World Cup picture begins to take shape with qualifiers

Nayib Moran

In less than 230 days, South Africa, the first African country to have a World Cup, will host the 18th FIFA World Cup. Twenty-four countries have secured their ticket to South Africa. Twelve teams will battle it out in playoffs between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18, while three African country slots will be determined Nov. 14 as the remaining five third-stage groups will conclude the African World Cup Qualifiers.

Charlie Davies’ car accident a huge blow to U.S. National team

After obtaining its ticket to South Africa with a hard fought victory of 3-2 against Honduras in San Pedro Sula, the U.S. squad hoped to close out with a victory at the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers against Costa Rica in Washington, D.C.

Just when the US team was planning its South African dream, it was hit with a huge blow. Charlie Davies, an important asset to Bob Bradley’s team, was in a car accident in the southbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia. He had several broken bones and a lacerated bladder. Consequently, his presence in South Africa is doubtful.

As Mexican referee Benito Archundia whistled the beginning of the United States vs. Costa Rica game, thousands of American fans at RFK showed their support to Davies by holding giant posters with a big No. 9, Davies’ number. It became apparent that the U.S. national team was in shock and still distraught to Davies’ car accident when they were down 2-0 at the end of the first half. With great determination, they managed a 2-2 tie, thanks to Jonathan Bornstein’s last-second header.

As a result, the U.S. finished first in the CONCACAF Qualifiers with 20 points, one more than Mexico. Honduras finished third and will attend its second World Cup since Spain in 1982. Costa Rica, which finished fourth, will face CONMEBOLs (South America’s Soccer Confederation) fifth place team, Uruguay, in a playoff.

Maradona’s vulgarity embarrasses Argentina

With a fortunate goal in the 84th minute from unknown 24-year-old Mario Bolatti, Argentina won its first official game in Montevideo, Uruguay, ending a hegemony that Uruguay had over Argentina for more than a century.

Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina’s greatest soccer player and current head coach, reacted bizarrely to Argentina’s win, which secured a ticket to South Africa. Maradona was seemingly flabbergasted after the conclusion of the duel and, when interviewed by the media, released his harsh feelings to his non-supporters using horrendous vocabulary.

As opposed to Argentina’s suffering, Kaka’s Brazil qualified first in CONMEBOLs standings, followed by Paraguay, which at some point in the qualifiers was first, an impressive Chilean team, which will attend another World Cup after France 1998, and lastly, Messi’s Argentina. Uruguay, who finished fifth, will play Costa Rica.

And the team to beat is Spain

With a perfect 10 out of 10, Spain will come to South Africa as the favorite to take home the FIFA World Cup Trophy. Spain was situated in group five and thanks to its perfect record; it got one of the nine direct tickets UEFA gives out for the international event. As reported by El País, under current coach, Vicente del Bosque, Spain has 19 victories in 20 games, in which it has scored 56 goals and only allowed 11. Bosnia Herzegovina, which finished second in group five, will play a play off.

In group one, surprisingly, Denmark led by the lights of Nicklas Bendtner and Jon Dahl Tomasson finished first, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal playing a play-off in order to take part in next year’s World Cup. Group 2 had Switzerland and Greece battling for the direct ticket to South Africa. Thanks to a tie against Israel in the last qualifier game, the Swiss got the direct ticket, and Greece will await a playoff opponent. In group three, Slovakia, led by prodigious player Marek HamÅ¡ík, will make its first World Cup appearance.

Other fan favorites such as Germany, England, Italy and Holland won their respective groups. In group seven, Serbia finished first, leaving France to face a playoff opponent. Other teams that obtained a playoff spot were Russia and Ireland. Playoff games for UEFA are scheduled for Nov. 14 and 18.

In those playoff games, France will face Ireland, Russia will face Slovenia, Portugal will face Bosnia and Herzegovina and Greece will face Ukraine.

Africa and Asia hope to make an impact

As the host nation of next year’s World Cup, South Africa obtained a direct ticket to the tournament without playing a qualifying match. Ghana became the first African country to qualify by winning Group D. Its federation must be happy for its U-20 team, which won their World Cup last week in Egypt, defeating Brazil in penalty kicks. Ivory Coast also assured its presence in South Africa by winning Group E. Three groups still await a winner. Probable winners include: Cameroon, Gabon, Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt.

Asia’s confederation was the first to award tickets to South Africa. Common representatives like Japan and South Korea will go, and Australia, in its first year as member of the Asian confederation, won its ticket and finished first in its group.