Debutants take to the stage

The road to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ is long and winding, and appearing along the way for most contenders are sure to be some familiar foes. Limbering up on the starting line when the Preliminary Competition began back in August, however, were a clutch of new contenders.

Unfortunately for Comoros, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Tuvalu, their participation in the event was over almost as soon as it began. Montenegro, the fifth member of the debutants club, are still very much involved, though, and are waiting expectantly for Sunday's Preliminary Draw in Durban. is here to tell their intriguing tales.

Montenegro lead the way
The only new nation still in with a chance of reaching South Africa 2010, Montenegro will take part in the Preliminary Draw for the very first time after breaking away from Serbia following last year's FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany.

The Balkan side joined FIFA earlier this year and are now waiting to rub shoulders with the big boys under the guidance of Zoran Filipovic, Red Star Belgrade's legendary striker of the 1970s. The Montenegrins enjoyed the best possible start to life on their own when they defeated Hungary 2-1 in their maiden international back in March, a result greeted ecstatically by the home fans. Three defeats, a draw and a solitary win over Estonia since then, however, have dampened the euphoria somewhat.

Nevertheless, Filipovic has plenty of useful performers to call on, not least AS Roma striker Mirko Vucinic, and the coach is full of optimism as he prepares for the challenges that lie ahead. "The most important thing is that each player wears the shirt with passion and pride. It's a big adventure for us and it won't be easy, but it's definitely one worth embarking on."

Better luck next time
As the four other first-timers can no doubt confirm, experience most defìnitely counts when it comes to getting results. The dream was over all too quickly for African challengers Comoros when they lost 6-2 and 4-0 in their two-legged eliminator against Madagascar. Defeat came as a blow to the islands' 710,000 inhabitants, although bearing in mind the Comorans only became FIFA members in 2005, their participation in the battle for places at South Africa 2010 was a chance to gain useful experience.

Over in Asia, Timor-Leste fared little better, slumping to an 11-3 aggregate loss to Hong Kong. The case of Myanmar is slightly different to the other debutants. Formerly known as Burma, they entered the qualifiers for Brazil 1950 only to withdraw without playing a game, a story that would be repeated in 1994 and 2002. After being excluded from the 2006 qualifying competition, Myanmar finally took to the stage this year but found China far too strong for them, losing 7-0 and 4-0 in their two legs.

Although the final member of the quintet, Oceania representatives Tuvalu, have yet to join FIFA, they did take part in the South Pacific Games, which doubled up as the first stage of the regional qualifying tournament. Like their fellow debutants, however, luck was not on the minnows' side as they fell to three defeats and a draw in their games.