Ronaldo and Messi in danger of missing World Cup party as big names struggle for invite

Two best players on the planet head list of stars who could be mere spectators next year

It is a night on which the marketing men for Fifa and the South African tourist board will watch the score updates through fearful fingers. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry are all in danger of spending next summer on a beach, viewing the World Cup finals from afar. Given South Africa is already advertising the tournament on television – and when did a World Cup last need to sell itself? – the loss of such icons would deal a grievous blow.

So, many worried eyes will be on events in Budapest, Belgrade and Asuncion, where Portugal, France and Argentina respectively must try to rescue faltering campaigns.

First to kick off are the Portuguese, World Cup semi-finalists in 2006, boasting Ronaldo, Deco, Nani, Simao, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Jose Bosingwa et al, against a Hungary team who last reached a major tournament in 1986 and whose most notable player is Fulham's Zoltan Gera. Erwin Koeman's Magyars are second in Group One and lead Portugal by three points, but were beaten at home by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's last-minute goal for Sweden on Saturday. Around the same time the hastily naturalised Brazilian Liedson was scoring Portugal's equaliser against the group leaders Denmark. The Danes, under immense pressure, held on and can put themselves beyond Portugal's reach, and maybe even secure qualification, with victory in Albania tonight.

That would leave Portugal, Hungary and Sweden scrabbling for the play-off slot and the latter, who play Malta tonight, have the easiest run-in. "As long as it remains mathematically possible, we will believe," said Carlos Queiroz, the Portugal coach.

France should at least reach the play-offs but the 2006 runners-up will lose any hope of automatic qualification if they are defeated by Raddy Antic's Serbs. Yesterday, Henry insisted morale was still high without appearing to withdraw his criticism of Raymond Domenech. The idiosyncratic coach will, insists the French Football Federation, remain in charge regardless of tonight's result.

Across the Atlantic, Argentina are without the injured Carlos Tevez as they will seek their first competitive away win in seven matches. "There's no cause for alarm," insisted coach Diego Maradona, but there is. If his team lose, and Ecuador and Colombia win in Bolivia and Uruguay respectively, Argentina drop to sixth, outside even a play-off place. Maradona is contemplating making 36-year-old centre-back Rolando Schiavi the Albiceleste's oldest debutant in an attempt to solve his side's defensive crisis

While Maradona suffers, two Argentinian coaches can qualify for South Africa. Paraguay are led by compatriot Gerardo Martino, and Marcelo Bielsa can steer Chile to the finals if they beat a Brazil side missing Kaka, Lucio, Luis Fabiano and Robinho to suspension or injury.

There is some succour for the Fifa marketing men. Samuel Eto'o's Cameroon can take a grip on their qualifying group with a return win over Gabon this afternoon while Spain, like England, can join Brazil and the Netherlands in booking their place. Also qualified are Japan, Australia, North and South Korea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and the hosts.

8

The number of countries who are already certain of going to South Africa next year.

State of the nations: The groups and remaining fixtures of those who can qualify

Group one

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Denmark 7/5/2/0/14/3/17

Hungary 7/4/1/2/9/4/13

Sweden 7/3/3/1/8/3/12

Portugal 7/2/4/1/9/5/10

Albania 8/1/3/4/4/8/6

Malta 8/0/1/7/0/21/1

Remaining fixtures fore teams who can still qualify or reach a play-off: Denmark Albania (a), Sweden (h), Hungary (h); Hungary Portugal (h), Portugal (a), Denmark (a); Sweden Malta (a), Denmark (a), Albania (h); Portugal: Hungary (a), Hungary (h), Malta (h).

Group two

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Switzerland 7/5/1/1/13/6/16

Greece 7/4/1/2/12/6/13

Latvia 7/4/1/2/11/6/13

Israel 7/2/3/2/10/9/9

Luxembourg 7/1/2/4/3/13/5

Moldova 7/0/2/5/2/11/2

Switzerland Latvia (a), Luxembourg ((a), Israel (h); Greece Moldova (a), Latvia (h), Luxembourg (h); Latvia Switzerland (h), Greece (a), Moldova (h).

