Qualification Comes To An End
31 national teams begin their preparation for Brazil after confirming their qualification. The club football season is yet to come to an end, but when everything is done and dusted, the chosen few will travel to their training camps in Brazil. There were some upsets in the qualifiers, but most of the teams expected to qualify did.
Of course, Brazil did not need to qualify for the World Cup as they earned automatic qualification, being hosts of the tournament. Colombia seized first place in the qualifiers, throwing everything in and going on an amazing winning streak leaving them with only one defeat. Argentina trailed behind, showing some exquisite performances but simply not scoring as many as the Colombians. Uruguay and Chile followed in the table, both showing a host of confident performances. Peru disappointingly fell in to a playoff spot on goal difference, but eliminated Bahrain to seize their spot in the Group stages.
Group A proved Belgium's show, the team dominating the group unbeaten, leaving Serbia with only a playoff spot to show for their performances. Italy won group B on goal difference to a distraught Czech republic, who went on to be beat by the Serbians in the playoffs. Group C was Germany's show, winning all but 2 games and proving a challenge for runner-up Ireland. Group D looked bleak for Holland at first, but they pulled away, leaving Turkey behind. Switzerland were the only team that showed up in an poor Group E. Group F was a Portugal-only affair, but Russia managed to clinch a playoff spot nevertheless, going on to defeat Ireland. Surprisingly, it was Bosnia & Herzegovia who tore apart Greece to win Group G. Group H was all England, the only British team to qualify won by 6 points, Ukraine taking the qualifying spot and going on to beat Turkey. Spain and France were locked in battle for Group I, the game between the two being the deciders, putting Spain ahead. However, France did not have to feel frustrated, as they defeated Greece in the playoff.
Iran were the team that topped group A, after the first few games they rose up to take first place from China, who eventually dropped down to third, losing all hope of qualification, Australia making a last minute push to take the second qualification spot. In Group B, Japan completely dominated, it was never anyone else for the first spot. However, the battle for the second position was close, Bahrain just being edged by South Korea. Bahrain then faced Peru in the playoffs, but were defeated. New Zealand topped the Oceania qualification group, but were defeated in the playoffs by Costa Rica.
Africa was the only continent where there were upsets, arguably, the two best teams, Ghana and Ivory Coast, failed to qualify. Algeria defeated Egypt 4-3* to return to the World Cup, followed by Tunisia's close affair with Zambia, requiring them to get a 2-0 win on the away leg, which they did, to get the 3-2* win. Morocco managed to put an end to Ivory Coast's dreams in an extremely close 4-3* win. Cameroon and Nigeria battled it out through to penalties, but it was Cameroon that qualified after the 4-4* draw. South Africa then beat Ghana 4-3* to make their first appearance after hosting the competition last time around.
(*over two legs)
The group stage was quite close, Mexico winning by a few points, followed by a confident USA and finished off by a nervous Jamaica, who only pulled ahead of Costa Rica on goal difference... by two goals. This will only be Jamaica's second world cup. Costa Rica went on to play New Zealand in the playoffs and defeated them to clinch qualification.