First things first; there will be eight groups comprised of one team from each of the four pots. The pots will probably follow the pattern set out here on November 19th.
Yesterday the Foreign Office issued advice to England fans planning to attend the World Cup. Fair enough, you might think, because the crime levels and struggles to deal with the legacy of apartheid mean South Africa has something of an image problem in the Western media. Fans should have the general facts and know what to do if anything goes wrong. This is standard practice.
Did Thierry Henry think he would get away with a ten-minute cameo over the weekend? Well done to Athletico Madrid fans for putting the captain of the French Olympics 2012 Handball team right on that score.
More worries about the fitness of David James have emerged after the Portsmouth No 1 pulled out of yesterday’s game against Stoke. While all of this apparently bemuses his manager, isn’t it about time someone either gave James the bad news or arranged for him to see Dr Caligari?
While we’re on the subject of who gets a plane ticket and who watches the tournament back in England, fans of Jermain Defoe must wonder what he has to do after the Spurs striker’s excellent season continued with five goals against Wigan.
The video evidence debate has been given another shot in the arm this week by Monsieur Henry’s televised juggling exhibition. So what are the arguments for and against the use of technology to help referees take informed decisions?
This writer also has one or two things to say about the use of technology, drinking Guinness, footballing nicknames and anything else which randomly pops into his head. He even thinks the Irish will soon be after the referee. That’s ridiculous. They’ll get Henry first and then invade Sweden.
And as speculation about the World Cup draw pots grows, two reports offering contrasting visions of the likely pots have arrived. This American site has exactly the same teams in each pot as set here yesterday. For some reason, there are a number of differences in this analysis by the Daily Mail. According to them the African teams will be in Pot 3 with the remaining South American teams. We will find out which is closest to the truth when the FIFA Organising Committee meets on December 2nd, two days before the actual draw.
“After a thrilling performance that promised for so long to deliver Irish soccer its most famous ever result, the chilly Parisian air was filled with rancour late last night after a disputed French goal cruelly ended Ireland’s hopes of playing in next year’s World Cup in South Africa.” Thus begins Ruadhan Mac Cormaic’s report for the Irish Times on a night when Thierry Henry’s self-confessed double handball was witnessed by millions watching on TV but inexplicably missed by the Swedish officials.
In fact Henry went one better than admitting he was at fault. According to one report the French striker gave the equivalent of the play to the whistle argument. He knew what had happened and didn’t care because the officials awarded his team the crucial goal.
Let’s leave the final word to manager Giovanni Trapattoni. The Italian had just watched his side take the game to the French and still lose. Understandably bitter, Trapattoni eventually accepted the result was fated to be. I’m not sure I would be quite so charitable, nor would I let the Irish forwards off the hook. In all the bluster this morning, hardly anyone mentions the second half chances missed by Keane and Duff. Had either put away their chances the Irish would now be heading for South Africa.
Elsewhere, the biggest shock was Slovenia putting Russia out. Portugal won away in Bosnia to wrap up a 2 – 0 aggregate win. And Greece held on for a 1 – 0 away victory in the Ukraine, the result taking them through by the same aggregate score line. Find out more here.
So now we know who the 32 teams are. Bring on the World Cup Bafana Bafana draw pots predictor!
Pot 1 (Hosts and seeds)
Pot 2 (Rest of UEFA)
Pot 3 (AFC + Concacaf)
Pot 4 (CAF + rest of Conmebol)
None of the European teams in Pot 2 are mugs. Pot 3 and 4 teams will be up for the challenge and ready to ambush anyone who doesn’t take them seriously, especially the African sides. This could be the most competitive World Cup finals ever.
In the other early kick off Greece beat Ukraine 1 - 0 away to snatch an unlikely victory and secure passage to their first World Cup since 1994. The Greeks were considered the underdogs after drawing the home leg 0 - 0 but took a first half lead courtesy of a goal from Salpingidis. Despite intense second half pressure they hung on to secure a famous victory.
