The journey on the road to South Africa continues, and this weekend saw several teams clinch a spot in the finals. In Asia, Australia, Japan and South Korea are all set for a return engagement in the World Cup; while Netherlands become the first Europeans to clinch a place.
The most impressive team of the weekend was (and it’s been a while since anyone could say this) Brazil. Their 4-0 dismantling of a decent Uruguay squad put them top of South American qualifiers on goal difference from Paraguay.
Uruguay goalkeeper Sebastián Viera carried much of the blame for the high scoreline, but Brazil finally showed their class, on offence and defence by keeping the strong Uruguayan attack to zero and generating plenty of chances of their own.
Brazil’s selection decisions still look a bit doubtful, as manager Dunga’s personality clashes seem to be limiting him more than is strictly healthy, but let’s face it, any team with Kaká and Dani Alves has to feel good about it’s chances.
Having said that, you still have to wonder about the selection policy that doesn’t include Bundesliga top goalscorer Grafite, Liverpool left back Fabio Aurelio and new Juventus playmaker Diego.
Unconvincing, but victorious
In Buenos Aires, Argentina managed a 1-0 victory over Colombia which, by all accounts, was far from the display of good football that everyone expected under manager Diego Maradona. The big question is: With such a limited set of tactical skills, if Maradona can no longer even motivate the team to success, is the team headed to disaster in South Africa? Is it too late to push Checho Batista to the top managerial spot?
Then again, the two world cup victories for Argentina (1978, 1986) were preceded by a horrendous run-in. And their stellar 1994 performance which was ended early due to the effect of Maradona’s positive drug test nearly never happened after a horrible round of qualifiers which saw them lose to Colombia 5-0 at home and have to be Australia in a playoff.
Maybe that’s exactly what Argentina needs: a reality check before the Cup. Great players don’t necessarily equal success. And you can’t even argue that you’re playing well and losing because the football they’re showing is terrible. In a team with Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Agüero, the rejuvenated Juan Sebastián Verón and a great many other playmakers, bad football is simply inexcusable.
England can at least say they were a bit more dominant, with a 4-0 result in Kazahkstan. But let’s face it, Kazahkstan is only marginally better than Andorra (England’s next qualifiers opponent), and the English squad did not display the team spirit and nice football evident in their win to Croatia.
England will qualify easily, but you get the feeling that their true level is closer to the one shown against Spain in a friendly earlier in the year than it is in these matches against European smurfs.
Easier than before
Finally, let’s hear it for Australia, which for once did not have to suffer until the last minute for their spot in the finals. They qualified for South Africa with a 1-1 draw at Qatar and very much deserve their spot, playing very well in their qualifying group. It’ll be nice to see them back in the World Cup, although I have the sneaking suspicion that their performance will not be as good as their controversia second-roundl exit of 2006.
There is controvery in Australia that the team is too dependent on their European players, to the detriment of the A-League squad. Having seen several A-League games of the past two seasons, I have to say that Australian fans should be thankful to have so many players plying their trade in the UK and other European destinations. It is that experience that has gotten them this far.
Woe is Me … xico
The biggest loser of the round has to be Mexico. Another loss, this time 2-1 to El Salvador, has Mexican fans extremely concerned that their team may not make it to South Africa at all. They now sit in 5th place, although only two points from third, which is the final direct qualifying spot. With Costa Rica and the USA way ahead in first and second, Mexico needs to right its ship in order to capture that all important third spot, as the fourth-placed team has to playoff against the fifth-placed South American, which is likely to be one of Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador or Colombia. None of those will be easy.
I certainly like the appointment of Javier Aguirre over Sven-Goran Eriksson as manager, but we shall see if he can turn the team around in the short time that he has to do so. I still believe Mexico will finish third and qualify. This experience should at least show the Mexican team that they can no longer cruise past their qualifiers as both Costa Rica and the USA have eclipsed them on the totem pole for the region.