Shattered Dreams: Some Countries Devastated After This Week's World Cup Qualification Matches
From FIFAWorldCup.com - The 2006 FIFA World Cup™ picture is slowly coming into focus. Ten nations have now qualified for next summer’s finals. Only the Africa and Oceania zones with Australia still to face off against a South American opponent have yet to produce a representative for the Final Draw.
However amid all the euphoria in nations such as the Ukraine who have qualified for the first time for others this week’s qualifiers ended in tears. With two match days remaining some teams have already missed the boat for Germany and will play their two remaining fixtures as a formality.
In Europe some renowned teams are already resigned to being no more than spectators at next year's showcase. The greatest disappointment is arguably felt in Austria who as neighbours of the host nation would have dearly loved to be in Germany.
However a draw against second-from-bottom Azerbaijan saw Hans Krankl’s team’s last chance of resuming their FIFA World Cup love affair from France 98 fall by the wayside. Three victories in eight games proved too little for the Alp Republic who must now turn their thoughts to the 2008 European Championship for which they have already qualified as joint hosts with Switzerland.
The same Group 4 also bids farewell to Northern Ireland who at least enjoyed the consolation of a historic victory over England. The three-time finals participants gave their all once again to ensure that their arch-rivals returned to the home of football empty-handed.
One of the most difficult groups to emerge from the December 2003 draw was that featuring Bulgaria and Hungary both of whom have ultimately made way for Sweden and Croatia. The Bulgarians last featured at a FIFA World Cup in 1998 in France and celebrated their finest hour at the 1994 tournament in the USA where they defeated reigning world champions Germany to reach the semi-finals. This time however Bulgaria could not deliver when it really mattered. Victories over Iceland and Malta could not compensate for earlier home defeats to Sweden and Croatia and proved too little too late.
Not even the world record-holder for international appearances and a former FIFA World Cup winner could restore Hungary to their former glory. Lothar Matthaus had been quite honest in his ambitions when he took the helm of the team who made waves as the 'Magic Magyars' in the 1950s: "The main objective is clear: to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany announced Matthäus upon his appointment on 1 January 2004.
In the event Matthäus proved unable to take Hungary to their first finals since 1986. A home victory over Sweden would have left them with all to play for. Unfortunately Zlatan Ibrahimovic had other ideas and shattered Hungarian dreams in the final minute.
In the Africa zone last weekend also saw the dream end for South Africa. The 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts lost in Burkina Faso to forfeit any chance of landing the top group berth required to reach Germany. The South Africans were eager to reach their third finals in a row and initially promised to do so.
FC Porto striker Benny McCarthy’s team led the table convincingly until June keeping rivals Ghana comfortably at bay. However a home defeat to the Ghanaians on 18 June turned the tide and the subsequent loss to Burkina Faso put an end to their hopes. Even a change of coach could not spark a reversal in fortunes for Egypt.
Italian Marco Tardelli initially charged with leading the Africans to the FIFA World Cup made way after a 2-1 defeat in Libya at the beginning of October. However his successor former international Hassan Chehata proved equally powerless to prevent the highest-placed African team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking (26th place) from making a premature exit.
Expectations were high in Mali after their remarkable fourth-place finish at the 2004 African Cup of Nations. The Africans can point to a number of quality internationals in Momo Sissoko Mahamadou Diarra and Frederic Kanoute the 2004 tournament’s top scorer but failed to translate their form from the prestigious African event into the current qualifying campaign finishing second from bottom in Group 1.
All is still to play for in the North and Central American and Caribbean zone. Only Panama sitting bottom of the group with two points are bereft of any hope of qualification with two match days remaining in October. The 'Reggae Boyz' of Jamaica who lit up the 1998 FIFA World Cup France on and off the pitch made an early exit from qualifications.
In South America a clutch of teams are vying for the infamous fifth place that leads to a play-off against Australia. Only Bolivia whose most recent of three FIFA World Cup finals came in 1994 can no longer lay claim to the coveted berth. However a number of teams have come unstuck on the elevated La Paz pitch (3600 metres above sea level) in the current campaign including Columbia Paraguay Peru and Venezuela.
China made a premature exit in the Asia zone. The most populous nation on earth with a vast pool of talent will be no more than onlookers next Summer. Even a 7-0 drubbing of Hong Kong on the final matchday was not enough to see off the challenge of Kuwait sending a nation into mourning at the thought of what might have been.
The final two match days on 8 and 12 October are set to reveal the identity of the next teams to qualify – and the next to falter.