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).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker