Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA World Cup Review – Africa

Posted in African Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Bafana Bafana fans

South African supporters were amongst the most colourful in the tournament

In our review of the FIFA World Cup Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at the fortunes of host continent Africa.

For many months before a ball was kicked in South Africa there were many fears about some of the problems within the country, with issues such as crime at the forefront of people’s minds. In January 2010 there were many critics who took advantage of the situation in Angola during the African Cup of Nations tournament where the Togo national team bus came under fire and used this to further the cause of taking the World Cup away from Africa. Thankfully this did not happen and as the last four weeks have shown, as well as previous sporting tournaments held in the country, South Africa knows how to put on a great show and should be proud despite the early exit of its national team from the tournament.

The Bafana Bafana had some of the most colourful supporters in the World Cup and they certainly made the most noise, not just because they were the host nation but for the vast amount of vuvuzelas at each of the stadiums. The instrument is something that football fans around the world either came to love or hate but there was no denying the increased volume added to the atmosphere in the stadiums. Come the opening day of the competition South Africa drew their first match against Mexico with Siphiwe Tshabalala putting the hosts ahead before Rafael Márquez gave El Tri a share of the spoils. It was unfortunate that the next opponents for South Africa would be the surprise package of the tournament Uruguay who would eventually reach the semi-finals. South Africa were on the receiving end of a 3-0 drubbing due to a brace from Diego Forlán and a late stoppage time goal from Álvaro Pereira. This meant that a big enough win over France and a big enough win for Uruguay or Mexico in the other final group match would be enough for South Africa to reach the last sixteen. Sadly, despite achieving a 2-1 win over the 1998 FIFA World Cup winners thanks to goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela, South Africa missed out due to an inferior goal difference behind Mexico.

The pride of Africa in this tournament would be Ghana. Having finished in second place in Group D, two points behind winners Germany, Ghana played against the United States in the round of sixteen and had Asamoah Gyan to thank for it was his goal early in extra-time that separated the two sides in what was a tight contest, the Black Stars getting the 2-1 victory to set up a quarter-final against Uruguay. In what was arguably the match of the tournament Sulley Muntari gave Ghana the lead on the stroke of half-time only to see Diego Forlán restore parity ten minutes into the second half. However it was events at the end of extra-time that would really get the world talking. Firstly Luis Suárez was sent-off in the last minute for handling the ball on the line when it was almost certain to go in. Ghana’s player of the tournament Gyan, who had already scored twice from the spot in the tournament, fluffed his lines when it mattered most and hit the bar from the resulting penalty, thus providing the necessity for a penalty shoot-out after the extra-time period. With the weight of expectation upon their shoulders Ghana were unable to progress due to missed penalties from John Mensah and Dominic Adiyiah which denied Africa a World Cup semi-finalist for the first time.

One of the biggest disappointments in the competition were Cameroon who, with one of the world’s best strikers in Samuel Eto’o in the team, never looked like they could be a threat and were duly beaten in all three of their group matches by the Netherlands, Japan and Denmark. Ivory Coast were, for the second tournament running, unfortunate to be drawn in the “group of death” with the likes of Brazil and Portugal as well as the World Cup rank outsiders North Korea. The third of these teams accounted for the Ivory Coast’s only victory in the competition with the Elephants going down to Brazil and picking up a point in their game against Portugal. On account of their 7-0 win over North Korea Portugal just had enough to qualify for the next round meaning that Didier Drogba and co had to miss out once again. Last, but not least, Algeria performed admirably in Group C although they could only gain one point from three games, that coming in their 0-0 draw with England. After narrow 1-0 defeats to both Slovenia and United States the north Africans could leave the tournament with their heads held high as they were far from disgraced in their results. With a bit more luck it could’ve been them rather than England who qualified for the round of sixteen but, alas, it just wasn’t their time.

FIFA: Groups C and D Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe scores the goal which gave England a 1-0 win over Slovenia

Figures given are as follows: games played/points scored

GROUP C: USA 3/5; ENGLAND 3/5; SLOVENIA 3/4; ALGERIA 3/1

The United States left it very late to clinch top spot in the group but their stoppage time winner in the 1-0 victory over Algeria provided one of the FIFA World Cup’s most dramatic finishes thus far. It was justice served for the Americans after they had two perfectly good goals disallowed earlier in the tournament and it seemed that they would lament those two particular moments of bad luck until Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner over the North Africans settled the contest. Thankfully the late winner made any arguments about the legitimacy of the disallowed goals academic and meant that the United States finished top of the group on goal difference from an England side who were made to work hard for their place in the Round of 16. Jermain Defoe scored the all-important winning goal for England against Slovenia after 22 minutes to give the Three Lions their first win of the tournament and provide Fabio Capello’s men with a much-needed boost in morale ahead of their game on Sunday afternoon against a familiar foe.

