With OTB in South Africa for most of the past week, a World Cup flavour to today's column. Qualifying for next summer's global extravaganza is due to be completed next week but an additional match may be necessary. If Egypt reverse their 3-1 defeat by Algeria in the final group match in Cairo, the two old North African rivals will be level by every criterion: points, goal difference, goals scored and head-to-head. A rare extra play-off would be necessary and the two countries have been asked to nominate three possible venues each for the sudden-death event. Perhaps Fifa should take a leaf out of their own book and separate the teams by the method used in the current World Under-17 finals, in which the United Arab Emirates, level on every count with Brazil and Holland, qualified for the knockout stage because they had received fewer yellow and red cards. Had that been identical as well, the countries would have been separated by drawing lots.
Bosnia could be a shoe-in
Portugal may be focusing on the attacking talents of Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic ahead of their play-off against Bosnia, but the main threat to their progress may turn out to be a pair of shoes. Whenever Ciro Blazevic, Bosnia's 74-year-old coach, has had success in the past, he has always had a lucky totem: he wore a white scarf to every game as he led Dinamo Zagreb to the Yugoslav title in 1982; when Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup, he favoured a gendarme's cap. He puts Bosnia's progress in this qualifying campaign down to a pair of shoes given to him by Milan Bandic, the mayor of Zagreb, even though they're two sizes too small. Isn't there something slightly ridiculous about a septuagenarian hobbling around in tight shoes? "When I take them off," he said,
"I cannot tell you the joy I feel."
John must be pitch perfect
Regardless of the fate of the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup play-off with France, the country is already represented in South Africa ahead of next summer's finals. John Flaherty is the Irishman in charge of the pitch at the new Green Point stadium in Cape Town. The venue, which will stage eight games including a semi-final, is a controversial one in that many locals felt the nearby Newlands rugby stadium could have been updated. It could not have attained a large enough capacity to stage a semi-final, however, so £350m, almost twice the original budget, has been spent on a completely new stadium. Similar in design to Arsenal's Emirates Stadium, it has a rather better outlook, with Table Mountain visible on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, with views across to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. Flaherty was a frustrated figure three weeks ago when a Fifa inspection decided that the recently installed turf was not of sufficiently high quality, but a new pitch has been sown and, with something more than green shoots already visible, he insists that it will be playable within eight weeks. Fifa's delegation will soon be back to check. They come, the green-fingered Irishman says, "about every five minutes".Reuse content