Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA: Argentina win again; Greece get first victory; France stumble to defeat

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 17, 2010
Gonzalo Higuaín

Gonzalo Higuaín scored a hat-trick for Argentina in their 4-1 win over South Korea

Having lamented the lack of real action in the opening week of the FIFA World Cup, with only Germany being spared from any criticism due to their fantastic 4-0 triumph over Australia, the tournament now seems to have opened up and the goals have been flying in over the last two days of action. Many pundits have suggested, quite justifiably, that every team in the competition was frightened to lose in their opening matches and, therefore, placed an emphasis on defence with no real inclination to attack. But now that every team has played their opening game it is evident amongst those teams that have played their second matches already that there is an instinct to attack that wasn’t there before. Suddenly the action is better and the games have become more of a spectacle. Today’s action is a case in point.

The Group B table saw Argentina top after the first round of matches and it remains the case after the second round as the Albiceleste saw off a spirited South Korea side by four goals to one with the brilliant and, in my humble opinion, under-rated striker Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. Argentina, though, did have to rely on a bit of luck to take the lead after a 16th minute free-kick from the left by Lionel Messi was inadvertently turned into his own net by Park Chu-Young from six yards out. The second goal for Argentina began in the same area of the pich with a cross from Maxi Rodríguez flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, an early substitute for Walter Samuel who went off with a hamstring injury, and Higuaín was able to direct the ball goalwards at the far post to double the lead. At this point the Argentines were coasting the match but were given a wake-up call from South Korea when Lee Chung-Yung dispossessed Martín Demichelis on the edge of Argentina’s penalty area and tucked it past Sergio Romero to pull one back on the stroke of half-time.

The second half would belong to one man and that man was Gonzalo Higuaín. His second goal was a true poacher’s effort with Messi and Sergio Agüero combining well with the former’s shot hitting the keeper and a post before crawling along the line where a grateful Higuaín tapped it home to make it 3-1 with thirteen minutes to go. Three minutes later and he’d got his hat-trick thanks once again to some fantastic work between Messi and Agüero. Messi fed Agüero with a lofted ball into the box, with Agüero supplying a beautifully weighted cross over to Higuaín at the far post and his header sealed what was a well-deserved scoreline for a team who have seemingly found their rhythm in this tournament now.

In the other Group B game Greece, who had started the tournament so appallingly in their opening game against South Korea, looked to be heading in the same direction after just sixteen minutes when Kalu Uche’s long distance free-kick somehow avoided everybody in the box and deceived Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas into diving the wrong way. But the Greeks finally got that bit of luck when Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 33rd minute for kicking out at Vasilis Torosidis after a needless scuffle on the touchline. This provided the perfect platform for the 2004 European champions to get back into the game and, with just seconds of the first half remaining, they did just that. Even then Greece, who hadn’t scored a single goal in World Cup finals football before today, finally broke their duck thanks to a cruel deflection, Dimitris Salpingidis’ shot came off Lukman Haruna and sent the keeper the wrong way to make the score 1-1 going into the break. From the second half the Greeks took the game to the Super Eagles who had decided to try and hold on to what they had. But constant Greek pressure soon paid off in the 71st minute when Torosidis, the man at the centre of the red card furore earlier in the game, saw Alexandros Tziolis’ shot from the edge of the box parried by Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and it was Torosidis who put the rebound in from just inside the six yard box to give his country its first ever victory in the FIFA World Cup after they lost all of their previous four games from the 1994 and 2010 tournaments. In the final Group B matches, to be played on Tuesday June 22nd at 20:30 local time, Argentina meet Greece whilst South Korea face off against Nigeria.