GROUP D: GERMANY 3/6; GHANA 3/4; AUSTRALIA 3/4; SERBIA 3/3

And so it was meant to be. Germany, after the scare of losing to Serbia in their second group match, eventually saw off a determined Ghana side in the final group game to set up a Round of 16 clash with England. Mesut Özil scored the winning goal for Germany in their 1-0 success over Ghana when unleashing a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the box to seal the deal for the Adlerträger. Despite the defeat the Africans were able to celebrate after the match as they too had qualified for the knock-out stages. Australia beat Serbia 2-1 but had an inferior goal difference to Ghana who became the only one out of five African nations to progress beyond the group stage. Ghana’s reward is a Round of 16 tie against the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday whilst Germany face-off against England in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil (right) is congratulated by Bastian Schweinsteiger after his goal gave Germany a 1-0 victory over Ghana

FIFA: Setbacks for Germany and England; USA denied victory

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Milan Jovanović

Milan Jovanović scored the only goal in Serbia's 1-0 defeat of Germany

The FIFA World Cup is far from predictable and the events of yesterday are a classic case in point. Germany, who had thrilled everybody with a great display in their opening match defeat of Australia, were on the receiving end of a defeat themselves going down to a Milan Jovanović goal moments before half-time. In the same group the United States came from two goals down to gain a 2-2 draw against Slovenia but the controversial decision to disallow Maurice Edu’s late goal could ultimately prove detrimental to the USA’s chances of progression. England had a chance to stamp their authority on the tournament but were denied by a resilient Algeria side who were worthy of the point gained in the goalless draw between the two sides in Cape Town.

Germany went into their game against Serbia as clear favourites but the Balkan nation had other ideas as they were far from willing to let the Germans walk all over them. The game was played at a lively pace throughout with both teams having a clear number of chances, especially Lukas Podolski who missed a seven attempts including a penalty kick on the hour mark which would’ve equalled the score for Germany. However there were sixty seconds of madness that decided the game for Serbia. Firstly, in the 37th minute, Miroslav Klose picked up his second yellow card and saw red thus reducing Germany to ten men. One minute later Serbia were ahead thanks to Milan Jovanović. His colleague Miloš Krasić ran down the right and crossed it for Nikola Žigić who knocked it down with his head for the unmarked Jovanović to steer home from six yards out. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer had been a little slow to come out and the Serbian hitman made him pay for his brief moment of indecision although, to be fair, Neuer had been left exposed by his defence. The game saw Serbia hit the woodwork another couple of times in the second half and the truth is that Germany, for all of their waste in front of goal, could’ve been beaten by a couple more and were ultimately grateful just to lose by the solitary goal. In Group D today Ghana meet Australia which, if the Socceroos win, would see all four teams on three points. An interesting game in Rustenburg awaits.

The United States were looking down and out in the Group C game against Slovenia who took an early lead in the 13th minute thansk to a great 25 yard strike from Valter Birsa who was left unmarked and had the time to weigh up his shot before rocketing it home. Things got better for the Eastern European side with three minutes to go before the break when Milivoje Novaković played a well-timed through ball into Zlatan Ljubijankič who guided it past an oncoming Tim Howard to double Slovenia’s lead. The half-time break came at just the right time for the Americans who had time to re-group and get their focus back after a disastrous first forty-five minutes. After the break the USA pulled one back through their talisman Landon Donovan who, having received a long pass from Steve Cherundolo down the right flank, chose to run direct to goal and hit the ball fiercely into the net from a tight angle and instantly brought his side back into the game. With ten minutes remaining the game was tied when Michael Bradley was on hand to steer home Jozy Altidore’s knockdown from a long pass from Donovan. The game had turned and the Americans were the only team who now looked like winning it and, three minutes later, thought they had but Maurice Edu’s goal was disallowed for a foul in the box and the Slovenians had been saved by what was a very harsh decision. Nonetheless the USA are still in the competition after what was a fantastic fightback and they will hope to progress in the final match against Algeria in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 23rd.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney couldn't break the deadlock in England's 0-0 draw against Algeria

