Saturday, October 10, 2009

Eight More Qualify for South Africa

Great day for soccer fans. Matches decided in the final seconds. Clutch victories on the road. Eight more berths in South Africa 2010 assured ... but 13 still unknown with only a (comparative) handful of qualifying matches still to play.

Ten of the most significant results from today ... including all eight of the 2010 clinching matches, from least-rousing to most:

10. Malawi 1, Cote d'Ivoire 1. The least impressive and least surprising clinching performance of the day. Ivory Coast, as it has been known in English, led the weakest group in Africa, Group E, by six points with two matches to play, and needed only a tie today to clinch, and that's what it delivered. But not before trailing minnow Malawi untilthe 67th minute, when international star Didier Drogba scored for the Ivoirians.

9. Mexico 4, El Salvador 1. This one rated a zero on the Surprise Meter. Little El Salvador at Mexico, in Azteca ... the outcome was never in doubt. And neither was Mexico getting one of the three guaranteed Concacaf berths in South Africa 2010. Mexico turned things around back in Games 6, 7 and 8, when it came from behind to win at home against the United States, 2-1; then crushed Costa Rica, 3-0, at San Jose; and when El Tri survived a determined performance by Honduras to win 1-0 on a penalty over Honduras, at Azteca. Oh, and those games coincide with the accession of Javier Aguirre to the coach's job.

8. (tie) Argentina 2, Peru 1; Portugal 3, Hungary 0. Two of the glamour soccer powers at risk of not making the World Cup finals came through and now control their destiny. Martin Palermo can off the bench to score three minutes into stoppage time as Argentina avoided what would have been a humiliating and disastrous tie with bottom-feeder Peru, in Buenos Aires ... and Simao scored twice for Portugal in its romp and jumped into second in Europe Group 1 with only a home match with Malta left. That is, Portugal can begin planning to be in one of the four home-and-home second-place playoffs for a South Africa ticket.

7. Ecuador 1, Uruguay 2. The visitors rallied for a victory, at 9,300 feet above sea level, in Quito, to win on a penalty by Diego Forlan in extra time. Uruguay now gets arch-rival Argentina at home, in Montevideo, on Wednesday, with the fourth (and final) guaranteed berth from South America at stake. If Ecuador recovers to win at Chile, and there is a loser in the Uruguay-Argentina, Ecuador would finish fifth -- and go into the home-and-home playoff with the No. 4 squad out of Concacaf.

6. Serbia 5, Romania 0. Milan Javanovic scored twice as the Serbs clinched Group 7. Serbia goes to the finals for the first time since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

5. Colombia 2, Chile 4. The Chileans overcame the shock of an early own goal in the thin air of Medellin (5,000 feet) to roll to victory and qualify for their first World Cup finals since 1998. Jorge Valdivia, who plays for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, scored the decisive goal in the 72nd minute.

4. Ireland 2, Italy 2. The Azzurri needed only a tie to clinch Europe Group 8, but it didn't look likely when Sean St. Ledger scored for Ireland in the 87th minute. However, Alberto Gilardino scored in the 90th minute to put Italy through to South Africa. Ireland's consolation prize: A berth in the second-place playoffs for one of the last four Euro berths in 2010.

3. Denmark 1, Sweden 0. It took 79 minutes before a goal was scored, but Jakob Poulsen's strike clinched Group 1 for Denmark and all but eliminated the Swedes from future consideration. Sweden now can finish second only if it defeats Albania and Portugal somehow loses at home to Malta. OK, let's just say it: Sweden is dead.

2. Honduras 2, United States 3. Little-known forward Conor Casey scored twice and Landon Donovan got the key third goal on a bending free kick as the U.S. secured one of Concacaf's three assured berths with an unexpected victory at San Pedro Sula. Honduras had been unbeaten and untied in eight previous home matches in this qualifying cycle, outscoring the opposition 12-2 in the final round. The U.S. will appear in its sixth consecutive finals after missing the previous nine.

1. Russia 0, Germany 1. In a match pitting the FIFA world-ranked Nos. 4 (Germany) and 5 (Russia) teams, the superpowers of Europe Group 4, Miroslav Klose scored in the 34th minute and Germany held on for 32-plus tense minutes -- in Moscow -- while playing with only 10 men, following the expulsion of defenseman Jerome Boateng. Russia figures to be a very formidable opponent in the second-place playoffs.
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