Javier Hernández

Javier Hernández gave Mexico the lead in their 2-0 win over France

Group A had already seen the host nation South Africa crumble to an efficient Uruguay side on Wednesday night, Diego Forlán’s contribution of two goals and an assist for Álvaro Pereira saw the two-time winners victorious to the tune of three goals to nil to silence the vuvuzelas in the crowd. Thursday saw the second game in the group for France and Mexico, both of whom drew their opening matches in the tournament, therefore a win was absolutely imperative for both teams to stake a serious claim of further progress in the competition. Despite the lack of goals in the first half the Mexicans gave a good account of themselves and were clearly the hungrier of the two teams. The French, personified by their expected star of the tournament Franck Ribéry, were lacklustre, devoid of ideas and barely threatened their opponents all night. The second half saw Mexico break the deadlock on 64 minutes when Javier Hernández, who came on as a substitute just ten minutes earlier, beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to take the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris and into the French net. The game was won fifteen minutes later when another second half substitute Cuauhtémoc Blanco dispatched a penalty kick which had been won when Patrice Evra brought down Pablo Barrera in the box. The celebrations started in the stadium and the result seriously hinders French chances of qualification to the next round. In the final Group A games, to be played on Tuesday, June 22nd at 16:00 local time, group leaders Uruguay and Mexico meet each other in Rustenburg, with both teams knowing that a draw will be enough to take them both through, while South Africa plays against France in Bloemfontein in what will almost certainly be their last match in their home tournament.

FIFA: Draws all round on opening day

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 12, 2010
Siphiwe Tshabalala

Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the opening goal in FIFA World Cup 2010

So after all the wait the FIFA World Cup finally kicked-off in Soccer City yesterday for the tournament’s opening game between hosts South Africa and their opponents Mexico. After the opening ceremony, and a couple of welcome speeches from FIFA President Sepp Blatter and South African President Jacob Zuma, the action got under way and it was Mexico who looked the most dangerous team in the first twenty minutes. Bafana Bafana were looking shaky at the back straight from the off with goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune called into the action stopping efforts from Giovani Dos Santos, arguably Mexico’s best player on the day, and Guillermo Franco. The key moment of the first half came eight minutes before half-time when Carlos Vela had a goal disallowed for offside and it seemed that the footballing gods were looking down on South Africa for their big day in the spotlight.

This view seemed to lend itself further credibility ten minutes into the second half when Man of the Match Siphiwe Tshabalala was played through by Teko Modise and he unleashed a fantastic left-footed strike into the top right hand corner to cue celebrations and the biggest blast of the Vuvuzela horns all afternoon. Something tells me that the Vuvuzelas will end up being the most annoying thing about the World Cup as the noise generated by thousands of people blowing into them at the same time makes it sound like the largest swarm of bees anywhere. Thankfully, for Mexico, Rafael Márquez was able to silence the horns, albeit very briefly, in the 78th minute when he was played onside by Aaron Mokoena and he fired hard and low to the keeper’s left to restore parity for the Mexicans. The game was due a grandstand finish and it almost got it in the 89th minute but, after a classic bit of route one football, Katlego Mphela’s shot hit the post and the 1-1 result was perhaps greeted with relief from both sides in the end.

The second game of the day saw two former world champions collide when Uruguay faced-off against France and it would have to go a fair way to beat the entertainment provided by the opening match. Sadly both teams were seemingly incapable of lifting themselves for football’s biggest tournament and played out a pitiful goalless stalemate which was only notable for the sending-off of Uruguay’s Nicolás Lodeiro who had come on as a second half substitute and remained on the pitch for a mere seventeen minutes. After the opening day of the 19th FIFA World Cup all four teams in Group A are on one point each with South Africa and Mexico occupying the top two places due to goals scored. In the second games in Group A South Africa meet Uruguay in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 16th with France playing against Mexico one day later in Polokwane.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Two

Brazil

Brazil celebrate winning their fifth World Cup in 2002.

In the second part of Stoppage Time’s build-up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday June 11th, we profile the ten teams who have qualified from South America, Asia, and Oceania (note – FIFA rankings correct from May 26th):

BRAZIL – Winners of South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 1

The most successful country in FIFA World Cup history kept up their amazing record of having qualified for every single World Cup tournament, the only nation to have achieved this feat. Dunga’s side won their qualification group by a point from nearest challengers Chile and Paraguay. Strongly fancied to add to their tally of five World Cup wins, the last of whch saw Brazil lift the trophy in Japan/South Korea in 2002. Face tough group matches against Ivory Coast and Portugal but should have enough to qualify and go far in the tournament.

Coach:  Dunga

Star Player: Kaka

CHILE – 2nd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 18

The Chileans have impressed under the stewardship of Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa. Took Brazil all the way in World Cup qualifying but still managed to finish a very respectable second place. La Roja are favoured to progress to the Round of 16 stage from their group which contains favourites Spain, Switzerland and underdogs Honduras.

