Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mexico, Norway Win, Improve SA 2010 Chances

Two countries with significant World Cup history took steps toward a trip to South Africa 2010 today. Mexico came from behind to defeat its regional arch-rival, the United States, 2-1; and Norway thrashed Scotland in Europe Group 9 to reintroduce itself to contention for second place -- and potential advancement.

Other qualifiers already in, and what they mean:

Germany 2 at Azerbaijan 0: Germany stays atop Group 4 and keeps up the pressure on Russia, which is four points back with a game in hand. The group winner probably will be decided when Germany plays in Moscow on Oct. 10.

Croatia 3 at Belarus 1: Ivica Olic scored twice as Croatia kept alive its slim hopes of catching England atop Group 6, put some pressure on Ukraine in the battle for second and essentially eliminated Belarus.

France 1 at Faroe Islands 0: Andre-Pierre Gignac scored in the 42nd minute as France was anything but convincing against the Group 7 minnow and moved within five points of group leader Serbia -- with four matches to play vs. Serbia's three. France also shored up its grip on second place over Lithuania.

At least one fairly significant match remains to be played today -- Costa Rica at Honduras.

In Oslo, Norway revived its campaign with a Group 9 rout of the Scots, who had hoped to move into the clear in second place behind already qualified Holland. Scotland has seven points, as does Macedonia, and Norway is now in it with six points. Each of those three has three matches left, and if one of them can get to, say, 12 points, it has a shot of getting into the four home-and-home playoffs of the eight best European group runnersup.

The biggest game was the one played in Mexico City, where Mexico conceded a ninth-minute goal by Charlie Davies (after an exquisite pass from Landon Donovan). It gave the U.S. a lead on Mexico soil for the first time, but it was not to stand up.

Los Tricolores steadily applied pressure on the visitors thereafter, who seemed content to surrender about 75 percent of the field, and Mexico picked up a pair of goals to improve to 23-0-1 at home, all-time (and 19-0-1 at Azteca), against the norte americanos.

Mexico's confidence and resolve was rewarded by a nice goal from 25 yards by Israel Castro in the 19th minute, a well-struck ball that glanced off the underside of the crossbar and bounced down into the goal. The winner came in the 82nd minute, when Efrain Juarez ran past Donovan in the box and turned the corner before knocking a pass back to recent sub Miguel Sabah, who was unmarked as he popped the ball into the goal from about 7 yards.

Mexico almost had to win, and now that it has it remains very much in the mix for one of Concacaf's three automatic berths and, worst-case, seems positioned to get the No. 4 spot -- which means a home-and-home with the No. 5 out of South America.

The United States remains stuck at 10 points, only one ahead of Mexico. Four matches remain for each.

The next big day in World Cup qualifying: Sept. 5.

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