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Drama Abounds As World Cup Qualifiers Start To Wind Down
MIAMI, FLA.—A wild international week has concluded signifying the end of the group stages for World Cup qualifying around the world. 27 of the 32 teams that will compete at next year’s World Cup are known quantities with the remaining five to be determined through playoffs next month.
(CONCACAF) We start in our own backyard with the CONCACAF region where the biggest news is the ruckus caused by the Soca Warriors of Trinidad and Tobago. With no chance of finishing among the top three and qualifying for the World Cup directly, TnT went into the final week of qualifying needing to win in Panama City and defeating an already qualified Mexico at home four days later to climb past Guatemala into 4th place and a home and away series with the Asian country of Bahrain to be played Novermber 12 and 16 to reach Germany.
The Trinis took care of business in Panama City, thanks to a Stern John 61st minute goal and got help from Mexico as they beat Guatemala 5-2. Now two points up on Guatemala, a win against Mexico in Port of Spain would lock up fourth place no matter what Guatemala did at home against Costa Rica.
It didn’t look good early.
Costa Rica rolled over for their Central American counterparts and were down 3-0 after 30 minutes. Stern John missed a penalty kick and Mexico scored on their one chance of the half to take the lead. However Dwight Yorke lashed a shot off the left post on 41 minutes that Stern John rebounded and scored…or did he? Replays showed that he was a step offside when Yorke shot the ball and the goal should not have counted. The assistant ref missed it and TnT were in business, tied at 1-1. John then completed the job by unleasging a rocket from 19 yards out into the top left hand corner with 21 minutes left in the game. TnT held on and claimed the fourth spot with a unlikely 2-1 win over Mexico.
Stern John of TnT
That win allowed the US to finish at the top of the standings for the first time. They fielded reserve players and split their last two matches, getting blown out 3-0 in a Costa Rican rainstorm, a victory which clinched a 2nd consectutive World Cup for the Ticos and saw Paulo Wanchope become that country’s all time leading scorer before scoring twice in the 2nd half to beat Panama 2-0 in Foxobro 4 nights later. Ricardo Clark of the San Jose Earthquakes made his first appearance for the National Team and Tim Howard got his first significant run between the posts in over a year.
(CAF) Five teams qualified out of Africa. Four of them have never been to the World Cup.
Current African champions Tunisia overcame N. African neighbors Morocco by a single point with a 2-2 draw on the final day & qualify for their second sucessive World Cup.
Ghana, the continent’s best side never to gain the World Cup, finally put that ghost to bed by winning a group that included S. Africa by 5 points. Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah helped drive the Black Stars to a deserved place in Germany.
African power Nigeria will be watching the World Cup in front of the TV just like you and me. An indifferent and inconsistent campaign saw them finish 2nd on goal differential to Angola. It’s the satsifying conclusion for a country that has by civil war and turned to football & basketball to help heal the nation. There will be no divisions as the Angolans cheer on the likes of Fabrice Akwa in their maiden voyage.
Angola will be joined by another first time participant Togo who topped a group that included 2002 quarterfinalists Senegal. Monaco’s Emmanuel Adebayor and Abdel Coubadja of FC Sochaux helped pace the Togolese to a 3-2 win over Congo which capped their suprising qualification.
But the real drama took place in Younde as perennial power Cameroon was gunning for their 5th consecutive World Cup. They had overtaken the Ivory Coast with a 3-2 win in Abdijan a month earlier and now only needed to beat Egypt at home to punch their ticket. The Ivory Coast kept the pressure on by winning their final match on the road, 3-1 over the Sudan. With the game tied 1-1 Cameroon was awarded a penalty deep into injury time. Pierre Wome stepped to the spot with a trip to Germany on his foot but his penalty HIT THE POST! The final whistle sounded and the tie meant that the Ivory Coast, led by Chelea’s Didier Drogba and RC Lens’s Arune Dindane are through to Germany for the first time in their history.
Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast
Germany as hosts automatically qualified for the World Cup and the group joining them in Europe was made a little more clear. France, which had started slowly in qualifying rode the return of Zinedine Zidane and Lillian Thuram and the agressive play of Djbril Cisse to top their group and qualify for the World Cup capping their campaign with a 4-0 win over Cyprus. England qualified at the top of their group as well with a pair of victories over Austria and Poland. England welcomed back Sol Campbell and was buoyed by the play of Ledley King in the midfield. Holland welcomed Edgar Davids back into the flow and has received contributions from Nigel de Jong as they went through their group undefeated to make amends for not making the 2002 World Cup. Look out for Portugal the team of defender Jorge Andrade to make some noise as well.
Italy, Ukraine, Croatia, Poland, Sweden, as well Serbia and Montenegro are the other European teams that have qualified for the World Cup while Spain, the Czech Republic, Norway, Slovakia, Turkey and Switzerland will play home and home series to determine the last 3 spots.
(CONMEBOL) With Brazil and Argentina safely qualified, Ecuador, led by Augustin Delgado wrapped up the 3rd spot on goal differential with a pair of draws against Uruguay and Chile. They will go to their 2nd consecutive World Cup and are joined by Paraguay whose 1-0 win away to Venezuela on the 2nd to last match day was enough to see them through. The only drama left was to see what team would clinch 5th place and face Austrailia in a home and away playoff. Uruguay & Colombia went into the final round separated by the single point in favor of Uruguay. Colombia did its part, beating Paraguay 1-0 in Ascuncion but Uruguay got the better of their River Plate rivals Argentina, beating them 1-0 at home to set up a rematch of the same qualifying series 4 years earlier and hand the top spot to Brazil. Uruguay, one of the first nations to feature Black players, are led by the likes of Marcelo Zalayeta.
The field is slowly just about set and the teams will be drawn into eight groups on December 9th in Germany.