It's getting close now. The last few matches that will determine the final nine participants in South Africa 2010. Nov. 14 and (in some cases) Nov. 18.
All the teams still in contention have made long journeys, figuratively. Hard matches, long schedules.
One team, Bahrain, is making a very long journey, physically, as well.
Bahrain is the fifth-place team out of Asia. If these guys weren't being jetted around on Gulf Air charters, they would have some huge frequent-flier miles amassed. All those trips across Asia, the biggest of continents.
Since World Cup 2010 qualifying began, in 2007, Bahrain has traveled to Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Uzbekistan, Japan again, and Australia. And now to New Zealand for the second half of their home-and-home playoff for a World Cup berth.
This story in the Gulf Daily News, an English-language newspaper published in Bahrain, has some details from the team's departure, today, for Australia, where the team will practice several days before "hopping" from Sydney to Wellington on Thursday -- which is a flight of 3-4 hours. (Since when is that a hop?)
But given Bahrain's itinerary the past two years, that's a short trip.
The other long hauls here in the final 10 days, among matches that matter ...
--Slovenia and Russia take turns playing at the other guy's home. Get out your atlas. Moscow to Maribor is not a commuter flight. It appears to be 1,100 miles; I thought it was more.
--Costa Rica and Uruguay go home and home. -- Concacaf No. 4 vs. Conmebol No. 5. Another lengthy flight (about 3,500 miles), and I'm just going to guess that you can't fly direct from Montevideo to San Jose, or vice versa.
--Cameroon plays at Morocco, and those two aren't exactly next door. Cameroon needs to win, too, to clinch a berth.
--Tunisia goes to Mozambique, needing a result. and that's from the north tip of Africa to almost the south end. Africa is a big continent, and especially north-south. A site I'm checking suggests it's 4,500 miles, but that seems high. It might involve a plane change, because very few African countries have direct flights to other African countries. Usually, they have to go back to Europe to get back to Africa. Yeah. Wacky.
But the winner is Bahrain, 9,000 miles from Wellington, New Zealand. Also, the Bahrainis jump forward 10 time zones. A tough trip. But Bahrain goes to South Africa if it manages a victory or a tie at anything that isn't 0-0. I guess that makes it worth the trip. It's latest long trip.