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First step to 2010
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 29 - 11 - 2007

The eyes of the footballing world turned to Durban for the preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, writes Ahmed Morsy
A total of 170 teams have entered the race for one of the 31 places at the 2010 World Cup South Africa. Sunday's draw proved to be a memorable ceremony, decorated by the presence of some iconic figures from within the sport and providing a foretaste of the magical tournament that South Africa promises to deliver. The preliminary phase, which began in the Oceanian zone back in August 2007, is now in full swing, with only the host nation guaranteed a berth in world football's showpiece event.
In a two-hour ceremony, broadcast live from Durban's International Convention Centre, iconic figures from the soccer world conducted the preliminary draw for the tournament, allocating national teams to their qualifying pools.
For Africa, the draw served a dual purpose: apart from the World Cup, it also assigned teams to their groups for the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola. South Africa are automatically through to the finals as hosts but must compete as the qualifiers also count toward the 2010 African Nations Cup.
Forty-eight African teams placed into 12 groups of four countries, each coming from a separate pot. The winners of each round-robin mini-league, of the 12 groups, plus the best eight runners-up qualify for next and final round. The teams will be then divided into five groups, each featuring four teams. The group winners will book their places in the World Cup finals in South Africa.
Egypt have been handed an easy draw in the preliminary stage of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers as they were placed in Group 12 along with DR Congo, Malawi and Djibouti. The Pharaohs, whose last World Cup appearance was in the 1990 tournament in Italy, are likely to ease into the next stage, where they will probably face a fierce battle. Moreover, Tunisia, 2004 Nations Cup winners, were paired with Burkina Faso along with Burundi and Seychelles in Group 9.
Nigeria and South Africa will play in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group, side by side with rapidly improving Equatorial Guinea and struggling Sierra Leone. Nigeria reached three consecutive World Cup tournaments from 1994 while rainbow nation, South Africa, appeared at the 1998 and 2002 editions. Besides, Cameroon, African qualifiers a record five times, are in Group 1 with the Cape Verde Islands, Tanzania and Mauritius and seem certain to advance. While Ivory Coast, who boast African Footballer of the Year Didier Drogba, should not be troubled by Group 7 opponents Mozambique, Botswana and Madagascar.
Africa draw:
Group 1: Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Tanzania, Mauritius.
Group 2: Guinea, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya
Group 3: Angola, Benin, Uganda, Niger
Group 4: Nigeria, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone
Group 5: Ghana, Libya, Gabon, Lesotho
Group 6: Liberia, Algeria, Senegal, Gambia
Group 7: Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Botswana, Madagascar
Group 8: Morocco, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mauritania Group 9: Burkina Faso, Tunisia, Burundi, Seychelles
Group 10: Mali, Congo, Sudan, Chad
Group 11: Togo, Eritrea, Zambia, Swaziland
Group 12: Egypt, DR Congo, Malawi, Djibouti
As for Europe which has the biggest representation at the World Cup finals with 13 places, 53 European teams will contest in round one which consists of eight, round robin, home-and-away groups of six teams as well as one round robin, home-and-away group of five teams. The group winners will automatically qualify for the World Cup. But the eight best round one group runners-up will contest in the next and final round in which they will go into a two- legged play-off for four more qualifying berths.
The draw gave England the chance to avenge last week's defeat by Croatia which eliminated them from next summer's Euro 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland after being drawn against their Euro 2008 nemeses. England were fearing the worst in the WC qualifiers as they were not top- seeded after dropping to 12th place in FIFA rankings. However, their fears were alleviated after the draw did not put them in a tough challenge against the likes of Italy, France, Spain, Holland and Germany. In addition, a fierce battle is expected in Group 1, which features Portugal, Sweden and Denmark. They will be accompanied by Hungary, Albania and Malta. Moreover, France's task will not be a walk in the park after they were drawn alongside Romania, who registered impressive results in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Europe draw:
Group 1: Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Albania, Malta
Group 2: Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia, Luxembourg
Group 3: Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, San Marino
Group 4: Germany, Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein
Group 5: Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Armenia, Estonia
Group 6: Croatia, England, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Andorra
Group 7: France, Romania, Serbia, Lithuania, Austria, Faroe Islands
Group 8: Italy, Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia, Montenegro
Group 9: Holland, Scotland, Norway, FYR Macedonia, Iceland
In Asia, there are five groups each consists of four teams. The winner of the five groups and their runners-up will qualify to the final stage and will be divided in two groups.
The top two of each group go through to the World Cup finals while the two third-placed teams play off against each other for the right to play the winner of the Oceania qualifying tournament for a place in the finals. Saudi Arabia will have an easy challenge as they'll face Uzbekistan, Lebanon and Singapore. This is while the Asian champions Iraq will have to battle with Australia, China and Qatar in Group 1.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) zone pitted Australia, who narrowly missed out on a quarter-final place at the 2006 World Cup, against both Iraq, the reigning Asian champions, and China PR, who participated in the 2002 finals. Qatar, who have played Iraq five times in World Cup qualifiers (with two wins apiece and one draw), completed the pool, from which two teams will advance to the concluding stage of Asian qualifying.
Asia draw:
Group 1 : Australia, China, Iraq, Qatar
Group 2: Japan, Bahrain, Oman, Thailand
Group 3: South Korea, North Korea, Jordan, Turkmenistan
Group 4: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Singapore
Group 5: Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Syria
Oceania is already deep into its qualifying campaign with a group competition involving Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Vanuatu. As for South America, the qualification format, that involves a league system with teams playing each other home and away, kicked off in October. The top four go through by right, with the side finishing fifth going into a play-off with the fourth-placed side from the CONCACAF zone. All CONCACAF's 35 members have entered four stages of qualifying, the first two of which will be played on a knockout basis.
Of the heavyweights in the CONCACAF region, Canada were handed the stiffest Stage 2 challenge in the form of St Vincent and the Grenadines, whom they have never played but who impressed during the qualifying rounds for the 2002 finals. Perhaps the most intriguing development was how the Stage 4 groups will appear if the favourites avoid upsets. Indeed, Mexico, Canada, Jamaica and Honduras could do battle for two places in the deciding phase, while the US, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Guatemala may have to do the same.
International stars such as former Chelsea captain Marcel Desailly, European, African and FIFA World Player of the Year winner George Weah, multiple African Footballer of the Year winner Abedi Pele, former Real Madrid star Christian Karembeu, South African football legends Kaizer Motaung and Jomo Sono, and Lucas Radebe, among others, were in attendance.


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