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Why Norway look doomed in World Cup playoff race

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Europe’s 53 national teams have been split into nine groups with the winners of each qualifying directly for South Africa. The best eight runners-up will play off among themselves over two legs next month for the remaining four slots. The runner-up with the worst record will miss out on a playoff berth entirely.

Usually, deciding the worst runners-up would be a simple case of comparing the respective team records. But there is one small snag — namely Group Nine, which has only five teams while all the others have six sides.

Somebody in FIFA then had a brainwave: in the groups with six teams, the results against the last-placed team will not count when it comes to deciding the eight best runners-up.

This little gem means we have to wait to find out who is going to finish bottom of Groups One to Eight before we can even think about who might be the worst runner up. It also means that losing a match to the bottom team could ultimately benefit a side finishing in second place, as they would not have so many points lopped off their final tally.

How did Argentine football get in such a state?

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Lionel Messi walks off the pitch in Asuncion his head bowed after Argentina’s 1-0 defeat to Paraguay. A few days later he scores for Barcelona and the dimpled grin is back on his face.

Diego Maradona says that on the compact Rosario central pitch Argentina will pin Brazil against their goal. They do up to a point, with masses of possession, but Dunga’s men demolish them in lethal counter-attacks with Maradona watching in glum silence and Argentina return to River Plate for next month’s key World Cup qualifier against Peru.

World Cup hopefuls head up for air

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World Cup organisers had plans to spread the 32 finalists for the 2010 tournament across South Africa, giving every corner of the country a chance to feel a little of the fever close at hand.

While the matches are only being played at 10 venues in nine cities, the team bases would have allowed for a wider spread, with the opportunity to watch a training session becoming almost as valuable a commodity as a match ticket for star-starved supporters away from the World Cup mainstream.

from The Great Debate UK:

What’s a goal (or five) worth?

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simon_chadwick-Professor Simon Chadwick, Director, Centre for the International Business of Sport, Coventry, UK. The opinions expressed are his own. -

There is a famous song, composed in the run-up to UEFA Euro 96, in which the Lightening Seeds, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel refer to England’s 30 years of hurt (the period at the time since England won its one and only World Cup).

Reuters Sportswrap: World Cup qualifying special

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Join Owen Wyatt for our regular wrap of world sport. This week, it’s a World Cup qualifier special, as we consider the plight of Diego Maradona and the battle for golden tickets for South Africa 2010.

We particularly welcome comments, so if you’d like to critique Owen’s schoolboy fashion errors, please do…

from UK News:

Is Fabio being beastly to the WAGS?

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SOCCER-WORLD/In keeping with the spirit of the times and with his own stern image, Fabio Capello has clamped down on the WAGS.

The wives and girlfriends, whose exuberance and excess often made for more interesting viewing three years ago in Germany than the games their HABS were involved in, have been banished to the stands.

Maradona untouchable despite latest defeat

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Those waiting for Diego Maradona to resign or be sacked after yet another dismal Argentina performance in the World Cup qualifiers forget that he is untouchable.

Maradona will press on blindly, brushing off criticism with remarks about having always fought adversity and come out on top.

Spain’s ’21st century gladiators’ do Merida proud

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Spain’s qualification for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa has brought a welcome distraction to a nation suffering more than most of its European peers from the economic crisis.

Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Estonia put the European champions through as Group Five winners and Vicente del Bosque’s highly-fancied side will be competing in their ninth straight finals since 1978 and attempting to win the World Cup for the first time.

England sail through, but how are their World Cup chances?

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So, once again, England qualify in style. The garages can start stocking up on plastic flags of St George, the breweries can breathe a sigh of relief and the tabloids can start their gradual shift from cautious support to the crescendo of expectation that will accompany Fabio Capello and his squad to South Africa next year.

But is there any evidence that “this time, more than any other time, they’ll do it right“?

World Cup will survive without Messi and Ronaldo

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“Ronaldo and Messi could miss the World Cup!” screamed the headlines after Portugal drew 1-1 in Denmark and Argentina were humiliated 3-1 at home to Brazil.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? How will we ever manage without Cristiano and Leo, two of the poster boys for the elite, Masters of the Universe level of footballer we’ve come to know and love?

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