I know how they feel. My blood boils whenever I read ill-informed rubbish. I’m not talking about the rivalry between the teams, of which I know virtually nothing apart from what can be gleaned from the information superhighway. What caught my eye was the lazy journo’s lack of attention to detail. Apparently Egypt need to win by three goals to qualify, when in fact they needed three in the last game to avoid this play off. First rule of proper journalism - check your facts!
The Independent here in the UK takes this message to heed with a well informed examination of why the North African rivals are at each other’s throats. (Memo to headline writers: for the millionth time, Shankly had his tongue firmly in his cheek when uttering that now famous line)
Away from the heat of Sudan, other World Cup qualifiers are taking place under less stressful circumstances. What’s that? The coach of Bosnia has a master plan involving hungry wolves. OK. And the Ireland - France clash will go ahead with the Irish remaining confident they can cause an upset. So the situation isn’t as stress-free as I’d first thought.
Even the Uruguayans aren’t taking any chances after a 1 – 0 away victory against Costa Rica. Here’s defender Diego Godin showering a FIFA interviewer with clichés (feet on the ground, put the first leg win behind us etc).
It seems the only pairing which is approaching the final games tonight with any dignity is Ukraine – Greece. 0 – 0 in the first leg, and there’s barely a murmur of antagonism as we reach the second. They clearly can’t be arsed.
All of this huffing and puffing means we will know the names of the 32 teams heading to South Africa by tonight. Come back tomorrow for an in depth look at the draw.
The war of words over what Lassana Diarra did or didn’t say after France’s Croke Park victory at the weekend is in danger of becoming a prolonged schoolyard spat. Watch out for the referee carrying a dunce’s hut and Patrice Evra snapping Damien Duff’s pencil before shouting ‘My Papa is bigger than your Papa’. It’s all a bit silly.
Too many Lows and not enough Highs is the Telegraph’s oh so accurate summary of George Burley’s time as Scotland manager.
Remember the story on World Cup Bafana Bafana about football-playing robots? I didn’t actually think it would happen so soon.
First it was Xabi Alonso. Then the Germans had a pop. And now it seems the noise during Japan’s recent friendly with South Africa has upset the 2002 co-hosts. Ban the vuvuzela [plastic air horns], they say. The bloody things stop players from communicating with each other. It’s part of the game in South Africa. Get over it.
Not much to cheer about this Monday morning after the second XI’s loss to Brazil. Here are Ten things England and Fabio Capello learned in Doha, according to The Guardian. Brazil had England beaten before the first whistle, says The Daily Telegraph. The squad players didn’t exactly hit the heights, as shown by the player ratings in The Times. Some should be making contingency plans for June holidays, says Patrick Barclay in the same paper. England must do better, Wayne Rooney tells The Daily Mirror. What did we learn? asks Jamie Redknapp in the Daily Mail. Staking a claim in the way Paul Gascoigne did before 1990 should have been a priority for the fringe players, says The Daily Express. But most just weren’t up to the job.
World Cup weekend round up
Looking ahead to Wednesday’s second legs here is the current situation in the European play offs:
Republic of Ireland 0 France 1
Portugal 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
Greece 0 Ukraine 0
Russia 2 Slovenia 1
No longer content with looking to win the Asia/Oceania Inter-Continental Play-Off for the Right to Be Officially Known as World Cup 2010 Whipping Boys, the New Zealand All Whites now have the Right to Be Officially Known as World Cup 2010 Whipping Boys after their 1 – 0 second leg play off victory against Bahrain.
In Africa two of the three final qualifying places have been won by Cameroon and Nigeria. Algeria and Egypt meet in Sudan on Wednesday to decide who takes the final place.
And the South American – North, Central America and Caribbean play off looks good for Uruguay after their 1 – 0 first leg victory in Costa Rica.
