Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Copa Centroamericana: Costa Rica win record 7th title

Posted in International Football, North and Central American Football by peterbein on January 30, 2013

Hosts Costa Rica won a record extending seventh Copa Centroamericana title in the nation’s capital of San José on Sunday when defeating defending champions Honduras.

Costa Rica reached the final in fine style, winning two and drawing one of their three matches in the group stages, going on to defeat El Salvador 1-0 in the semi-final. Honduras’ route to the final was more laboured in comparison. Although they topped their group it was due to goals scored as all three teams in their group had the same number of points due to each game ending as a draw. In the semi-finals Honduras also needed just a solitary goal to progress thanks to Brayan Beckeles’ goal in the 67th minute of the game against Belize. The final would also prove just as tight with just a solitary strike from Giancarlo González in the 37th minute deciding the game in Costa Rica’s favour, giving los Ticos their first tournament win since 2007.

The Copa Centroamericana also doubled out as a qualifying tournament for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which takes place in July this year in the United States, with the best performing five teams progressing through. As well as the two finalists, losing semi-finalists Belize and El Salvador qualified along with Panama who defeated Guatemala 3-1 in the 5th/6th place play-off match last Friday.

COSTA RICA 1-0 HONDURAS GOAL AND TROPHY PRESENTATION

Advertisements

FIFA World Cup Review – North and Central America

Posted in International Football, North and Central American Football by peterbein on July 12, 2010
Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan secured the USA a place in the last sixteen of the FIFA World Cup

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog continues to review each of the respective continental fortunes in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Here we look at the three nations that comprised the challenge from the CONCACAF North and Central American region.

The United States qualified for their sixth straight FIFA World Cup finals and were hoping to reach at least the quarter-finals to equal their best ever performance. The Americans were involved in some of South Africa’s most memorable and controversial moments for as long as they were in the tournament. Their opening group match against England saw them fall behind after just four minutes to a Steven Gerrard goal but they restored parity five minutes before the break when England keeper Robert Green hilariously let the ball slip his grasp to gift Clint Dempsey the equalizer. They also had to come from behind to salvage a point against Slovenia who were two goals to the good at half time before Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley brought them level. With Slovenia on the ropes Maurice Edu thought he’d won the game with five minutes remaining but the referee disallowed the goal for a foul which nobody saw. The final group match against Algeria saw more late drama as, with the game goalless and deep into stoppage time, Landon Donovan scored from six yards out to give the USA top spot in the group over England and a round of sixteen encounter against Ghana. Sadly for coach Bob Bradley his team were unable to progress when it mattered as they dominated a second half in which they came back from a 1-0 half time deficit. But the game went into extra-time where Asamoah Gyan wrote history for the Africans with a beautifully struck goal which knocked the Americans out of the competition.

Having had a terrible start to World Cup qualifying the Mexicans had steadied the ship under coach Javier Aguirre and were quietly optimistic that they could qualify from their group. Mexico had the pleasure of participating in the opening game of the tournament against hosts South Africa who took the lead after 55 minutes after Siphiwe Tshabalala. The Bafana Bafana were to rue some late lack of concentration when Rafael Márquez equalized with twenty minutes to go and ensured that Mexico would gain a point from the match. The second game brought more joy for El Tri where they got the better of a French side beset by infighting and a lack of morale. Javier Hernández and Cuauhtémoc Blanco scored the goals which put paid to French hopes and gave them a top of the group clash with Uruguay to decide the group. The Mexicans, sadly for them, lost their final group match to a Luis Suárez goal and this meant that they finished second in the group and had a clash with Argentina in the round of sixteen stage for the second consecutive tournament. When the game took place Mexico were fuming about Carlos Tévez’s opening goal in which he was stood in an offside position but hadn’t been spotted by the officials. Once Gonzalo Higuaín had made it 2-0 there was really no way back for the Mexicans, who had to watch Tévez score his second before pulling one back through Javier Hernández in a 3-1 defeat which signalled the end of the road.

The final team from the CONCACAF region to be represented were Honduras who were in the same group as European champions Spain, Chile and Switzerland. In their opening game against Chile it was to be disappotment for Los Catrachos when Jean Beausejour’s 34th minute strike was enough to separate the two teams and lead Honduras to defeat. Their second game saw them go down to a double strike from David Villa in a game the Spanish should’ve won with more goals but, in the end, Honduras had to be grateful just for conceding two especially as Villa missed a penalty kick which would’ve seen him score a hat trick. Honduras’ final group match against Switzerland was one of the worst matches of the tournament and was no surprise when it finished as a goalless draw. Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and Honduras celebrated their first and only point in South Africa even if they couldn’t prevent themselves finishing bottom of the group.

