Africa, host of the World Cup finals, provided a final flourish of breathtaking excitement as the continent's qualifying campaign drew to a close. Virtually simultaneous late goals in Nairobi and Maputo resulted in Nigeria booking a ticket to South Africa against the odds and Egypt sweated until the final moments of added time in Cairo to score the goal that kept their challenge alive.
Obafemi Martins was the hero for Nigeria, who had struggled to make an impact on the competition. They had to win in Kenya in their final game and hope that the group leaders, Tunisia, lost in Mozambique.
With seven minutes to play in Nairobi, Martins, once of Newcastle, hooked in the winner, his second goal of the match, to earn the Super Eagles a 3-2 victory, and at almost the same moment in Maputo, Tunisia, who had adopted a cautious approach because they needed only a draw to qualify, conceded a goal by the veteran Dario and slipped to a 1-0 defeat.
Kenya led at half-time but Martins, who now plays for Wolfsburg in Germany, equal-ised soon after the restart and Everton's Aiyegbeni Yakubu then put Nigeria ahead. Allen Wetende's equaliser for Kenya within five minutes looked to have ended Nigeria's hopes until Martins spun to hook home a cross. Nigeria had done their bit, but then the decisive news came through from Maputo to spark celebrations.
The outpourings of joy in Cairo would at least have matched those scenes, even if Egypt's campaign may yet end in failure. For the moment they have deprived Algeria of a place in the finals, thanks to Emad Meteab's looping header five minutes into added time.
Amr Zaki, familiar to fans of Wigan, had given Egypt the perfect start by scoring after only two minutes as his side went in pursuit of the 2-0 victory they needed to finish exactly level with Algeria and force a play-off in Sudan on Wednesday.
Cameroon reached their sixth finals, a record for an African nation, when they beat Morocco 2-0 in Fes. Like Nigeria, Cameroon had struggled to secure their place, but they did not leave it quite so late, winning their last four qualifiers.
New Zealand, led by Blackburn centre-half Ryan Nelsen, also qualified – for the second time – thanks to a goal from Plymouth Argyle's Rory Fallon and a penalty save by goalkeeper Mark Paston as they won their play-off against Bahrain 1-0 after a goalless first leg.
Russia took a tentative step closer to the finals when Diniyar Bilyaletdinov scored twice in a 2-1 victory over Slovenia in the first leg of their play-off in Moscow. The Everton winger scored either side of half-time, assisted first by Spurs' Roman Pavlyuchenko and then Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin. However, Slovenia ensured the return leg in Maribor on Wednesday would be no picnic when Nejc Pecnik pulled a goal back two minutes from time.
Ukraine look favourites to qualify from their play-off with Greece after a 0-0 draw in Athens, while Portugal, without Cristiano Ronaldo, gained only a 1-0 edge over Bosnia in Lisbon, Bruno Alves scoring and Bosnia hitting the woodwork three times – twice in the last minute. Both the return matches are on Wednesday.
In friendly games, Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to Serbia despite having chances to take the lead, PSV's Danko Lazovic settling the issue in the 57th minute. The Irish lost Manchester United defender Jonny Evans to a calf injury, while Arsenal will be anxious for news of Robin van Persie, who was carried off after 16 minutes of Holland's dreary 0-0 draw against Italy in Pescara.
England Under-21s improved their chances of reaching the European Championship in Denmark in 2011 when a single goal by Spurs' Danny Rose proved enough to beat Portugal 1-0 at Wembley.
David Beckham made missing the game against Brazil worthwhile when he earned the chance to win his first Major League Soccer title as his Galaxy side overcame Houston Dynamo 2-0 after extra time – and two floodlight failures – to reach the MLS Cup final. The England midfielder set up the opening goal with a free-kick.Reuse content