Predictions for the play offs and the remaining World Cup qualifiers
France – Ireland: There’s plenty of needle left in this one after an as yet unspecified insult against the Irish people by France’s Diarra. Backed by their support, I’m sticking with the Republic to turn this one around against the odds.
Bosnia-Herzegovina – Portugal: The Bosnians were unlucky in the first leg. They can still win over two legs.
Ukraine – Greece: it’s draw away, win at home for the Ukrainians.
Slovenia – Russia: the late away goal in Moscow could change everything here.
Algeria and Egypt for the final African place: after Saturday’s dramatic events I’m finding this one difficult to call. Will stick with Algeria on the flimsy grounds that Egypt have probably exhausted themselves just reaching this extraordinary play off.
And the South American – North, Central America and Caribbean play off? Uruguay to build on their 1 – 0 first leg lead and qualify.
The Egyptians needed two goals to force an extraordinary play off – and that’s the result in Cairo tonight after a 95th minute goal from Meteab. Bring on the match in neutral Sudan on Wednesday.
Brazil 1 England 0. Hasty judgement time. If we didn’t know England’s second string wasn’t good enough before this match, it’s painfully obvious now.
A late goal gives Slovenia hope for the second leg of the play off with Russia. Two goals from Dinyar Bilyaletdinov in Moscow looked to have given the home side the edge before a late Pecnik header set up an intriguing match in Slovenia on Wednesday.
The build up to the France – Ireland play off continues with Patrice Evra claiming failure to reach the World Cup finals would be a “scandal” for the French and an opportunity for the rest of us to roll about on the floor laughing. OK, he didn’t actually say that last bit, but he’s definitely thinking it.
It’s The Mambas versus The Carthage Eagles. Is it just me or does anyone else think African national teams have excellent nicknames?
And not content with sparring on the Internet, it seems the rivalry between Algerian and Egyptian fans is now becoming serious. Yesterday a bus carrying Algerian players to their hotel in Cairo was attacked by Egyptian fans. FIFA will be keeping a close eye on this one tomorrow.
Predictions for the play offs and the remaining World Cup qualifiers
Team to qualify in bold
European play offs
Republic of Ireland – France: Ireland to win on away goals (0-0, 1-1)
The French had the nerve to start advertising their shirt for next summer. That level of arrogance is asking for trouble.
Portugal – Bosnia: Bosnia (1-1, 2-0)
No Ronaldo and up against a hungry young nation. This could be the end for Portugal.
Greece – Ukraine: Ukraine (1-1, 1-0)
The Greeks just about held their own in a lacklustre group, while Ukraine pushed Croatia into third place. This should go well for the Ukrainians but blind donkey Andrei Voronin may still scupper their plans.
Russia – Slovenia: Russia (2-0, 0-0)
Russia were unlucky to face Germany in the group stages. Given a more favourable draw they would probably have qualified automatically. They should be too strong for Slovenia.
Asia/Oceania Inter-Continental Play-Off for the Right to Be Officially Known as World Cup 2010 Whipping Boys
Bahrain – New Zealand: New Zealand (0-0, 2-1)
The All Whites came back from the first leg in good shape. They should finish the job off.
South American – North, Central America and Caribbean play off
Costa Rica – Uruguay: Uruguay to win on away goals (2-2, 0-0)
Costa Rica looked to be coasting until the summer. Then their qualification campaign went horribly wrong. Uruguay score lots of goals and drew six of their qualifiers. This one is ready – made for the away goals rule.
Remaining group games
Togo - Gabon
Morocco - Cameroon
Mozambique - Tunisia
Kenya - Nigeria
Egypt - Algeria
Gabon, Nigeria and Algeria to qualify
Are you prepared to stick your neck out and offer your predictions?
