Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals is reaching its climax, with footballing heavyweights such as Argentina and Portugal still battling to be in the hat when the draw is made in Cape Town on December 4. When this round of fixtures are complete, all but nine World Cup teams will be known. Here is the state of play ahead of tonight’s matches:
South America: In the South American zone all the attention is on whether Diego Maradona’s Argentina will miss their first finals since 1970. In a group where the top four sides qualify and the fifth-placed team goes into a play-off in November against the fourth-placed CONCACAF side, the Argentines face Uruguay who are a point behind them in fifth. Argentina have lost four straight games away from home and in their opponents Uruguay face the league’s most prolific scorers. If Diego’s men lose and Ecuador win in their away clash with Chile, Argentina would finish sixth and miss out on the party. Five-time champions Brazil, and dark horses Paraguay and Chile have clinched places in the South American zone already. Qualified: Brazil, Paraguay, Chile Europe: England, Netherlands and European champions Spain secured three of the nine automatic places on offer in September, and were joined on Saturday by three-times winners Germany, defending champions Italy, Denmark and Serbia. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal go into tonight’s final qualifier against Malta needing a win in Group One to give the Iberians their best chance of a play-off position.
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Group Two leaders Switzerland only need a draw with Israel to make their second straight World Cup finals, a defeat could see Greece seal a berth instead if they beat Luxembourg. Meanwhile in Group Three, Slovakia must beat Poland to prevent Slovenia in second from taking the top spot if they complete an expected victory over a poor San Marino. In Group Six Ukraine need only to beat Andorra for a play-off spot while Group Nine sees Norway needing a culmination of results to go their way to grab a play-off place. Qualified: Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Serbia. CONCACAF: Mexico defeated El Salvador 4-1 to secure their place, while the United States joined them after a victory in Honduras. Costa Rica and Honduras are battling it out for the final qualification place and play the United States and El Salvador respectively, while the fourth-placed team will go into a play-off position against the fifth-placed South American nation. Qualified: Mexico, United States Africa: Ghana were the first country from Africa to clinch qualification, comfortably winning their group last month with two matches still to play, while the Ivory Coast joined them to leave three other places still up for grabs for the next round of qualifiers in November. Qualified: Ghana, Ivory Coast, South Africa (hosts) Asia / Oceania: The four automatic places have been taken by Australia, Japan and North and South Korea, while Bahrain face a play-off against Oceania group winners New Zealand for the zones’ remaining finals spot. Bahrain were held 0-0 at home in the opening leg in Manama on Saturday, with the return leg in Wellington on November 14. Qualified: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea.