Wednesday, October 14, 2009

WCQ - Last Matchday Report and Thoughts

For the most part the day was pretty boring considering it was the last day of full qualifying in Europe and the Americas.

UEFA

The schedule was unfortunate for Europe and there was little drama. I watched Poland - Slovakia and it was entertaining and tense at a couple points. There was a lot of snow on the pitch and it snowed throughout the match. Slovakia needed the win to qualify automatically. They went out front on an early own goal. The rest of the match Poland dominated. The second half Slovakia camped in their own end and they looked like a weak team trying to hold out for a win or draw against a much superior opponent instead of a team trying to win to take first in their group. Poland had multiple great chances but Slovakia held on largely due to great play by their central defenders and a couple nice saves by their goalie.

That was it for drama. Switzerland and Israel played to a 0-0 draw. I caught a bit of it and from what I saw it looked as boring as the score would indicate. I like good defensive football more than the average fan but I'll opt out of watching Switzerland next summer if there is another match going on at the same time.

CONMEBOL

Uruguay - Argentina was a pretty big disappointment for me. I expected a lot of chances at both ends but it wasn't a particularly entertaining game to see. Chile actually playing and beating Ecuador took a lot of excitement out as it meant the loser of this match (Uruguay in the case of a draw) would still make the playoff, which they'd be favored to win over Honduras or Costa Rica. I thought Uruguay outplayed Argentina but it's not like they got chance after chance that they failed to convert or anything. The most amusing thing was Diego's post-game press conference where he told reporters to "keep sucking it", with "it" referring to a certain body part that only half the population has. Curiously the most common slang term for "it" in Spanish is feminine. I've never understood why that would be.

CONCACAF

CONCACAF was the only confederation that delivered when it came to drama. To be honest I wasn't expecting it at all. Coming in Costa Rica needed to win in Washington DC or have Honduras fail to do the same in El Salvador. Before yesterday I thought it possible that the Ticos could get a win over the US due to a lack of motivation on the American side. After Charlie Davies was seriously injured in an accident that killed another passenger and split the SUV in two, I thought the US would be more motivated and that Costa Rico would have no chance. I was apparently wrong and I think it went the other way. Other than Jozy Altidore, the US looked asleep out there at the start. They got a couple chances, but allowed Costa Rica two goals with bad defending on both of them. Meanwhile in El Salvador, the Hondurans took care of business and won 0-1. In the second half, Costa Rica went defensive and the US looked stronger, pulling one back. After a crazy sequence in which the manager and assistant were both sent off by the referee, he added five minutes of stoppage time. In the fourth, the US scored on a header.

There was a lot of emotion in RFK stadium even though the match result didn't affect the US, but that was nothing compared to what was going on in Honduras and the stadium in El Salvador. Because the US scored the last-minute goal, Honduras went from the playoff to automatically qualifying for South Africa. For Honduras it's the first time they've played in the World Cup finals since Spain '82. Here is a Honduran radio clip. It starts at the end of their match, the US goal comes 21 seconds in. The pure joy coming through the mic is impressive.

Now What?

These 23 teams have qualified for the finals:
South Africa (hosts)
Ghana
Ivory Coast
Australia
Japan
North Korea
South Korea
Denmark
England
Italy
Germany
The Netherlands
Serbia
Slovakia
Spain
Switzerland
Honduras
Mexico
The United States of America
Argentina
Brazil
Chile
Paraguay

There are three African groups that have not been decided yet, 4 UEFA places go to the playoff winners, one spot goes to the winner of the Uruguay - Costa Rica playoff, and the other the winner of New Zealand - Bahrain.

For UEFA, the 8 teams are paired up and play a two-legged tie with the winner advancing to the finals. The draw for that is seeded, meaning the 4 best teams (according to FIFA rankings) are put in one pot and the remaining four in the other. The pots will almost certainly be Russia, France, Greece and Portugal in one and Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Bosnia in the other. Friday the FIFA rankings come out so we'll know for sure and the draw is Monday.

I have pretty seriously neglected Africa in this blog. They use a group format with 5 groups of 4 in the final round. To qualify one has to win the group. The Ivory Coast, Côte d'Ivoire if you like, and Ghana have already clinched their groups, but the other three are at least mathematically open going into the final match.

New Zealand and Bahrain already played the first leg of their playoff tie. It was a 0-0 draw in Bahrain. 0-0 in the first leg is a good result for the away team; historically teams that play to a goalless draw away tend to win the home-and-home over half the time. While New Zealand has an edge at the moment, it's obviously far from over at this stage.

Uruguay and Costa Rica are likely both disappointed as both teams could have clinched automatic berths with a win today.

The final African matchday, the second leg of New Zealand - Bahrain and the first leg of the other playoffs will take place November 14th. The second leg of all playoffs except New Zealand - Bahrain happen four days later on the 18th.

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