In just over three weeks time the draw for the World Cup finals gets underway in Cape Town. At the end we will know who England are to play in the group stage and where the games will take place. Based on the other groups we will also have an idea of the teams we might face as the tournament progresses into its later stages. Of course a lot depends on whether we are seeded or not. Secure one of seven available seeding spots – the hosts get one automatically – and you avoid the likes of Brazil, Spain and Germany. While there may be some changes depending on the results in the play offs, the boffins at Football Rankings will explain how it all works very soon.
Whatever the nature of the draw, this journo thinks he has the answer to the problem of tired, over-committed players struggling to stay fit as the tournament approaches. Take them out of the FA Cup.
And here is an interesting article on the parallels between Germany and South Africa. The rebirth angle is a bit overblown – both still have their fair share of social and economic problems – but the links between the collapse of communism and the apartheid regime are spelled out quite neatly. Liberation from the past is, it seems, as much a theme now as it was in the early nineties.
Richard Dunne knows a thing or two about failed mantras from previous World Cups if his latest comments are any guide. Speaking ahead of Saturday’s first play off game against France the Aston Villa defender says the Republic have ‘spirit’ while the French have ‘skill’. He’s hoping this attribute and the famous Croke Park atmosphere will see the Irish through. I had similar high hopes when drinking out of my World Cup mug in 2002. “Pride”, “Passion”, “Belief” were its mantras. I couldn’t help think that “Guile”, “Cunning” and “Tactical Awareness” would have proved much more useful as we fell at the quarter final stage against Brazil. Let’s see if the Irish can prove me wrong and vindicate my World Cup mug.
Here’s The Daily Mail with an in-depth look at World Cup preparations in South Africa. The tone veers from downbeat – a prisoner from the apartheid era gazes out towards the notorious Robben Island, a resident of one black township compares having a World Cup in his country with someone buying an expensive car when there is no food in the house, the stats about crime are rolled out again – to enthusiastic about the World Cup and the footballing culture in Africa. Find out more here.
Here’s an interesting look at the football scene in New Zealand as the country prepares for one of the biggest games in its sporting history, the Asia/Oceania Inter-Continental Play-Off for the Right to Be Officially Known as World Cup 2010 Whipping Boys second leg.
Sticking with the southern hemisphere, Aussie fans are being warned about a fake website advertising tickets for Socceroos games. There is no truth to the rumour that suspicions were first aroused by trading standards officers spotting the words ‘Australia’ and ‘second phase’ on the fakes. None at all.
It wasn’t so long ago that Cameroon was facing the prospect of failing to reach the World Cup finals. Despite the slightly misleading headline – the only magician in this article is manager of rivals Gabon – the Lions’ coach has worked wonders since taking over.
“Tiebreakers”. A “series” of games. Aaaaarghhhhhh. Welcome to CBC Sports and an article on the World Cup play offs.
Fabio Capello does listen to managers after all, says The Guardian. The absence of Joe Cole from the squad is bad news for the Chelsea playmaker, according to The Telegraph. Michael Owen’s chances of a World Cup place are also in more doubt than ever if we are to believe The Times. Capello had already made his mind up about Owen even before the striker’s seven minute run out against Chelsea, says The Daily Mail. And even though he failed to show up at the Croatia game, seemingly spurning an invitation from Capello himself, Darren Bent is back as a possible lone target man. At least that’s what The Daily Mirror believes.
And in other World Cup news, while describing it as ‘war’ is over-dramatic, this website has done a good job of summarising what lies ahead as the last nine World Cup places are settled over the next nine days.
Coping without Harvey Nicholls for a few weeks could be traumatic – but at least the WAGs won’t have to travel by train. Here’s what awaits anyone who needs a free trip to the match and is prepared to put up with a little discomfort on the way.
Patrick Vieira is outraged by French manager Raymond Domenech's failure to pick him for the forthcoming play offs against the Republic of Ireland. Talk about having a high opinion of yourself. On this evidence Vieira must have a permanent nosebleed. No wonder he struggles to get games at Inter.
