by TRAVIS CLARK
After three years of World Cup qualifying, the 32-team tournament field is set for next summer. Attention now turns to the December 4 draw in Cape Town, when the 32 nation field will learn their fate.
It was a hectic day across several continents as the final six spots were sewn up. Algeria led off the day by making their first World Cup berth since 1986, while Slovenia knocked off heavily-favored Russia, and France took advantage of a blown call to qualify. Rounding out the rest of the field were Portugal, Greece and Uruguay.
High drama unfolded in Sudan as a one-game playoff took place between Algeria and Egypt. With 15,000 guards surrounding the field and in the stands to prevent fighting between the two groups of supporters, Algeria grabbed a 1-0 lead through Antar Yahia in the 39th minute. The Algerian channeled his inner Van Basten, launching a superb volley past Egyptian keeper Essam El Hadari. Algeria managed to keep the Pharoahs at bay for the rest of the match, punching their ticket.
Joining them in extremely controversial fashion were the French. Trailing Ireland 1-0 after a Robbie Keane goal in the first half, prospects weren't looking good for Les Bleus. But Thierry Henry controlled a cross with his left hand, and found William Gallas unmarked for the deciding tally in extra time. Despite an army of protest from the Irish, the goal stood France held on for the 2-1 win.
The other concluding legs failed to bring the same controversy. Russia, favored by most to advance past Slovenia, were undone by a single Slovenia goal — just the result the hosts needed after grabbing a vital away goal in the first leg. Zlatko Dedic's 44th minute finish stood up as the difference. Russia had two men sent off in the process, as Guus Hiddink failed to lead his side to the win. Slovenia advanced on the 2-2 aggregate thanks to the goal in Moscow.
Over in Donetsk, Greece and Ukraine could only manage one goal throughout 180 minutes of play. It was a vital goal at that — Dimitris Salpigidis collecting a through ball from Giorgos Samaras, and slotting past Andrei Pyatov. The away goal gave Greece the upper hand, though Ukraine weren't without goal-scoring chances. However, the Greek defense held fast, securing the 1-0 win.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had it all to do as Portugal visited Zenica holind a 1-0 lead. Bundelisga strikers Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic couldn't dig out of the deficit, and when Raul Meireles scored for Portugal in the 55th minute, the tie was all but settled. Dzeko came close for the hosts, but at that point three goals were needed — and none came, as Portugal emerged with the 2-0 win.
In the final act of the day, Costa Rica came to Montevideo with a determination to turn around the two-legged series, down 1-0. The second leg encounter was a tense one, with plenty of action in what was a back-and-forth match. In the 70th minute, Sebastian Abreu scored what turned out to be the decisive goal — especially since Walter Centeno score for Costa Rica four minutes later. After eight minutes of stoppage time due to a sideline scrum, Uruguay was confirmed as the 32nd and final nation, 2-1 winners on the aggregate.
What did you think of the final matchday? Surprised to see some of the results? Excited that the field is set?
Share your thoughts below.