Coach: Marcelo Bielsa

Star Player: Humberto Suazo

PARAGUAY – 3rd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 31

Paraguay surprised a few people with their final position finishing third only on goal difference behind Chile but they would’ve finished top of the ten nation group had they not lost to Colombia at home on the final matchday of qualifying . Nonetheless Paraguay could spring a surprise or two in South Africa but will be fighting it out for second in their group behind Italy. Can they get the points they need against New Zealand and Slovakia to go through to the knockout stage?

Coach: Gerardo Martino

Star Player: Roque Santa Cruz

ARGENTINA – 4th in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 7

Diego Maradona’s side qualified the hard way. After a fantastic start to the campaign Diego Maradona took over the reins of the national team from Alfio Basile a little more than halfway through qualifying. With two matches to go there was a possibility that the Argentinians had thrown away their chances of automatic qualification but a last gasp 2-1 win over Peru was followed by a 1-0 win away at eternal rivals Uruguay. The Albiceleste have perhaps the easiest group out of the heavyweight teams and should progress without too many problems against Greece, Nigeria and South Korea. But have they got what it takes to go all the way?

Coach: Diego Maradona

Star Player: Lionel Messi

URUGUAY – 5th in South America Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 16

Uruguay had to play against Costa Rica (4th in CONCACAF group) in a two-leg play-off after failing to secure an automatic berth during the main qualification stages. Uruguay won the first leg 1-0 away from home and things looked comfortable when they doubled their lead with a goal from Sebastian Abreu in the second leg. However the Costa Ricans equalised on the night to make it 2-1 on aggregate and Uruguay were made to sweat for their place in South Africa. Now in South Africa they face an open group fighting it out with France, Mexico and the host nation for a place in the Round of Sixteen.

Coach: Oscar Washington Tabarez

Star Player: Diego Forlán

Australia National Team

The Socceroos are appearing in their third World Cup finals

AUSTRALIA – 1st in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 20

Australia breezed through their group finishing five points clear of fellow qualifiers Japan. After losing to a harsh penalty against Italy in the 2006 World Cup the “Socceroos” will be hoping to spring a surprise in South Africa especially with a host of players plying their trade in Europe. Since World Cup qualification was assured Australia have also qualified for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finishing top of their qualifying group over Kuwait, Oman and Indonesia. In South Africa the Aussies will face tough opposition in Germany, Serbia and Ghana and progress into the knockout stages will be far from easy.

Coach: Pim Verbeek

Star Player: Tim Cahill

JAPAN – 2nd in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 45

Although they finished five points behind Australia the Japanese team finished the same number of points ahead of Bahrain to take the second automatic qualifying spot from Asia Group One. Since World Cup qualification the Japanese have secured a place in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup topping a group containing Bahrain, Yemen and Hong Kong. Despite regular appearances in the FIFA World Cup since 1998 they have yet to get past the second round of any tournament and aren’t expected to trouble too much in a group containing Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon.

Coach: Takeshi Okada

Star Player: Shinji Okazaki

SOUTH KOREA – 1st in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 47

South Korea kept up their good run of qualifying for the World Cup by remaining unbeaten in Asia Group Two which pitted them against neighbours North Korea and traditional Asian heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE. Since World Cup qualification the South Korean team have not, unlike Australia and Japan, had to play in 2011 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers as they have an automatic berth in the tournament and have, therefore, played many friendly matches instead. Despite regular appearances in this competition South Korea are expected to struggle again in a group containing Argentina, Greece and Nigeria but one feels they could do better than the pundits expect.

Coach: Huh Jung-Moo

Star Player: Park Ji-Sung

NORTH KOREA – 2nd in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 105

The North Koreans secured their second ever World Cup finals qualification with a runners-up finish in Asia Group Two. It was a close run thing between themselves and Saudi Arabia who finished on the same number of points. However the North Koreans’ superior goal difference proved to be crucial in the end. Since qualification for South Africa there has been competitive action for North Korea in the form of the 2010 AFC Challenge Cup in which they beat Turkmenistan in the final to qualify for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. In relation to the 2010 World Cup as much as people would love to see a modern day Pak Doo-Ik, the hero of the 1966 tournament, a repeat of his exploits seem very unlikely in a group containing Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.

Coach: Kim Jong-Hun

Star Player: Hong Yong-Jo

NEW ZEALAND – 1st in Oceania Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 78

Having easily negotiated their way past New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu in Oceania qualifying, the All Whites were made to work hard against a determined Bahrain (3rd in Asia Group One) in a two-leg play-off. A Rory Fallon header just before half time in the second match in Wellington secured both their place in the finals and Fallon’s place as a Kiwi sporting hero. Since then New Zealand have struggled in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup scoring only one point in three games and finishing bottom of their group. It is expected that they will also struggle in what is to be only their second World Cup finals appearance but could have an element of surprise about them in games against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.

Coach: Ricki Herbert

Star Player: Ryan Nelsen

Uruguay – Peñarol secure 41st title against arch-enemy

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on May 20, 2010
Penarol

Club Atlético Peñarol are champions of Uruguay for the 41st time after their play-off series win over Nacional

Club Atlético Peñarol have been crowned Uruguayan champions for the 41st time in their history after getting the better of traditional rivals Nacional in a championship play-off series.

The first game, played on May 12th, finished 2-0 to Nacional which meant that a further two matches had to be played. Had Peñarol won the first game then they would have been automatically crowned champions due to their superior record in the regular season. However the win for Nacional ensured two more battles of Uruguay’s Superclásico in order to determine the destination of the title.

On May 15th a goal from club captain Antonio Pacheco gave Peñarol a 1-0 win over their arch-enemy to then set-up a third and final encounter which would decide the title. In game three, which was played last night, Nacional took the lead in the 35th minute thanks to an Alejandro Lembo strike. Nacional needed at least a 1-0 victory to take the game into extra-time but it wasn’t to be as Peñarol winger Matías Aguirregaray equalized on 68 minutes meaning that a draw would give las Manyas the crown and so it proved as Nacional were unable to break the Peñarol rearguard any further.

Both of the finalists had already been assured of their participation in the second round of the 2011 Copa Libertadores on the back of winning the two stages of the regular season. Also in South American competition are Liverpool FC (Copa Libertadores first round stage), River Plate and Defensor Sporting (Copa Sudamericana first stage) whilst the unlucky teams facing the prospect of life in the second division next season are Cerrito, Cerro Largo and Atenas whose points avergare over a two-year period deprives of first division football next season.

Tagged with: , ,

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.

LDU Quito in a Liga of their own

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Copa Sudamericana Logo

The Copa Sudamericana is South America's version of the UEFA Europa League

Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, better known as LDU Quito, have won the 2009 Copa Nissan Sudamericana after what became an angst-ridden 5-4 aggregate victory in a two-legged final against Brazilian giants Fluminense. This is the third continental success for the Ecuadorians after winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League), again beating Fluminense, and the 2009 Recopa (a South American version of the European Super Cup) in which they defeated another Brazilian team Internacional of Porto Alegre 4-0 over two legs. It has been a meteoric rise for the club who have steadily built a good footballing side and have become the dominant force in Ecuador. Their appearance in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup final against Manchester United made the football world take notice despite their narrow defeat to a lone Wayne Rooney strike.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for LDU this year. In the 2009 Copa Libertadores they came crashing back down to earth after the previous year’s joy of success. LDU finished bottom of their group behind Sport Recife, Palmeiras (both from Brazil) and Chilean representatives Colo Colo. Thankfully for LDU they finished second in the first stage of the Ecuador Serie A championship, thus qualifying for the Sudamericana, and from there they rediscovered their form in continental competition. After a first round 2-1 aggregate win against Libertad of Paraguay LDU then went on to beat Argentinians Lanus 5-1 (agg.) and Velez Sarsfield 3-2 (agg.) to set up a semi-final tie with Uruguay’s River Plate. A 7-0 drubbing of their opponents in the first leg meant that LDU could afford to take their foot off the gas in the second leg, which they lost 2-1. This set up a second major final with Fluminense who had overcome Paraguayans Cerro Porteno 3-1 (agg.) in their semi-final.