So what about the future? The next tournament in Brazil in four years time may provide some benefit to the nations that qualify from CONCACAF as they may be more adept at acclimatizing to the conditions than some of their opponents. But even if one doesn’t take that in to consideration one can only hope that this region does provide a meaningful challenge in the near future as the potential of countries such as the big two, Mexico and the United States, is as yet unrealized in this competition. The former have only qualified for the last eight on two occasions whilst the latter’s third place in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 is too far in the past to have any significance today. Expectations after their 2002 quarter-final appearance may have reached unrealistic proportions going into the 2006 tournament where the USA failed to get past the group stage but the talent is growing steadily in that region and we can hope that one of them might trouble the usual suspects in 2014.

FIFA: Groups G and H Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Dunga

Brazil coach Dunga has plenty to smile about after his team topped Group H unbeaten

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored:

GROUP G: BRAZIL 3/7; PORTUGAL 3/5; IVORY COAST 3/4; NORTH KOREA 3/0

The Seleção have, as expected, topped the group after Dunga’s men saw off a spirited show from unknown quantity North Korea in the opening group match before going on to beat Ivory Coast and gain a point in an uninspiring ninety minutes of football against Portugal. The Portuguese were held by the Ivorians to a goalless draw in their first match but were able to rout the North Koreans by seven goals before getting the point they needed against the five-time world champions in their final match. The North Koreans provided one of the tournament’s most emotional moments when Jong Tae Se cried his eyes out during the national anthem ahead of the game against Brazil and gave real football fans hope that there are still real footballers out there who feel the emotion about wearing their favourite football shirt. Sadly this emotion couldn’t be transferred into points as the brave North Koreans ended up without any points after three games. As for the Ivorians they will hope for a kinder draw should they qualify for the next competition as they have been dealt the Group of Death in the last two tournaments which has hindered their ability to progress to the knock-out stages.

GROUP HSPAIN 3/6; CHILE 3/6; SWITZERLAND 3/4 ; HONDURAS 3/1

After a poor start to the tournament Vicente del Bosque’s Spain team progressed to the next stage as group winners thanks mainly to the efforts of David Villa who has scored all but one of La Roja‘s goals so far. Spain were shocked on the first matchday losing 1-0 to Switzerland which makes it all the more surprising that Ottmar Hitzfeld’s men never made it to the knock-out stage after such a promising opening to their campaign. Spain went on to win both their next two matches against Honduras (2-0) and Chile (2-1) with Villa scoring three of the goals; only Andres Iniesta got on the score sheet when he settled the latter game in Spain’s favour by scoring the second goal. Chile played some good football in the tournament but will face the toughest test in the Round of 16 when they play against South American rivals Brazil in Johannesburg on Monday whilst the Derby of Iberia will feature in Cape Town on Tuesday when European champions Spain face neighbours Portugal in a much anticipated game.

David Villa

David Villa has been the main man for Spain in their FIFA World Cup campaign

FIFA: Chile edge out Swiss; Portugal thrash North Korea; Spain win

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 21, 2010
Mark Gonzalez

Mark González scored the goal which gave Chile a 1-0 win over Switzerland

The second round of matches in Groups G and H were completed today with Portugal making themselves heavy favourites to go through to the Round of Sixteen stage along with group leaders Brazil in the former while Chile and Spain won their games to make the final round of games in the latter on Friday potentially very interesting.

Portugal versus North Korea has stirred up some memories of the only previous encounter between the two countries in the 1966 FIFA World Cup where the Asian side went three goals up only to be eventually beaten by Eusebio’s Portuguese side 5-3 in one of that tournament’s most eventually matches. This time, however, the game wasn’t to be anywhere near as close although North Korea did restrict the Portuguese to a mere one goal lead at the half-time break, Raul Meireles taking his goal with great aplomb in the 29th minute. Sadly for North Korea coach Kim Jong Hun he saw his players lose their heads in the second half as the Portuguese set about taking the game to the Far East outfit at every available opportunity. Portugal were four nil up by the hour mark thanks to goals from Simão, Hugo Almeida and Tiago and then put the cherry on the cake with further strikes in the final ten minutes of the game from Liédson, Cristiano Ronaldo – remarkably scoring his first international goal in two years – and a second from Tiago to seal a seven goal rout of the helpless North Korea who will hope to claw back some pride in their final group match against the Ivory Coast on Friday whilst Portugal will fight it out with Brazil to see who wins the group.

The first game of the day in Group H saw Chile keep up the South Americans’ incredble record at this year’s FIFA World Cup. In ten matches involving teams from that particular continent in the competition so far there have been eight wins and two draws. Chile won the eighth game for that part of the world with a narrow 1-0 victory over a Switzerland side who had surprised everybody in their opening match by defeating European champions Spain and were determined to follow up on that result. This was not to be a feast of football with Ottmar Hitzfeld Swiss side adopting very much the same tactics that stifled Spain’s attack but once Valon Behrami got himself sent off in the 30th minute for a needless use of the elbow against Arutro Vidal the Swiss were always up against it. The game’s decisive moment came with sixteen minutes of the second half to play as Esteban Paredes beat the offside trap to run on to a through ball from Jorge Valdivia, crossed the ball towards the far post where Mark González was waiting to guide it home with his head. The result ensured that Chile will remain on top of the group irrespective of Spain’s result later in the day.

David Villa

David Villa scored both goals for Spain in their 2-0 win over Honduras

Spain, simply put, had to win against Central American outsiders Honduras if they were to fancy their chances of progress. The game never looked like being anything other than a Spain win either on paper or when the match began on the pitch as La Roja dominated the possession and the territory throughout the game. David Villa added to his amazing goals/games ratio tonight when it mattered. The newly-signed FC Barcelona striker already had forty goals from sixty internationals before tonight’s game and he could’ve added a lot more than the two which he did score against a weak Honduras side. He scored his first in the 17th minute, receiving the ball outside the box, jinking past two defenders before taking a touch in order to curl the ball into the top right-hand corner of the net. His second came six minutes into the second half when his shot from the edge of the penalty box took a deflection and deceived Noel Valladares in the Honduras goal. Villa then had the chance to become the second player in the competition, after Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuaín, to score a hat-trick but missed his spot kick as the ball shaded just past the post as he sent the keeper diving in the opposite direction. Nonetheless Spain were comfortable winners and they now must get three points against leaders Chile in their final Group H match to qualify for the next stage. Anything less and La Roja will be sweating it out on the other game between Honduras and Switzerland which takes place at the same time.

FIFA: Spain shocked by flukey Swiss; Chile make history

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 16, 2010
Gelson Fernandes

Gelson Fernandes scored the winning goal in Switzerland's 1-0 win over Spain

After Brazil squeaked their way past a resilient North Korea on Tuesday another FIFA World Cup favourite Spain had less luck in their opening group match against Switzerland on Wednesday. The Spanish lost to a Gelson Fernandes goal in the 52nd minute of their Group H encounter in what proved to be the first major shock of the tournament. That means that the Swiss top the group along with Chile who, earlier in the day, had beaten Honduras by a lone Jean Beausejour strike ten minutes from the break.

La Roja, as the Spanish national team are known, have been the pre-tournament favourites and were widely expected to beat Switzerland in their opening Group H match in Durban. Sadly for Spain’s coach Vicente del Bosque his troops were to go down by a goal to nil despite his side having the lion’s share of the possession and the chances. In face Switzerland’s only real chance in the game came along with the goal seven minutes after the break. A traditional route one goal was started with a punt upfield from goalkeeper Diego Benaglio which was headed on by Eren Derdiyok. He made a run and received the ball back before having a run into the penalty box before being tripped by Spanish keeper Iker Casillas. After Derdiyok was left sprawling in the box the loose ball was tapped in from Fernandes who was chased unsuccessfully by Gerard Piqué and the Swiss had the lead with their first real opportunity of the game. After that there were two great chances which hit the woodwork, one for either side. Xabi Alonso hit the crossbar after shooting from distance on 72 minutes while Switzerland’s only real chance to put the game to bed came three minutes later when Derdiyok, after a mazy run, shot without the outside of his right foot only to see his shot cannon back off a post. The Spanish, try as they might, were unable to summon up an equalizer and it was Ottmar Hitzfeld and his troops who were to celebrate a wonderful three points after the game.

Earlier in the day Chile made history by winning their first FIFA World Cup match a mere 48 years after winning their last one which was played on home soil in the 1962 tournament. A deserved win for the South Americans was sealed when Alexis Sanchez played a lovely through ball down the right to Mauricio Isla who squared it to Jean Beausejour who turned it home from a few yards out. The game could’ve been over as a contest on 65 minutes but Waldo Ponce’s close range header was stopped brilliantly by Honduras keeper Noel Valladares to keep the Central American side in the game. Unfortunately for the Hondurans it was Marcelo Bielsa’s men who had done just enough to take the three points in one of the FIFA World Cup’s more entertaining affairs so far.

After one game each Spain and Honduras are propping up the Chileans and the Swiss before the second set of games in the group sees Spain meeting fellow opening match losers Honduras in Johannesburg on Monday, June 21st whilst Chile meet Switzerland earlier on the same day in Port Elizabeth.

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