England had high hopes going into the tournament but those hopes are increasing wearing thin after another clueless display from Fabio Capello’s men against Algeria in Cape Town last night. It’s not that the Three Lions couldn’t create any chances, if anything they created a decent number with eight on target, but they just lack something up front. For all Emile Heskey’s work rate the sad fact is that he doesn’t look remotely like scoring when he gets the ball and seems to lack any natural inclination to want to strike at goal with the ball at his feet. Captain Steven Gerrard didn’t always seem to be on the same wavelength as his colleagues and the likes of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney spurned their chances by not striking the ball cleanly enough. Algeria were tough to beat and had a resilient defence and should be congratulated for their determination to pick up a point although their attack does seem a little lightweight with striker Karim Matmour lacking any predatory instincts in the box. However it was a job well done for Algeria who will meet the USA in their final match whilst England, who faced the wrath of an angry supporter who invaded their dressing room after the match, will play Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, June 23rd in a game they have to win in order to progress.

FIFA: Slovenia and Ghana scrape wins; Germany impress in opener

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 13, 2010
Robert Koren

Robert Koren scored the winning goal for Slovenia in their 1-0 victory over Algeria

Day three of the FIFA World Cup began with another contender for the Most Boring Match award, at least in the first half anyway, as Algeria and Slovenia played out a pretty dull forty-five minutes of football with each team having just one major chance each. Rafik Halliche had a great oppotunity to put Algeria ahead from a corner in the 36th minute but his header bounced wide of the far post. One minute before the break and it was Slovenia’s turn to register their first meaningful shot on target when Valter Birsa shot from long-range dipping at the last moment to force keeper Faouzi Chaouchi into making a great TV save, tipping the ball over the bar. Sadly the same couldn’t be said about Algeria’s custodian late on in the game. Algeria were already at a disadvantage in the 72nd minute upon having substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal sent off just fifteen minutes after coming on due to gaining a second yellow card through handballing in the box. Seven minutes later Robert Koren sealed the game for Slovenia when hitting a shot from 25 yards out which Chaouchi allowed to bounce over him and into the back of the net. Slovenia held on to the lead to secure their first win at a major football tournament and now have a two point lead over both England and the United States in Group C. The next games in this group both come on Friday, June 18th with England facing Algeria and the USA meeting up with group leaders Slovenia.

Group D got under way in the second game of the day between Ghana and Serbia and just when we thought the competition needed a shot in the arm to really kick start it in to life this game sadly failed to provide it. Save for free-kick opportunities for Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan and Serbia’s Alexsandar Kolorov the game saw precious few chances of any note and, like the pattern set in most of the games in the FIFA World Cup so far, we had a goalless first half. The game opened up in the second half but it was still a tactical stalemate with both teams cancelling each other out but then came a red card for the aforementioned Kolorov for a foul on Gyan in the 74th minute. Eleven minutes later came the pivotal moment of the match when Serbia’s Zdravko Kuzmanović handled the ball in the box and thus set up Gyan to score from the spot to give the Black Stars victory. A disappointing Serbia lost their first game of the tournament and it is difficult to see how they can pick themselves up for their next game against Germany on Friday, June 18th.

Miro Klose and Lukas Podolski

Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were amongst the scorers for Germany in their 4-0 hammering of Australia

Speaking of Germany they sent shockwaves through the footballing world tonight with a mesmerising performance against an Australian team with plenty of experience but lacking any quality in attack. The Socceroos‘ best chance of the match came very early when Philipp Lahm cleared a Tim Cahill header off the line in the 4th minute with Richard Garcia unable to dispatch the rebound. From then on die Mannschaft took over with Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, whose performances and form in the German Bundesliga this season led many to question their inclusion in the squad, scoring the goals to put Germany 2-0 ahead at half-time. Most of the plaudits in the morning, though, should and will be set aside for Mesut Özil whose creativity and ability to run into any free space allowed by the Aussie defence means that he should be taken seriously by future opponents as a major threat. In the second half Germany were playing champagne football and a chance for Thomas Müller should’ve seen them further ahead before Australia’s Tim Cahill received a harshly given red card from Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodríguez in the 56th minute. But, in any case, Müller got his goal in the 68th minute to make things comfortable for the Germans with Cacau coming off the bench to make it four just a couple of minutes later. There were no further goals but there was a demonstration of just how well Germany can keep possession when they put their minds to it and should they meet any of the favourites such as Brazil or Spain later in the tournament then they shouldn’t fear them. Australia have a chance to make amends for this ghastly defeat on Saturday, June 19th when they meet Ghana in Rustenburg.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part One

Steven Pienaar

Can Steven Pienaar guide his South Africa team beyond the group stage?

