Gripping run-in for race to World Cup finals

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The Independent Football

* EUROPE

Only Ukraine have qualified automatically but the Netherlands, Portugal and Italy will do so today if they avoid defeat against, respectively, the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. Sweden will qualify if they win in Croatia while France will do so if they beat Switzerland.

While nothing can be decided in Group Seven, Brussels hosts one of the most significant fixtures with Belgium playing a Spanish team in danger of missing the finals for the first time since 1974. Should they lose even a play-off place may be beyond Spain.

The race to be the two best second-place finishers looks like being won by the runner-up in Group Eight (Sweden or Croatia) and that from either Group One or Group Six, England's section.

* AFRICA

A gripping campaign reaches its final round today with no country yet qualified but some big names in danger of joining the 2010 hosts, South Africa, on the sidelines. Senegal, the darlings of the 2002 finals, will be out if Togo take a point in Congo today, or if Senegal fail to defeat Mali. Nigeria will be out unless they get a better result at home to Zimbabwe than Angola do in Rwanda. Morocco will also fall unless they win in Tunisia. Cameroon, for so long in danger, will now go through if they defeat Egypt at home, or if Ivory Coast fail to win in Sudan. Ghana who, like Togo, Angola and Ivory Coast, have never previously qualified, will do so unless they lose in the Cape Verde Islands and the Democratic Republic of Congo both win in South Africa and overturn a goal-difference deficit of five.

* SOUTH AMERICA

Argentina and Brazil are through and Ecuador will join them with a point at home to Uruguay tonight or a victory over Chile on Wednesday. Paraguay should take the fourth automatic spot either with victory in Venezuela tonight or at home to Bolivia tomorrow leaving Uruguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile vying for the right to play off against Australia.

* CONCACAF

The United States and Mexico have qualified as expected and Costa Rica should join them either by beating the United States this weekend or drawing in Guatemala on Wednesday. Either Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago, neither of whom have been to a World Cup, are then likely to earn a play-off against the Asian play-off contender.

* ASIA

Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have qualified, leaving Uzbekistan and Bahrain to play off for the right to meet the fourth Concacaf team in another play-off. The ties were originally scheduled for September but have been rearranged after the Japanese referee disallowed an Uzbek penalty for encroachment in the first leg then awarded an indirect free-kick to Bahrain instead of a re-take. The ties will now be played this week with Graham Poll refereeing the second leg in Bahrain.

* OCEANIA

Australia won the regional heat but must defeat the fifth-placed South American team in a play-off to qualify. They failed this test in 1993 (lost to Argentina) and 2001 (Uruguay).

Glenn Moore

Germany '06

* Qualified teams:

Argentina, Brazil, Germany (as hosts), Iran, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Ukraine, United States.

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