New South Africa manager Carlos Alberto Parreira was in confident mood at his first press conference. While he thinks his team can progress from the group stages, how they will fair against the assorted members of the animal kingdom he seems to think they might face later in the competition is anyone’s guess.
And here’s an excellent profile of a player who amassed over 100 caps for his country – and introduced us all to the Blanco Hop. If you haven’t seen it before, take a look at this and other fancy footwork from the 2002 World Cup at the YouTube screen.
The latest revelation from the ‘Soccernomics’ book by Simon Kuper caught my eye this morning. So how did a nation covered in snow for most of the year become the most soccer mad?
Here’s an interesting article picking up on a visit to South Africa by Oliver Holt, sports columnist for the Daily Mirror.
Athletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero is married to Diego Maradona’s daughter, Giannina. This year the couple had their first child, prompting wild speculation about the baby’s footballing prowess and causing Chelsea to launch a pre-emptive bid which only failed because of FIFA’s anti-foetus selling policies. So the West London club is now chasing the dad instead, presumably so they can put him out to stud.
And there’s great news for Scottish fans missing out on the World Cup finals. They can converge in the Highlands for “battle re-enactments by clan organisations; performances by Keepy Uppy King, Graeme Lightbody; a march through Aviemore by the Tartan Army; a Highland Games and a kilted five-a-side football tournament”. The event starts around the same time as the quarter finals. Organisers are hoping for a repeat of the Cairngorm Hotel party in 2006 when 2,000 fans saw England lose on penalties to Portugal.
Sunderland’s recent freak goal against Liverpool, when a wayward shot cannoned off a beach ball and wrong footed keeper Pepe Reina, was widely condemned as an aberration. So how should referees at next year’s World Cup finals react to this story?
Not content with annoying fans everywhere with his perplexing mix of fabulous skills and grass hugging tendencies, Cristiano Ronaldo is now set to take on George Foreman with his own version of the sporting grill. I’m not kidding.
The debate on the legacy of the 2010 World Cup for South Africa continues, courtesy of a new diary from The Guardian.
And as Bosnia prepare for the World Cup play off games against Portugal, ESPN talks to coach Miroslav Blazevic about a player who escaped with his mother and sister to Holland during the conflict which ravaged the Balkans from 1992 – 95. Sadly, Haris Medunjanin’s father was killed, one of many reasons why Radovan Karadzic will probably never leave prison alive.
It’s almost as if they hadn’t noticed until recently, then the news provoked a mass scramble to the engravers for some last minute touches. This is the announcement that The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (aka North Korea, aka paranoid half-starved nuclear fledgling wacko state) has finally acknowledged its team’s success on the football field. That or they think most are about to retire after years of service cleaning the Great Leader’s toilets.
Here’s what I understand to be the official FIFA trailer for the World Cup. Lots of shots of kids kicking a ball around before we move on to some of the best goals from Germany 2006. And it’s all accompanied by a hauntingly familiar soundtrack which begs one question: is Michael Jackson alive?
‘Soccernomics’ is the new book by football author Simon Kuper. Watch out for some of the most unsurprising “surprising” findings ever revealed in a football book. My favourite? “Avoid the urge to acquire players after big international tournaments because you are likely to overpay”. You can’t go wrong with this and other startling revelations.
Judging by some of the options the battle to name one of next year’s World Cup stadiums was fought out between twelve-year-olds reading comic books and geography professors. I think they made the right choice.
The atmosphere surrounding the fast approaching World Cup clash between Egypt and Algeria is turning uglier by the day. Strap yourself in for a tale of North African rivalry featuring a website hacker acting “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful”.
And Diego Maradona has taken a good hard look at the stats and the players he chooses before realising one probably deserves a recall to the squad. For some reason the scorer of this goal didn’t play in Argentina’s last eight World Cup qualifiers. Perhaps Maradona was looking the other way when Cambiasso scored this goal in 2006: