World Cup Group Qualifiers

How the last sixteen qualified.


World Cup-dates

Group A: Denmark and Senegal have qualified

Denmark: A small country in Northern Europe with a large, powerful, arrogant neighbour to their South. Remind you of anywhere? The Danes have done remarkably well in what is only their third World Cup. They are not cowed by reputations, play as a unit and are well-organised. This despite the fact that their squad is scattered all over the continent from Aberdeen to Athens. A hard team to beat and a better template for Scotland than the Irish model.

Senegal: Magnificent in that opening match against the French, proved their victory was no fluke against Denmark and were again terrific in the opening spell against Uruguay. The second half in that game may be a suggestion that this particular whirlwind is starting to blow itself out. That said, clearly the best of the African countries, which came as a surprise to no one who knows football but clearly perplexed the likes of Gazza who must have thought that "Senny Gall" used to read the ITN News
Uruguay: Their old cynical selves. Beaten by Denmark, they played for a draw against 10-man France, reasoning that they could qualify by beating Senegal. They didn't and didn't deserve to, regardless of the penalty incident. Only came alive in the final 45 minutes of their last match. They had the talent to go further but not the will to change the habits of decades.

France: Biggest disappointment of the tournament. Deservedly beaten by Senegal, they compounded their problems with Henry's needless sending-off against Uruguay. Perversely, their best football came after that. Woeful against Denmark. Possess the top scorers in England, Italy and France yet couldn't score once in 270 minutes. Their team grew old together. The worst ever performance by defending champions. A sad end to a glorious era.

Group B: Spain and Paraguay have qualified.

Spain: While other leading countries stumbled all over the place, the Spanish, for once, progressed almost serenely. Three games, three wins, coming from behind against Paraguay. Maybe this is the year that Spanish international football finally begins to reflect its success at club level. Against that is the relative weakness of their group and the fact that they have conceded goals in every game.

Paraguay: Lucky to qualify. Led in both their opening games only to draw with South Africa after being two up and lost by two against Spain. Probably just as well they went behind against Slovenia. Still in the tournament but not for much longer. Keeper Chilavert less of a character than a loud-mouthed buffoon. The George Foreman look-a-like isn't quite as agile with his punches and could do with hitting the canvas quicker too.

South Africa: Deprived of an unlikely qualification by Paraguay's late goal against Slovenia. Did well to beat the Slovenes themselves and to draw 2-2 with Paraguay after being 2-0 down. Fought like lions against Spain, losing 3-2. This was the country Scotland felt they were on a par with, counting themselves unlucky to lose 2-0 to on the Far East tour. A heroic defeat leading to losing out on goal difference? Sounds just like Scotland all right.

Slovenia: Little was expected of them and they didn't disappoint. Lost all three games but were never turned over. Did marvellously well to get there at all. Enjoyed their World Cup while we sit at home, along with the Dutch, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Hungarians, Czechs, Austrians, Swiss, Norwegians etc etc . So no criticism from here.


Group C: Brazil and Turkey have qualified

Brazil: Favourites by default after the exits of France and Argentina. Difficult to gauge if they're the real thing or not. Scored plenty of goals in the group but were lucky to beat Turkey and their defence was exposed with frightening ease by Costa Rica. Good to see Ronaldo back scoring goals after his much-publicised problems. Less so to see the cheating Rivaldo doing the same.

Turkey: Did what they had to do to get through. Ridiculous penalty decision robbed them of a point against Brazil. Though its unfortunate on the Costa Ricans, it would have been a travesty if the Turks hadn't qualified. Going to take a good team to beat them.

Costa Rica: Our nemesis from 1990 again played well. Took care of China with ease, good draw against the Turks and recovered from a disastrous start against Brazil to make a game of it, only going out on goal difference. This little country continues to amaze with what they can do at World Cup finals.

China: Vying with the Saudis for 'worst of the tournament' title. Even the legendary coaching skills of Bora Milutonivic couldn't coax a goal out of the Chinese, let alone a point. Tempted to say what more could be expected when you've got an ex-Dundee player in the team. First time in the finals but, like Arnie, they'll be back.

Group D : Japan and Belgium have qualified

Japan: Hosts have made the most of their advantage and have played well in all three games. That said, it was only poor refereeing that saw them pick up the points against Russia.

Belgium: Scotland's conquerors progress through to the last 16. They did well to hold Japan, were lackustre against Tunisia but beat the Russians when the chips were down and they needed to win, even though they left it late.

Russia: Another of the game's under-achievers. Refereeing errors cost them dearly against Japan after a good start against Tunisia. But they failed in their last match against Belgium when a draw would have been enough.

Tunisia: Another example of the stagnation in African football. Never looked remotely like qualifying even though they were not that far behind the other teams in the group.

Group E: Germany and Ireland have qualified

Germany: All the sterotypes apply. Methodical, reliable, hard-working. They're not going to be rolled over like they were in Munich by you-know-who. Showed character by beating Cameroon despite playing with ten men for much of the match. Will be hard to beat but will miss their injured stars when they come up against the big boys.

Ireland: For the third time in the past four tournaments Ireland have reached the knockout stages. But all their fanatical supporters, can't hide the fact that this is a deeply boring team to watch if you're not Irish and don't want to become a patronising 'plastic paddy' for the duration of the competition. This team plays for draws/penalty shoot-outs and is adept at getting them. Great spirit allows them to overcome quality limitations.

Cameroon: Flattered only to deceive. Will rue not burying the Irish when they had the chance. Were cumbersome and lacked invention in their matches against the Saudis and the Germans. Overrated and living on a reputation forged at past tournaments.

Saudi Arabia: Surely the worst side to appear in the Finals for the past twenty years. Automatic qualification for both co-hosts led to places in the Finals being up for grabs in Asia for teams patently not up to the mark. Severely hampered by the nature of the regime they live under which more or less forces all their top players to stay at home, thus depriving them of any meaningful competition at club level.

Group F: Sweden and another team have qualified

Sweden: This may come as news to anyone watching the BBC and ITV in the UK, listening to Radio Five Live, or reading the English press, but Sweden actually won this group! Great qualities of character and spirit in coming from behind in their first two group games and again in holding off Argentina until losing a late penalty goal. Showed the so-called superstars where to get off.

E***and: OK, played remarkably well for an hour against Argentina but pedestrian in their other two matches. Lucky to draw with Sweden and their game against Nigeria was scheduled far too early at a 7.30 am kick-off. Should have been at 2.00 am. That way it would have served some purpose by helping the nation's insomniacs get a decent night's rest. Will be hard to beat, having won two, lost one and drawn seven of their last ten but from now on draws after 120 minutes mean penalty shoot-outs. Not exactly their strong point.

Argentina: Another surprise casualty. First early dismissal for 40 years. But they had it coming. Arrogant beyond belief, more so even than the side above. Thought they only had to turn up to win. Sure they were really impressive in qualifying but their lack of experience against European opposition exposed their flaws. One game against Wales isn't proper preparation for a World Cup.

Nigeria: Another African country living on past glories. Defence badly exposed by Sweden. Their last match was a travesty. They hardly bothered to make an effort and long before time up had settled for a 0-0 draw and a point rather than attempt to win the game, even though they were already out of the tournament. Disgraceful.

Group G: Mexico and Italy have qualified

Mexico: Not that long ago the Concacaf teams always finished last in the group. Mexico provide proof of the continuing improvement in North and Central America and their success in topping this group was fully warranted. What happens when they face a side which doesn't allow them so much free time on the ball may be another matter. But this Mexican side won't depart from the tournament easily.

Italy: Must have wondered what they had to do to score after no fewer than four controversial offside decisions denied them goals. The Italians may just have squeezed through but it would still take a brave soul to predict who can eliminate them. One nagging problem is their defence. An uncustomary worry for the Azurri but it looks nowhere near as solid as in past competitions. That said, they've been ousted on penalties in the last three tournaments and their luck must change sometime.

Croatia: Beat one of the favourites but lost to unranked South Americans. Shades of '78! The Croats are not the team they were in France four years ago. They showed that in their two drawn matches with Scotland in the qualifiers. They are no great loss. Especially their tablecloth and bib strips - surely the worst football colours ever.

Ecuador: They came, they saw, and if they didn't quite conquer, at least they had a go in all their games and ended up with a well-deserved win against Croatia in their final match. Although needing a miracle to qualify themselves, Ecuador showed teams like Nigeria how to approach the last game. They return home with both pride and dignity intact.

Group H: South Korea and the USA have qualified

South Korea: Proved that their demolition of Scotland was no fluke by beating both European sides in the group. Like Japan, used home advantage well. Unfazed by pressure of unrealistic expectations of their supporters.

USA: Taken apart by the Poles in their last match but that breathtaking opening half hour against Portugal will live long in the memory. Deserved to go through on the strength of that alone.

Portugal: Overshadowed by the demise of France and Argentina, nevertheless Portugal are one of the big disappointments of this tourney. Shattered by defeat against the Americans, they recovered well against Poland, only to lose the plot in their last game having two players sent off.

Poland: A huge letdown. Lost easily in their first two games and only came alive, beating the US, after they had been eliminated.



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