World Cup Qualifying Update
Wednesday, 6th January 2010 at 05:09am
As the latest round of qualifying has drawn to a close, a number of teams are edging ever closer towards qualifying for 2010's summer feast of football.
As things stand, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan and Korea Republic have already booked their passage to South Africa, while several teams took giant steps towards securing qualification in the last two rounds of matches.
In Europe, England continued their seemingly unstoppable march towards South Africa with two wins out of two, scoring 10 goals without conceding. After seven games, the Three Lions still have maximum points and are 10 points clear. Fabio Capello's men have just three remaining fixtures and it looks like a solitary win will be enough to seal their place at the finals.
Spain, like England and the Netherlands, are still unbeaten and lead group five by six points. Denmark did their chances of qualifying no harm with a 1-0 victory over neighbours Sweden to open up a three point cushion at the top of group one. Beaten 2006 semi finalists Portugal however are struggling and trail the Danes by seven points with just four games remaining.
In the only match in group three, Slovakia leapfrogged Northern Ireland to sit at the top of the group following a 7-0 drubbing of minnows San Marino, while in group four, a 3-0 away win for Russia in Helsinki drew Guus Hiddink's men to within one point of leaders Germany.
Wins against Austria and the Faroe Islands saw Serbia extend their lead in group seven over 1998 winners France to eight points, although Les Blues currently have two games in hand. Group eight saw the Republic of Ireland inch closer to leaders Italy following a 1-1 draw in Sofia. In the final UEFA group, Scotland remained in second place despite not featuring in the last round of matches. The Tartan Army are level on points with Macedonia with a game in hand, but trail the now-qualified Dutch by a gargantuan 14 points.
In South America, Brazil are a point clear of second place Chile after beating Uruguay away and third-placed Paraguay at home. Paraguay had gone into the qualifiers looking down on the rest, but a defeat to Chile coupled with the defeat to Brazil saw both teams overtake them in the standings. Argentina currently hold the fourth automatic qualifying spot, two points ahead of Ecuador.
Three teams have already qualified from the Asia zone (see above) leaving just one automatic spot remaining. With a single game remaining, just one point divides DPR Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the final round of matches DPR Korea heads to Saudi Arabia while the already-qualified Korea Republic entertain Iran. Whoever finished third will face the winner of the Bahrain - Uzbekistan match for the right to face New Zealand for a place in 2010.
At the halfway point of qualifying in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone, Costa Rica lead the group by two points from the USA. Honduras currently occupy the all important third automatic qualifying spot just a single point ahead of Mexico who dispensed with the services of former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson.
After two matches in the African qualifying zone, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Gabon and Tunisia all have maximum points. African powerhouses Cameroon, Egypt and Morocco are currently struggling, all three having just picked up a single point. With four games still to go however, it will be too soon for these teams to be hitting the panic button just yet.