The road to the World Cup

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The Independent Football

They are still counting the medals in Bejing, which is just as well as China does not have much to look forward to when it comes to the next sporting jamboree. The British and Irish nations are yet to even kick off their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaigns but the globe’s most populous nation is already out. So are India, which means, 642 days before the opening ceremony, a third of the world is out of the World Cup.

Of the 204 nations to enter qualifying, not including hosts South Africa, 75 have been knocked out, the first of them Tahiti and American Samoa a year ago last Monday, and three withdrew. The remaining 126 nations are chasing 23 slots, more than half of them destined for European countries.

Football Editor Glenn Moore outlines the state of play across the globe.



EUROPE

53 entrants, 13 qualifiers

Only one match has been played so far, Kazahkstan defeating Andorra 3-0 in England’s group. There are nine groups, the winners go through, the eight best runners-up play-off to produce the other four qualifiers.

Italy, though holders, have to qualify. They should progress from Group 8, unless the Republic of Ireland show dramatic improvement or Dimitar Berbatov can inspire Bulgaria. England are probably in the strongest group, but Group 4 includes Germany and Russia (and Wales), Group 5 has Spain and Turkey, while France and Romania renew their Euro 2008 rivalry in Group 7.



AFRICA

54 entrants, 5 qualifiers, plus hosts South Africa

The second stage, involving 48 countries, winds up next month with most of the usual suspects on course to progress to the 20-team final stage. The most vulnerable are 2006 qualifiers Angola and Togo, who are respectively engaged in three-way fight with Benin and Uganda in Group 3, and Zambia and Swaziland in Group 11. South Africa are participating (badly) as the campaign will also produce qualifiers for the 2010 African Nations Cup.



SOUTH AMERICA

10 entrants, 4-5 qualifiers

A huge 90-match round-robin group will produce four automatic qualifiers (places currently held by Paraguay, Argentina, Colombia and Chile). The fifth-placed finisher (at present Brazil) will meet the fourth-placed CONCACAF nation. If this team make it they will have played 20 matches to qualify, with European clubs forced to release players for every tie.



ASIA

43, 4-5 qualifiers

Australia, for the first time, are in the geographically vast and sprawling Asian section. The Aussies thought this would improve their chances of qualifying, and increase their sponsorship profile, the Asian Federation welcomed an increasingly influential player on the Fifa stage.

Though shaken by a defeat to Iraq (in Dubai) Australia are among the ten countries to reach the final, two-group, stage, which will produce four qualifiers and a play-off to determine who meets the Oceania winner in another play-off. The UAE (home to Manchester City’s new owners) are in an intriguing group featuring North and South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran.



CONCACAF (North & Central America)

35 entrants, 3-4 qualifiers

Now in the third stage, with 12 teams remaining. This will be cut to six for a round-robin group which will produce three qualifiers, and a fourth team to play-off with a South American nation. There have been no surprises so far though 2006 qualifiers Trinidad & Tobago only squeezed past Bermuda 3-2 on aggregate. The tough section is group 2, with four former finalists in Mexico, Jamaica, Canada and Honduras.



OCEANIA

10 entrants, 0-1 qualifier

With the Australia jumping ship New Zealand should walk the final group, though the All Whites cannot afford any slip-ups in this week’s home and away ties with New Caledonia which will settle the issue. The winner then plays an Asian nation. Could it be Australia?

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