Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Road to 2010: 9/9/09 Wrap-up

Well, that was a pretty intense five days: 75 qualifying matches, including 35 today, Sept. 9, 2009. Which is 9/9/9, if you think of it ... or 6\6\6 upside down. I watched games pretty much all day. It was like American college basketball's first couple of days of playoffs competition. But instead of March Madness it was September ... Insanity.

England, Spain and Paraguay clinched berths in South Africa 2010, taking to 10 the number of nations that have qualified. (South Africa, as host, is already in.) Several other countries moved within a whisker of winning a ticket. Others fell flat. A few moved back into contention.

Some of the highlights:

--Bahrain 2 at Saudi Arabia 2. The wildest and arguably most-meaningful match of the day. This was the second half of a home-and-home playoff to determine the No. 5 team out of Asia -- which gets to play Oceania champion New Zealand in a home-and-home to determine a World Cup berth. The Saudis and Bahrainis played to a scoreless draw in Manama on Saturday, and it was 1-1 after 90 minutes in Riyadh early Thursday morning. (The match kicked off at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, Riyadh time.) Saudi Arabia scored in the first minute of extra time, thrilling the 70,000 at King Fahd Stadium ... but then Bahrain sub Ismail Abdullatif scored in the fourth minute of extra time to make it 2-2 -- and send Bahrain forward by virtue of the "away goals" statistic. The Saudis' streak of four consecutive World Cup finals appearances is over, and Bahrain is two matches away from becoming the smallest nation, by population (about 700,000) to make the finals. Trinidad & Tobago (1.3 million) is the smallest finals qualifier to date.

--Croatia 1 at England 5. No surprise here. England is 8-0 in Europe's Group 6, and an early penalty set the stage for a rout. Croatia still probably will make the second-place playoffs for the final four European berths.

--Estonia 0 at Spain 3: Cesc Fabregas scored early, and the Spaniards got two late goals to clinch Group 5, Brazil may be ranked No. 1 in the world, but Spain has won 18 of 19 matches (losing only to the U.S. in the Confederations Cup in June), and has only that one loss in its last 39 matches, going back to November of 2006.

--Argentina 0 at Paraguay 1. Big news for both sides. Paraguay clinched one of the four guaranteed berths out of South America ... and Argentina fell into fifth place in the regional standings, putting the two-time world champions at risk of not qualifying for 2010. How much more time Diego Maradona gets as coach of Argentina is open to speculation.

--Switzerland 2 at Latvia 2. The Balts missed a chance to forge a tie atop Europe's Group 2 when Swiss sub Ered Derdiyok scored in the 80th minute. Latvia and Greece play for sole possesion of second place, in Greece, on Oct. 10. Switzerland is the clear favorite to win the group because it leads by three points and ends at tiny Luxembourg and is home to out-of-it Israel.

--Portugal 1 at Hungary 0. Cristiano Ronaldo's team isn't dead yet! The Portuguese moved up to third in the Group 1 standings and could get one of the second-place playoffs berths by winning its last two while Sweden loses once -- perhaps at group leader Denmark on Oct. 10.

--Russia 3 at Wales 1. The Russians scored twice in the final 20 minutes to break a tie and set up a monumental clash with Group 4 leader Germany on Oct. 10.

--Finland 1 at Leichtenstein 1. Not important, just embarrassing, for Finland.

--Slovakia 2 at Northern Ireland 0. Stanislav Sestak and Filip Holosko scored for the Slovaks as they firmed up their lead in Group 3. Slovakia needs only a tie at home vs. second-place Slovenia to clinch its first World Cup berth. Northern Ireland had a chance to win the group before melting in front of its home crowd, in Belfast.

--Ecuador 3 at Bolivia 1. Edison Mendez scored in the fourth minute to touch off a rout by Ecuador at La Paz, Bolivia's 12,000-foot aerie. Ecuador thus jumps Argentina into fourth place in South America. Ecuador finishes with Uruguay at home and at Chile.

--Colombia 1 at Uruguay 3. The Uruguayans moved within one point of Argentina in fifth place in the South America standings, putting even more pressure on Diego Maradona's squad. Fifth place is worth a home-and-home playoff with the No. 4 team out of Cocancaf -- most likely Costa Rica. Sixth place is worth nothing.

--United States 1 at Trinidad & Tobago 0. Ricardo Clark scored for the Americans in the 62nd minute at Port of Spain as they vaulted to the lead in Concacaf, thanks to Mexico's 1-0 victory over visiting Honduras in Azteca Stadium. The Americans need only a tie, at home, vs. Costa Rica, to gain a berth in their sixth consecutive World Cup finals -- following a 40-year absence.

--Gabon 1 at Cameroon 2. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon needed only five days to go from worst to first in Africa's Group A by defeating former leader (and cuddly long shot) Gabon twice. Inter Milan star Samuel Eto'o scored for Cameroon in both matches.

Next big day of qualifying? October 10. Discuss it amongst yourselves. We will quiz you on it later.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff here. I really liked the format. It was a pleasure to read.