With only days to go before the big kick-off in Johannesburg “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” provides you with a guide to each of the thirty two finalists in South Africa this summer. In a three-part series we start off with the teams that qualified from Africa and North America (Note: FIFA World Rankings correct from May 26th):

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 83

Things didn’t always go so easy for the organizers of the South African World Cup bid but the stadiums and infrastructure now seem to be in place for a successful tournament. The national team, known as Bafana Bafana, didn’t compete in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year so it’s hard to gauge how competitive they can be but they will hope to reach the knockout stages. Will find it difficult against France, Mexico and Uruguay and could be the first host nation not to make it beyond the group stage of a FIFA World Cup.

Coach: Carlos Alberto Parreira

Star Player: Steven Pienaar

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 19

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. One of the more fancied teams from the African continent, along with Ivory Coast,  to provide a challenge in the finals. Since qualification they have reached the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations only to fall to eventual winners Egypt. Will hope to pip Denmark into second place in their group.

Coach: Paul Le Guen

Star Player: Samuel Eto’o

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 21

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point. Nigeria reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations this year losing to tournament runners-up Ghana. They may be missing John Obi Mikel to injury but their aspiration will be to finish at least second in their group behind Argentina and ahead of South Korea and Greece.

Coach: Lars Lagerback

Star Player: Obafemi Martins

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 30

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off played in neutral Sudan 1-0 to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals. Since qualification Les Fennecs reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations but were subject to revenge by Egypt who thumped their World Cup conquerors by four goals to nil. With teams such as England, the United States and Slovenia in their group a third place finish seems the best they can hope for.

Coach: Rabah Saadane

Star Player:Karim Ziani

Ghana National Team

Ghana may struggle to progress from a tough group

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 32

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan. Reached the final of the African Cup of Nations earlier this year but were beaten by record champions Egypt. Although they have some good players they don’t appear strong enough to progress from a group containing Germany, Serbia and Australia but still have the potential to shock any perceived superior opponent on their day.

Coach: Milovan Rajevac

Star Player: Sulley Muntari

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 27

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Since qualification for South Africa the Ivorians were expected to do well in the African Cup of Nations but could only reach the last eight before being knocked out by fellow World Cup qualifiers Algeria. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage but they will have their work cut out against the likes of Portugal and Brazil but should beat North Korea.

Coach: Sven-Göran Eriksson

Star Player: Didier Drogba

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals and can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament. Since qualification for the finals the United States reached the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup having beaten tournament favourites Spain in the semi-final before losing by the odd goal in five to Brazil in the final. All in all the Americans have a good chance of progressing to the Round of 16 stage.

Coach: Bob Bradley

Star Player: Landon Donovan

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 17

Mexico struggled early on in the World Cup qualifying campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States. The Mexicans are the current champions of North and Central America having won the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament defeating arch-rivals USA by an amazing 5-0 scoreline. El Tri will fancy their chances of progress beyond the group stage as they compete in one of the most open groups of the tournament along with France, South Africa and Uruguay.

Coach: Javier Aguirre

Star Player: Rafael Márquez

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup. In the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup the Hondurans lost 2-0 in the semi-finals to United States. Success for Honduras will be if they don’t finish bottom of a group containing Spain, Chile and Switzerland.

Coach: Reinaldo Rueda

Star Player: David Suazo

Honduras National Team

The Hondurans are appearing in their first FIFA World Cup since 1982

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 1, 2009

Thirty two teams, one World Cup

The excitement is already building ahead of the draw for the 19th FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. Ever since the original competition kicked off in Uruguay in 1930 the tournament has gone from strength to strength and there is great anticipation that the next competition will be amongst the best yet. On Friday, December 4th there will be thirty two nations anxious to find out their opponents for the group stage of the tournament that will kick-off on June 11th, 2010. Over the next three days “Stoppage Time” will take a look at how the thirty two nations qualified for the finals. Today we profile the nine nations from Africa and North/Central America:

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 86*

It’s been a shaky build-up for South Africa as critics have complained about the organisation, the slow progress of stadium development and poor results from the ‘Bafana Bafana’ which has seen the national team drop down the rankings. Without an African Cup of Nations tournament to prepare for in early 2010 it will be difficult to assess how competitive they could be during the World Cup.

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 11

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. Arguably the most fancied team from the African continent to provide a challenge in the finals.

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 22

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point.

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 28

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off 1-0 played in neutral Sudan to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals.

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 37

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan.

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 16

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage and challenging some of the stronger nations in the finals.

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals. Despite football not being among the nation’s top sports the Americans can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament.

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Mexico struggled early on in the campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre has steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States.

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup.

* FIFA World Rankings correct on December 1st, 2009