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Unqualified Success? World Cup qualification campaigns near their conclusions

August 21st, 2005 by · No Comments · Features, Football

32 teams will join the party in Berlin for the opening game on June 9th 2006 at the start of a marathon 64 group and knock out games in the space of one month.

FIFA divides the places available between 6 rough continental zones, with a healthy dose of boundary pushing dictated by team quality, politics and money. As of June 2005 the qualifiers are Germany, by virtue of being the hosts, and Japan, Iran, South Korea and Saudi Arabia from the Asian zone. They are joined by Argentina from the South American zone, and that?s it until late August of this year when a 12 week blizzard of group games will decide the remaining 26 places.

Qualification is still to be decided for 5 African nations, 13 more from Europe, and there are 3 places available to the snappily named North, Central American and Caribbean Zone. That may become 4 after a play-off between the 4th place team with the 5th placed team in the Asian Zone.

The Oceania zone, allowed just 1 place at the table, includes teams such as Vanuatu, Tahiti and the Solomon Islands, and sees most games played in Australia. This is, presumably, because many of the competitors are in danger of waterlogged pitches due to global warming. Australia are favourites to win the one qualification spot, again, and lose in the play-off with the South American Zone 4th place team, again. The play-off looks likely to pit them against Colombia or Chile.

The qualification process has always been notoriously complex and this time around the African qualifiers take pride of place. The African confederation has 52 FIFA members, although Djibouti failed to enrol leaving 51 nations eligible. This was reduced to 42teams, were still not clear how, to be paired off in a draw held in Paris. The pairs played a 2 leg knockout and after these home and away games the survivors numbered 21, which, even with our maths, was always going to create some interesting permutations. To even things out they were joined in the second round by 5 previous qualifiers [Senegal, Cameroon, South Africa, Nigeria and Tunisia] and the top 4 FIFA ranked nations [Morocco, Congo, Ivory Coast and Egypt] and things couldn?t be simpler.

So, the second round started with 30 teams in six ?Pots? and, with the previous qualifiers seeded to avoid each other, out came the African equivalent of the velvet bag and conjured up 5 groups of 6 teams with the favourites, the previous qualifiers [please keep up] expected to win their respective groups. Against plan, and with just 2 qualification games to go, previous finalists Senegal, Cameroon, Tunisia and Nigeria are in serious danger of not making it out of Africa [steady, Ed].

Although featuring more teams, the European qualifiers are less Kafkaesque. 51 teams, from the 52 eligible, entered the qualifiers back in August 2004 and will complete their journeys, whatever the outcome, at the end of this year. The European zones 13 remaining qualifiers will come from 8 groups and will, for England, conclude on 12 October when they host Poland in Manchester in the final group game. With all 3 remaining games in the UK, Wales in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium, Northern Ireland in Belfast and Austria in Manchester, England are favourites to qualify top of the group 6. Then it?s time for a lie down before the action really starts.

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