Sunday, October 11, 2009

Seven Matches, No New Finalists

Seven more qualifying matches played today for South Africa 2010 ... but no new team secured a berth in next year's big event.

Still stuck on 19 teams ... with 13 still to be determined.

The closest we came to getting to 20 teams was in Africa, where Nigeria scored three minutes into extra time to eke out a 1-0 victory over Mozambique. A Nigeria draw would have clinched Africa Group B for Tunisia, which won 1-0 at home over Kenya.

Biggest African disappointment this quadrennium?

Has to be Nigeria. This is a serious soccer nation, with the biggest population in Africa and lots of oil money, and a squad made up of players from some of Europe's elite leagues. Among its starters today: Midfielder Mikel John Obi (Chelsea), defender Joseph Yobo (Everton), midfielder Seyi Olafinjana (Hull City), midfielder Kalu Uche (Almeira) and his brother Ikechukwu Uche (Real Zaragoza), Taye Taiwo (Marseille). Etc.

Still, Nigeria suffered a scoreless tie at Mozambique, a team of unknowns, back in March, and was unable to make up for that gaffe by defeating Tunisia. Nigeria twice had one-goal leads in a home match with the Tunisians last month, but settled for a 2-2 tie.

Now, Nigeria needs help. It must win at Kenya while Tunisia loses at Mozambique, on Nov. 14. Tunisia hasn't exactly overpowered its opposition, either, but it has come through in pressure situations.

Another interesting match was Algeria's 3-1 home victory over Rwanda, a result that leaves the Algerians on the cusp of South Africa -- and its first World Cup finals since 1986. Algeria leads Egypt by three points in Group C, with the final match scheduled in Cairo on Nov. 14.

Algeria advances with a victory, a draw or even a one-goal loss, because it is plus-7 in goal differential to Egypt's plus-3. Egypt would advance with a 2-0 victory because it that would leave each team at plus-5 in goal-differential, and Egypt would win on the basis of a 3-2 lead in away goals. However, if Algeria scores one goal or more, Egypt would have to win by three goals.

Got all that?

The third match today worth noting was Brazil's 2-1 loss at Bolivia. It would be bigger news if Brazil hadn't already qualified, but it showed up with a representative side (Luisao, Maicon, Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Ramires, Adriano) ... and still lost. Of course, winning with your best players is difficult, in La Paz, Bolivia, which sits 12,000 feet above sea level.

Another huge day of qualifying coming Wednesday, with 32 matches scheduled. At least four more participants in South Africa 2010 will be identified -- two from Europe, one from South America and one from Concacaf. Also, the 10 participants in home-and-home playoffs for five berths also will be known -- eight runners-up in Europe, the No. 4 team out of Concacaf and the No. 5 team from South America.
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