In the first leg of the final in Quito it was the Brazilians that struck early, Marquinho giving the visitors the lead after sixty seconds. After that though LDU dominated with Edison Mendez scoring a hat-trick before the hour mark and two late goals from Franklin Salas and Ulises de la Cruz securing a 5-1 lead to take to Rio de Janeiro. In the second leg the Ecudorians were on the defensive from early on as Dieguinho and Fred gave “Flu” a 2-0 lead at half-time. Any ideas that LDU may have had before the game of cruising this second leg were dashed even further eighteen minutes from the end when Gum made it 3-0 on the night to the Rio side. However despite the best efforts of Fluminense they couldn’t get the fourth goal necessary to take the match into extra-time (away goals not counting in this tournament) and the party could start once again in the Ecuadorian capital after LDU held out to win the final 5-4 on aggregate. LDU are now the envy of Ecuador having shown that they are in a league of their own for handling the big occasion. As a reward for this victory LDU will play Estudiantes de la Plata, the team that replaced them as Copa Libertadores champions in 2009, in the 2010 Recopa final.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Two

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 2, 2009

Cafu lifts the FIFA World Cup in 2002 for Brazil

In the second part of Stoppage Time’s build-up to the FIFA World Cup draw, we profile the ten teams who have qualified from South America, Asia, and Oceania:

BRAZIL – Winners of South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 2*

The most successful country in FIFA World Cup history kept up their amazing record of having qualified for every single World Cup tournament, the only nation to have achieved this feat. Dunga’s side were a model of consistency losing only twice in the eighteen match campaign and won the group by a point from nearest challengers Chile and Paraguay. Strongly fancied to add to their tally of five World Cup wins, the last of whch saw Cafu lift the trophy in Japan/South Korea in 2002 (picture).

CHILE – 2nd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 17

The Chileans have impressed under the stewardship of Argentinian coach  Marcelo Bielsa and are seen as an outside chance to go far in South Africa due to their exciting brand of football.

PARAGUAY – 3rd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 30

Paraguay surprised a few people with their final position finishing third only on goal difference behind Chile. Had they not been defeated by Colombia at home on the final matchday of qualifying they would’ve finished top of the ten nation group. Nonetheless Paraguay could spring a surprise or two in South Africa if they get a decent draw.

ARGENTINA – 4th in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Diego Maradona’s side qualified the hard way. After a fantastic start to the campaign Diego Maradona took over the reins of the national team from Alfio Basile a little more than halfway through qualifying. With two matches to go there was a possibility that the Argentinians had thrown away their chances of automatic qualification but a last gasp 2-1 win over Peru was followed by a 1-0 win away at eternal rivals Uruguay. Despite having players such as Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain the jury is out on whether “El Diego” can lead his country to a third World Cup triumph.

URUGUAY – 5th in South America Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 8

Uruguay had to play against Costa Rica (4th in CONCACAF group) in a two-leg play-off after failing to secure an automatic berth during the main qualification stages. Uruguay won the first leg 1-0 away from home and things looked comfortable when they doubled their lead with a goal from Sebastian Abreu in the second leg. However the Costa Ricans equalised on the night to make it 2-1 on aggregate and Uruguay were made to sweat for their place in South Africa.

AUSTRALIA – 1st in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 21

Australia breezed through their group finishing five points clear of fellow qualifiers Japan. After losing to a harsh penalty against Italy in the 2006 World Cup the “Socceroos” will be hoping to spring a surprise in South Africa especially with proven experience players such as Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell.

JAPAN – 2nd in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 43

Although they finished five points behind Australia the Japanese team finished the same number of points ahead of Bahrain to take the second automatic qualifying spot from Asia Group One. Despite regular appearances in the FIFA World Cup since 1998 they have yet to get past the second round of any tournament and aren’t expected to trouble too much in South Africa.

SOUTH KOREA – 1st in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 52

South Korea kept up their good run of qualifying for the World Cup by remaining unbeaten in Asia Group Two, a campaign which pitted them against neighbours North Korea and traditional Asian heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE.

NORTH KOREA – 2nd in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 84

The North Koreans secured their second ever World Cup finals qualification with a runners-up finish in Asia Group Two. It was a close run thing between themselves and Saudi Arabia who finished on the same number of points. However the North Koreans superior goal difference proved to be crucial in the end. As much as people would love to see a modern day Pak Doo Ik, the hero of the 1966 World Cup, knocking out some of the big boys a repeat of those exploits seem very unlikely.

NEW ZEALAND – 1st in Oceania Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 77

Having easily negotiated their way past New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu in Oceania qualifying, the “All Whites” were made to work hard against a determined Bahrain (3rd in Asia Group One) in a two-leg play-off. A Rory Fallon header just before half time in the second match in Wellington secured both their place in the finals and Fallon’s place as a Kiwi sporting hero. However it is expected that they will struggle in what is to be only their second finals tournament, the first being the 1982 tournament in Spain.

* FIFA World Rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.