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Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

World Cup qualifying reaches climax

Clockwise from top left: Thierry Henry of France, Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon, Diego Forlan of Uruguay and Ryan Nelsen of New Zealand
Clockwise from top left: World Cup hopefuls Thierry Henry of France, Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon, Diego Forlan of Uruguay and Ryan Nelsen of New Zealand

By Dan Warren

In late August 2007 Pierre Wajoka netted a penalty for New Caledonia in front of 400 fans at the Toleafoa JS Blatter Complex in Samoa.

So began qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

New Caledonia held on to beat Tahiti 1-0, although their campaign ultimately faltered. But now - 27 months, 800-plus games and thousands of goals later - the line-up for next year's football extravaganza is on the verge of being finalised.

DW - BBC Sport

The remaining nine places will be decided from the last batch of qualifying games on Saturday 14 November and Wednesday 18 November.

There is still much to be decided, with the draw for the final stages looming on Friday 4 December.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal could crash out. Bahrain or New Zealand will qualify. Egypt and Algeria play a key qualifier in Cairo which may leave the teams utterly inseparable - and requiring a further winner-takes-all play-off in Sudan to choose between them.

BBC Sport looks at who needs to do what to join the 22 teams which have already qualified alongside hosts South Africa.


New Zealand v Bahrain

What's the deal?
Although much of Saturday's action takes place in Africa and Europe, the first issue will be settled before many fans in those continents are out of bed.

Bahrain's Husain Ali Ahmed (right) talks with New Zealand's Simon Elliott
The hard-fought first leg between Bahrain and New Zealand finished 0-0

New Zealand host Bahrain in Wellington in the second leg of the Oceania v Asia play-off at 0700 GMT after the first leg in Bahrain finished goalless.

A partisan crowd of around 35,500 - unprecedented for a football match in this rugby union-obsessed nation - will cheer on a Kiwi team eager to grab only its second-ever World Cup finals appearance, after reaching the 1982 finals in Spain.

That's one more World Cup appearance than rivals Bahrain have managed. The tiny Gulf state is desperate to make it to South Africa after missing out to Trinidad & Tobago in a similar play-off ahead of Germany 2006.

The triumphant team is almost certain to be installed as World Cup rank outsiders - not that it will matter to the jubilant fans.

What they say:
Bahrain's Czech coach Milan Macala: "I'm living this dream like any other Bahraini."
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert: "The nation is right behind the team and people sense a fantastic chance."

Full Africa qualifying tables on

What's the deal?
The qualifying group stages come to an end this weekend. All the vital matches take place on Saturday and three places are up for grabs.

Who can qualify?
The three qualifiers will be:
One from Cameroon and Gabon
One from Tunisia and Nigeria
One from Algeria and Egypt.

The three successful teams join Ghana and Ivory Coast, who have already qualified (along with hosts South Africa) for the World Cup.

What is the situation?
Group A
Togo v Gabon (1530 GMT)
Morocco v Cameroon (1530 GMT)
Recent World Cup regulars Cameroon are in the box seat. They will qualify unless Gabon get a result better than them. If Cameroon lose and Gabon draw, it will come down to goal difference (Cameroon's is currently +5, Gabon's is +3)

Group B
Kenya v Nigeria (1300 GMT)
Mozambique v Tunisia (1300 GMT)
Tunisia are in control. They qualify with a win, but if they draw or lose, Nigeria can pip them to top spot with a win in Kenya. If Nigeria fail to win, Tunisia qualify in any case.

Group C
Egypt v Algeria (1730 GMT)
A hugely interesting match. Algeria will qualify, unless Egypt win well in Cairo. A one-goal margin of victory is not enough. A three-goal margin puts Egypt through. If Egypt win by two goals, they will be level with Algeria - on points, goal difference, goals scored and head-to-head record.

There is a joint Egyptian and Algerian desire for calm

Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki

Should that happen, Fifa has ruled that there will be a one-off play-off in Sudan on Wednesday 18 November.

The match has the ingredients of a classic - although the authorities hope things do not boil over.

The relationship between the two nations is undoubtedly tense and diplomats from both are keen to calm fans ahead of the match.

A similar World Cup qualifying scenario played out 20 years ago, when a 1-0 win for Egypt in Cairo prompted brutal riots and a shocking incident in which the Egypt team doctor lost an eye at the post-game reception after being hit by a broken bottle.

One hopes the appeals for calm will be heeded. But the atmosphere at the 80,000-capacity Cairo Stadium on Saturday will undoubtedly be unlike anywhere else on the planet.

What they say:
Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan: "It's a unique moment, without doubt the most important of our careers."
Algeria captain Yazid Mansouri: "It's got the makings of a great game, the kind of match that every footballer dreams of taking part in one day."
Egypt foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki: "There is a joint Egyptian and Algerian desire for calm."
Fifa letter to both associations: "We have been informed directly and via the media of some tensions leading up to this decisive day. In this regard, we feel it is timely to remind you that Fifa is clearly monitoring all the activities around this matchday."


What's the deal?
The situation is rather more straightforward in Europe. Nine teams, including Fabio Capello's England, have booked their place. There are four more places up for grabs, to be settled by four two-legged play-offs.

Saturday sees the first legs, so no team can book their place outright although the coaches know a handsome win can all-but secure a place.

Who is playing?
Here are Saturday's first legs, with the fixtures reversed for the second legs four days later:
Russia v Slovenia (1600 GMT)
Greece v Ukraine (1800 GMT)
Republic of Ireland v France (2000 GMT)
Portugal v Bosnia-Hercegovina (2030 GMT)

Do away goals count double?
Yes, in the event of aggregate scores being level over two legs. That may be of interest to the Republic of Ireland (unbeaten in 10 qualifying matches), who will note that Raymond Domenech's France conceded at home against Serbia, Romania and Austria.

What they say:
France coach Raymond Domenech after the play-off draw: "They are the England Bs. There won't be any surprises in the World Cup play-offs, we know precisely what to expect."
Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne: "Every time a tournament comes round, they have all these world-class players and a man (Domenech) who seems intent on messing them up."


Costa Rica v Uruguay

What's the deal?
The final team to qualify for South Africa 2010 will come from Central or South America.

Costa Rica, who finished fourth in the North, Central America and Caribbean zone, take on Uruguay, fifth in the South America zone.

The first leg kicks off in San Jose, Costa Rica at 2000 local time on Saturday, which works out at 0200 GMT on Sunday morning - by which time the fans of the winners of New Zealand v Bahrain might be starting to think about going to bed.

And then?
The second leg is in Montevideo, kicking off at 2300 GMT on Wednesday 18 November.

And so, at around 0100 GMT on Thursday, the last of the 32 teams to book their place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will be known.

And all eyes will then switch to Cape Town for the draw on 4 December.

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see also
Crunch time for Egypt and Algeria
13 Nov 09 |  Middle East
Bosnia plot Ronaldo heartbreak
12 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Republic face France in play-offs
19 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Lawro on the Republic
10 Nov 09 |  Football
Ronaldo out of World Cup play-off
10 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Egypt, Algeria appeal for calm
10 Nov 09 |  African
Crunch time for World Cup hopefuls
13 Oct 09 |  Internationals
Who has qualified for South Africa 2010?
19 Nov 09 |  Internationals
World Cup 2010 map
05 Dec 09 |  Football

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