>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I'll be in the air during most if not all of the final round of qualifying for South Africa 2010, so I will miss a few mini dramas:
Uruguay v Argentina. This is perhaps the most interesting match on offer. With a win or a draw, Argentina avoid the ignominy of being dumped into the playoff against the 4th placed CONCACAF qualifier (against whom they would likely win). There was considerable debate a night or two ago on BBC 5 Live whether or not Maradona will get the sack even if they qualify (as well as whether or not David Beckham or Michael Owen deserve any consideration for making the 2010 squad for England). However, their opposition is Uruguay away, so there's a decent chance that Argentina lose. Worse, an Argentina loss combined with an Ecuador win away to already qualified Chile results in Argentina not even making the playoff spot -- unlikely, but possible.
Imagine a World Cup Finals without Argentina?
In CONCACAF, the only real issue left unresolved is who goes to the playoff against South America 5, and who automatically qualifies, as both the USA and Mexico qualified this past weekend. Costa Rica has a two point lead on Honduras, but face the stiffer challenge: Costa Rica play away to the USA at RFK, while Honduras play away to El Salvador, who have nothing to play for. 1st in the group is still open between the USA and Mexico with the US holding a slender one point lead. While both teams are level on goal differential, that will not come into play: the only way they end up level on points is if the US loses and Mexico draws; such a result would give Mexico a superior g/d.
I predict a US and victory over Costa Rica, and Honduras a slight edge to gain all three points out of El Salvador. While their combined g/d give Honduras a +10 advantage over El Salvador, when they played in Honduras earlier in qualifying it was only a 1-0 victory to the latter.
Assuming the US wins the group this year, don't necessarily expect a seed in the World Cup itself.
Prost Amerika has a run down of those teams that qualified this past weekend.
There's not much left to settle in UEFA. 2nd in Group 1 could go to Portugal, Sweden, or Hungary (and I would personally embrace a reality where Christiano Ronaldo is not in the World Cup Finals.)
Groups 2 and 3 are relatively wide open, with neither the automatic qualifier nor second place determined; surprises include Switzerland the likely winner of Group 2, the Czech Republic finishing second at best (and that's no sure thing), Northern Ireland being mathematically (if not probabalistically) alive on the final match of qualifying, and Poland tanking. For those interested, and I know a couple people who very much are, the chances of Fox News admitting their sins by owning up to the salacious affair with the wingnut branch of the Republican Party, and as a mea culpa get fully behind 'cap and trade' as well as criticising Obama for not pushing for the Public Option are higher than Northern Ireland finishing second. NI would need to win away to the Czech Republic, while Slovenia would have to freeze on the big stage of playing away to San Marino and lose big to the mountaintop that could. This would only result in a points draw; the existing g/d advantage to Slovenia is +7 compared to NI.
But hell, it's possible, right? After all, San Marino have scored a goal during this qualifying campaign, while conceding only 44.
Groups 4 and 5 are settled (Germany and Spain qualify, Russia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (!) finish second). The only real news in these groups is Turkey's inability to finish even second.
Group 6, the group that England dominated until they won it, is down to Croatia or Ukraine for second. Groups 7, 8 and 9 are done (qualifying are Serbia, Italy, Netherlands; second are France, Ireland, and Norway). Shocking for France that they finished second to Serbia, and there is an outside chance that Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina would all qualify for the World Cup finals. That would be sort of cool, in a USA v Iran 1998 sort of way (or a South Korea v North Korea 2010 sort of way, both of whom have qualified).
It's a safe bet that the one of nine second place teams to miss the cut for the second place playoffs is Norway.
As for LHR, there's a reason I avoid this airport. I had to catch an 0330 bus from Plymouth to get here with any time to make my flight (and in this case far more time than I needed), and the bus drops one off at the Heathrow Central Bus Station. This is very convenient to Terminals 1, 2, and 3, but if you're unfortunate to find yourself departing from T4 or T5, there's a combination of long walk and tube journey (technically the Heathrow Express, and that is free) to get to your destination. Total time invested to get from the Heathrow bus station to Heathrow T4 was slightly over twice as long as it takes to fly from Plymouth Airport to Bristol Airport. Since T5 opened, T4 has turned into something of a ghost town as well, but the line for check-in was short (I suppose that has something to do with checking in about four hours in advance of take off?) and security was, surprisingly, a breeze.