Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not Many Big Names Missing the Party

Most of the planet's top teams are on their way to South Africa 2010.

Typically, it seems as if one of the Big Kids doesn't qualify. Maybe England. Or the Netherlands. Somebody pretty good doesn't make it. Someone serious fans will miss.

That is not really the case, so far in the 2010 cycle. For a while, Mexico seemed to be in trouble. And then Argentina was at great risk. But both are in, and ...

So far, the highest-ranked team not to make South Africa, according to the most recent FIFA rankings, is Croatia, at No. 9. Seems a little high, but there they are.

The next-highest nations not going to South Africa are ...

18. Czech Republic. The Czechs seemed to find themselves in the middle of a generational change, and ended up in a tough qualifying group (Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Northern Ireland) and finished third.

19. Bulgaria. Bulgaria is ranked in the top 20? How did that happen? Bulgaria won only three of 10 matches in a group that included Cyprus, Montenegro and Georgia. No great loss to SA2010.

22. Israel. Not bad, but not that good. Never seemed to win the key match in a fairly tough group -- but one that lacked a superpower, unless you count Switzerland and Greece, and I don't.

26. Romania. Finished fifth in Group 7, behind Austria and Lithuania, ahead of only the Faroe Islands. So, no loss.

And please note: Romania, at 26? That means of the 25 highest-ranked teams in the world, 21 already have qualified for South Africa 2o1o.

Yes, it would be nice to have a few long-shot teams in the World Cup. And there are ... a few.

Japan is No. 40. Honduras is 42. Slovakia is 45, South Korea 49, North Korea 90. Those four are in.

And they will be joined by either Bahrain (64) or New Zealand (100), who are in a playoff. Slovenia (54) is in a playoff, too.

But the real long shot at South Africa ... could be South Africa. Ranked only No. 73.

The host nation could, by itself, be enough of a lovable underdog story to fill the 2010 quota for lovable underdog stories. Its matches will get plenty of attention, and if it can win a time or two? A big deal.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of us would just as soon watch the global elite. Which are queuing up quite nicely for the 2010 World Cup.
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