Fi­nal path to victory to be mapped for last 32 of world foot­ball’s glory hun­ters

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - MARTIN PARRY

MORE than three years af­ter qual­i­fy­ing be­gan, 32 teams will go into the hat here in Cape Town next Fri­day for the World Cup draw, as the count­down to next year’s tour­na­ment be­gins in earnest.

The 90-minute cer­e­mony will de­ter­mine not just who plays who, but where they play.

The teams will be split into eight groups of four with the seed­ings and draw pro­ce­dure only fi­nalised next week, al­though no more than two Euro­pean na­tions can be drawn to­gether. It seems likely that the sys­tem used for the 2006 World Cup will be re­tained, whereby a team’s world rank­ings over the past three years and per­for­mances at the last two tour­na­ments are taken into ac­count .

This would make Brazil top seeds, fol­lowed by Ger­many, Spain, Italy and Eng­land.

Once the line­ups are de­cided the fo­cus will switch to next year and the open­ing game at the gleam­ing new Soc­cer City in Joburg on Fri­day, June 11 be­tween teams one and two from Group A.

The 63 matches that fol­low will span South Africa, from Polok­wane to Cape Town with 10 sta­di­ums be­ing used. The fi­nal will take place at Soc­cer City on July 11.

The qual­i­fy­ing jour­ney so far has been dra­matic. It all be­gan on Au­gust 25, 2007, in Ocea­nia when just 60 sup­port­ers turned up to watch Samoa play Van­u­atu.

Since then, over 20 mil­lion fans have flocked to sta­di­ums to wit­ness 204 coun­tries whit­tled down to 32, with Uruguay the last to book their ticket.

Thirty-one of the teams have been here be­fore, with Slo­vakia the new­comer. Min­nows New Zealand made it through and North Korea qual­i­fied for the first time since 1966, when Eng­land last lifted the tro­phy.

Eng­land are one of the favourites to do it again with Fabio Capello mould­ing a dis­ci­plined team, where morale is high and with Wayne Rooney, Steven Ger­rard, Frank Lam­pard and John Terry as his linch­pins. The Ital­ian taskmas­ter has told them that reach­ing the fi­nal is the least he ex­pects.

“Play­ing in the fi­nal would be suc­cess,” he said. “For now, play­ing in it will do, rather than winning it.”

Capello has iden­ti­fied Brazil as the team to beat, but coach Dunga is re­luc­tant to ac­cept the tag of World Cup favourite.

“I think Brazil is in bal­ance, tech­ni­cally and tac­ti­cally, and also the phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing of the play­ers is good,” he said.

“But it is not so long since peo­ple were say­ing we were not favourites at all. We need to look for our space to make our game and not pay any at­ten­tion to what peo­ple are say­ing.”

France are on the plane, but only just, with the run-up to the draw mired in con­tro­versy af­ter Thierry Henry’s bla­tant hand­ball put Ray­mond Domenech’s side into the hat at the ex­pense of Ire­land.

The fall­out has been so se­vere that Fifa pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter has called a cri­sis meet­ing for De­cem­ber 2 in South Africa to deal with the is­sue and also to dis­cuss a cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion into match-fix­ing in Europe.

Euro­pean cham­pi­ons Spain are at present the world’s num­ber one ranked team, run­ning hot since Vin­cente Del Bosque took over with a per­fect 10 wins out of 10 in qual­i­fy­ing.

But the for­mer Real Madrid boss is not get­ting car­ried away.

“We must prove it on the pitch and not in our dreams,” he said.

Like Spain, no team from Africa or Asia has ever lifted the World Cup, and ap­pears un­likely to do so next year.

But the prospects are brighter in South Amer­ica with Brazil lead­ing the pack, al­though an ex­cit­ing and young Chilean side have also proved their cre­den­tials.

Mighty Ar­gentina is an un­pre­dictable el­e­ment af­ter only just haul­ing them­selves over the line with Diego Maradona en­dur­ing a see-saw ride as the coach that gen­er­ated more ques­tions than an­swers – Sapa-AFP

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