Group three

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Slovakia 7/5/1/1/19/8/16

N Ireland 8/4/2/2/13/7/14

Poland 7/3/2/2/19/8/11

Slovenia 7/3/2/2/10/4/11

Czech Republic 7/2/3/2/8/6/9

San Marino 8/0/0/8/1/37/0

Slovakia N Ireland (a), Slovenia (h), Poland (a); N Ireland Slovakia (h), Czech Republic (a); Poland Slovenia (a), Czech Republic (a), Slovenia (h); Slovenia Poland (h), Slovakia (a), San Marino (a).

Group four

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Germany 7/6/1/0/20/4/19

Russia 7/6/0/1/15/3/18

Finland 7/4/1/2/10/11/13

Wales 7/3/0/4/5/7/9

Azerbaijan 7/0/1/6/1/9/1

Liechtenstein 7/0/1/6/1/18/1

Germany Azerbaijan (h), Russia (a), Finland (h) Russia Wales (a) Germany (h), Azerbaijan (a); Finland Liechtenstein (a), Wales (h), Germany (a).

Group five

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Spain 7/7/0/0/18/2/21

Bosnia 7/5/0/2/20/7/15

Turkey 7/3/2/2/10/7/11

Belgium 7/2/1/4/10/16/7

Estonia 7/1/2/4/7/19/5

Armenia 7/0/1/6/3/17/1

Spain Estonia (h), Armenia (a), Bosnia (a); Bosnia Turkey (h), Estonia (a), Spain (h); Turkey Bosnia (a), Belgium (a), Armenia (h).

Group seven

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Serbia 7/6/0/1/15/5/18

France 7/4/2/1/9/7/14

Austria 7/3/1/3/10/10/10

Lithuania 7/3/0/4/6/6/9

Romania 7/2/2/3/8/11/8

Faroe Islands 7/0/1/6/2/11/1

Serbia France (h), Romania (a), Lithuania (a); France Serbia (a), Faroe Islands (h), Austria (h); Austria Romania (a), Faroe Islands (h), France (a).

Group eight

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Italy 7/5/2/0/11/3/17

Rep of Ireland 8/4/4/0/10/6/16

Bulgaria 7/2/5/0/10/5/11

Cyprus 7/1/2/4/7/11/5

Montenegro 7/0/4/3/6/12/4

Georgia 8/0/3/5/4/11/3

Italy Bulgaria (h), Rep of Ireland (a), Cyprus (h); Rep of Ireland Italy (h), Montenegro (h); Bulgaria Italy (a), Cyprus (a), Georgia (h).

Group nine

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Netherlands 7/7/0/0/16/2/21

Scotland 7/3/1/3/6/10/10

Norway 7/1/4/2/7/6/7

FYR Macedonia 7/2/1/4/4/9/7

Iceland 8/1/2/5/7/13/5

Scotland: Netherlands (h); Norway Macedonia (h).

South America

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

Brazil 15/8/6/1/28/7/30

Chile 15/8/3/4/25/16/27

Paraguay 15/8/3/4/21/13/27

Argentina 15/6/4/5/20/18/22

Colombia 15/5/5/5/9/11/20

Ecuador 15/5/5/5/18/22/20

Uruguay 15/4/6/5/23/17/18

Venezuela 15/5/3/7/19/26/18

Bolivia 15/3/3/9/19/31/12

Peru 15/2/4/9/8/29/10

Top four qualify, fifth enters play-off: Argentina Paraguay (a), Peru (h), Uruguay (a); Colombia Uruguay (a), Chile (h), Paraguay (a); Ecuador Bolivia (a), Uruguay (h), Chile (a); Uruguay Colombia (h), Ecuador (a), Argentina (h); Venezuela Peru (h), Paraguay (h), Brazil (a).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks