make it to the finals. The top two play the bottom two in both rounds.

Cameroon are in pole position and will qualify at the weekend should they beat Togo and Gabon lose at home to Morocco. If they do not win then it will definitely go down to the last day.

Gabon are relying on others to do them a favour after losing to Cameroon last month, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they can win both their remaining games and Cameroon fail to win in Morocco.

Togo must finally find some form and win in Cameroon and even then a draw against Gabon would surely not be enough. And for Morocco it's even worse, as they will almost certainly be out should they fail to win in Gabon, due to Togo and Gabon meeting next month.

Can qualify: Tunisia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya
Sunday: Tunisia v Kenya, Nigeria v Mozambique
November 14: Mozambique v Tunisia, Kenya v Nigeria

Another group which remains open, and again the top two play the bottom two in both rounds, though in reality just two nations have a real chance of progressing. Tunisia have a two-point advantage over Nigeria and will expect to win at home to Kenya and at least take a point in Mozambique.

Nigeria, too, will expect to win their final games but after both ties between the top two ended in draws it is their failure to win in Mozambique which separates them. It seems more likely Nigeria will slip-up again than Tunisia.

Mozambique and Kenya have no more than a mathematical chance. Either would need to win both of their remaining fixtures against Nigeria and Tunisia, and then hope neither Nigeria nor Tunisia win their other game. Even a draw for Tunisia would effectively knock Kenya out on goal difference.

Can qualify: Algeria, Egypt, Zambia
Saturday: Zambia v Egypt
Sunday: Algeria v Rwanda
November 14: Egypt v Algeria, Rwanda v Zambia

Algeria won at home to Egypt in June
GettyImages / FayezNureldine.jpgAlgeria won at home to Egypt in June

Zambia's hope is purely mathematical as they would require Algeria to lose both of their remaining qualifiers and even then it would take a big turnaround of goal difference.

Algeria remain in control of the group and will qualify for the finals if they better Egypt's result at the weekend. If not, it will go down to the final day when the two nations meet in the Cairo International Stadium.

Intriguingly, the only point Algeria have dropped was in Rwanda in the first group game in March, otherwise they would have all-but qualified.

Much may depend on the results this weekend which will map out exactly what Egypt will have to do next month, and if they have a specific goal difference to overturn in beating Algeria. The Algerians must go out attacking against a Rwanda side which has not scored a single goal in a bid to boost their goal difference.

Qualified: Ghana
Sunday: Benin v Ghana, Mali v Sudan
November 14: Sudan v Benin, Ghana v Mali

Can qualify: Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso
Saturday: Malawi v Ivory Coast
Sunday: Guinea v Burkina Faso
November 14: Ivory Coast v Guinea, Burkina Faso v Malawi

Ivory Coast were handed a very kind draw and need just one point from their final two matches to qualify. They can even go through even if they lose in Malawi should Burkina Faso fail to beat Guinea. Even if Burkina Faso win their final two games and Ivory Coast lose theirs it will take a goal difference swing of 15. Didier Drogba can book his place on the plane.

Can qualify automatically: United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador
Can reach play-off: United States, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador
Saturday: Mexico v El Salvador, Honduras v United States, Costa Rica v Trinidad & Tobago
Wednesday: El Salvador v Honduras, United States v Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago v Mexico

No nation has been able to take a grip of this region, meaning there is still no confirmed qualifier. The USA sit on top of the group and have a four-point cushion. They will qualify on Saturday with a win in Honduras or if they lose then defeat for Costa Rica at home to Trinidad will see them through. Even a draw for Costa Rica would effectively seal the USA's place due to goal difference. Should the USA lose and Costa Rica win, it would then go to a showdown between the two in the States on Wednesday with a Costa Rica win likely to knock the USA out.

Mexico have recovered from a poor start to have qualification in their own hands. The fixture list means they only need one win to qualify and as they face the bottom two nations in the group it should be a formality. Even two draws is likely to be enough.

Honduras were in a great position but defeat in Mexico last month has made it tricky. Even so, they can qualify if they win at home to the United States. That would put them level on points with the USA and with the USA and Costa Rica playing each other on the final day it would be impossible for both to overtake them into the automatic spots.

If Honduras fail to beat the United States then they will need beat El Salvador on Wednesday coupled with the USA avoiding defeat against Costa Rica.

For Costa Rica they simply must win their home game against Trinidad at the weekend and hope qualification is in their own hands when they travel to the USA. It seems certain they would also have to win in the United States to stand any chance of holding off Honduras due to their inferior goal difference.

El Savador have a mathematical chance. They will have to win both of their remaining matches and hope Honduras lose at home to the USA. That would book at least a play-off place. An automatic place would come if Costa Rica then picked up no more than two points.

• Jon Carter: There's still a lot to play for

Qualified: Australia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea
Play-off: Bahrain, New Zealand
Saturday: Bahrain v New Zealand
November 14: New Zealand v Bahrain

The intercontinental play-off is already known, with New Zealand and Bahrain facing each other over the next month.