2006 FIFA World Cup Germany ™ Preliminaries
The qualifying rounds for Germany 2006 threw up a number of surprises and shocks, goals and golden moments. Mother Africa sent four new courageous combatants to tilt on the world stage, while South America and CONCACAF sent the same names as four years before (with one notable addition). Along with Brazil, Italy, England and the rest of the pre-ordained regulars, first timers were out in force in the qualifying stages with Ukraine, Czech Republic, Serbia & Montenegro, Trinidad & Tobago, Angola, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, and Togo all earning the right to line up at their first finals. Read on to get the skinny on global qualifying for Germany 2006.
T&T join top trio
There was only one major surprise in CONCACAF zone qualifying as the same trio that lined up at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan made their way back to the finals. The USA, Mexico and Costa Rica were joined by Dwight Yorke and his infectious Soca Warriors of Trinidad & Tobago, who qualified for the their first FIFA World Cup finals thanks to a long, arduous campaign, the guile of legendary coach Leo Beenhakker and a hard-fought two-legged play-off with Asian outfit Bahrain. The USA became the first team to qualify and lost only two matches along their way to grabbing first-place in the region. They were joined by Mexico, who earned 15 wins from 18 games, scored 67 goals and boasted three of the region's four leading scorers. The North American duo was joined by up-and-coming Costa Rica. After a shock loss early on to Cuba and a generally slow start to qualifying, the Ticos had to call on talismanic boss Alexandre Guimaraes to save the day...and that he did, seeing the side qualified with a game to spare.
Four more in South America
Down in the southern half of the New World, it was the same old story once again as Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay (the four teams that lined up at Korea/Japan 2002) steered their ships to Germany after two years of stiff competition. Predictably, holders Brazil and Argentina finished top of the marathon ten-team round robin with 34 points while Ecuador and Paraguay pulled in 28 points apiece. Uruguay - the fifth South American competitor in 2002 - were pipped at the last in a two-legged play-off with Oceania outfit Australia. All told, there were 90 fixtures with each country playing an epic 18 games. The excitement came thick and fast with the competition producing no fewer than 235 goals. Leading the way were the star-studded Seleção with 35. Ronaldo's ten goals made him the region's top scorer.
New boys have their say in Africa
Whereas it was status quo on show in South America, Africa's qualifying campaign for Germany 2006 saw a swirl of new sides rise to the fore. Of the five qualified teams, only Tunisia had ever participated at a previous finals. Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Angola were the names on everyone's lips after a sohcking qualifying campaign, not the usual suspects of South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon. With the exception of Ghana in Group 2, all of the qualifying groups were tense nail-biters to the end. The duels between Togo and Senegal (Group 1), Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon (Group 3), Angola and Nigeria (Group 4), and Morocco and Tunisia (Group 5) all had to wait until the night of 8 October to be resolved. Emmanuel Adebayor emerged from these qualifiers as top scorer on the continent with 11 goals, just ahead of Chelsea's Ivorian phenomenon Didier Drogba
Tough test on the old continent
Andriy Shevchenko and his debutant Ukraine pulled off a sensation by becoming the first team to qualify for the finals from the European theatre, and were joined by usual suspects England, The Netherlands, Portugal, France, Italy and England - who all won their groups. Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia also advanced to Germany at the head of their sections. Besides the eight group-winners, two teams progressed automatically as best runners-up, namely Poland and Sweden while the play-offs offered a second chance to six others. The Czech Republic, Spain and Switzerland were the sides to seize that second chance. The Czechs, joint-top scorers in qualifying alongside Portugal, joined Ukraine and the Serbs in their first FIFA World Cup since independence.
Asia quartet and Aussie spark
Despite Bahrain's elimination at the hands of Trinidad & Tobago in the play-off, Asia sent four strong representatives to the finals in Germany in the form of regulars Japan, Iran, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia. It was a feather for the region's traditional powers as the Koreans booked their place at a sixth finals in a row and the Saudis finished the qualifying run without suffering defeat. Down south in the Oceania confederation, the Australians (in their last campaign as part of OFC) caused a surprise by reaching their first world finals since they turned up at Germany 1974. The Socceroos ran roughshod over their minnow neighbours in the preliminary rounds. They then met up with bogey play-off opponents Uruguay for a second straight time with a place in the finals on the line. Led by wily old Dutch campaigner Guus Hiddink, they kept their cool this time though and Mark Schwarzer's saves in the penalty shootout in the second leg in Sydney set the stage for hero John Aloisi to strike the decisive spot kick. The scenes of jubilation Down Under were without compare.