Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writing the World Cup Guest List Part 2

Overnight the peoples of Ivory Coast, Chile, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Mexico popped the champagne. Now there are 19 on the party list, and there's mass patriotic emotion attached to the competition for the final 13 places. I'll have a look at some of the more interesting ones (to me ok).

Last night New Zealand held Bahrain to a 0:0 draw on Bahrain's turf. By the reports it was not an amazing game and Bahrain dominated, but it's an amazing result for our cousins, and sets up the decider between the two teams on 14th November in New Zealand.

For either of these countries qualification to the World Cup would be a kind of miracle.The New Zealand Herald calls the coming game, "the most important 90 minutes in New Zealand football history," as they would. Australian fans are naturally behind the kiwis, but over at the World Game Scott McIntyre makes a compelling case for backing Bahrain. It is a country with 4000 registered footballers (Australia has about half a million) and a brilliant coach. Getting this far for them, beating Saudi Arabia in the play off for Asia's half spot, is already an enormous miracle. It's more of a miracle than New Zealand defeating the rest of Oceania that's for sure.

My guess is that Bahrain will best them. Bahrain has been through a long campaign, with an inspired coach. New Zealand is relying on spirit and the luck of the gods, but Bahrain will be short of none of those either.

The most interesting thing happening on the South American front is that Argentina just might not make it, which will make their star coach Maradona look really bad. His star-gloss has already taken a battering since his glory days on the pitch, but failing to get Argentina to the World Cup, if that transpires, will outshine all of his previous sins to the Argentinians.

I've been following Chile from the beginning and am glad they made it. The other teams still in the mix for the last definite spot or the play off (with North America/Carribean) spot are both proud footballing nations, Uruguay, who play Argentina in what will be one of the most passionately followed matches of this Thursday (there's 32 qualifiers on Thursday all up), and Ecuador, who will be hoping that Chile will relax a bit now they've qualified and be overwhelmed in their last game, which would give Ecuador the play-off spot. South America as a whole at the moment is emotionally schitzophrenic, with resignation in Bolivia and Peru, the dawning of final despair in Venezuela and Colombia, smug fulfilment in Brazil and Paraguay, uproarious celebration in Chile, and anxious, hopeful anticipation in Argentina, Uruguay and Ecuador.

It's the fans from these South American countries I'm really looking forward to partying with.

Europe, needless to say, is even more emotionally divided right now. I suppose we had to invite the Germans, but I'm hoping the Greeks make it, for personal hellenophilic reasons. Guus Hidink's Russian team isn't through yet, having a dead rubber on Thursday against Azerbaijan (Germany has won the group), before having to play off against another European team in November. Portugal, with last year's world player of the year, and France, grand finalists in 2006, with also be among the last countries to learn their fate. It seems odd that Australia was among the very first.

As I foreshadowed last night, the Ivory Coast is now in full celebration, having got their invite with last night's win over Malawi. Africa has always had a strong soccer tradition and its emergence as a proud soccer region has been much discussed, but clearly this World Cup is special for them. The biggest group showdown left is probably between Egypt, the current African champions, and Algeria. Who will stay and who will go? Algeria has tomorrow's game in hand, before a decisive showdown between the two nations on November 14. The Egyptians will be mightily pissed off if their Pharoahs fail.

As I complete this blog post Honduras is playing the United States. The USA are the favourites but have to overcome the bogey that Honduras have not been defeated at home during the whole qualification process. If the USA wins Honduras will probably face the prospect of having to play Argentina, Ecuador or Uruguay in a play-off. If Honduras wins, and it clearly might, the USA will still await her fate. Right now it's 0:0 after 30 minutes.

At the same time Trinidad and Tobago play for pride against Costa Rica, who still have a chance at a play-off spot if other results work for them. For my money the North American play-off spot is a tough gig, and the South American 5th placer will probably win it.

Congratulations to the Roar women yesterday in their victory away to Melbourne. Two games, two wins, 4 goals, none conceded. Go girls!

And best of luck to the Roar lads this afternoon. I'm not going to the game, as a personal one-match boycott due to their atrocious behaviour on the pitch last week. But I still hope they beat the Gold Coast, who have hubris issues of their own.

Update at 2pm: The USA has just qualified for the World Cup, beating Honduras 2:3.



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