For Korea DPR, South Africa 2010 has been 44 years coming. Nigeria and Cameroon, meanwhile, are returning after an eight-year break, while Slovakia are preparing to participate in their first-ever FIFA World Cup™ as an independent nation. In total, 12 nations who missed out on Germany 2006 have qualified for next year’s finals. So what was it that ensured they succeeded this time where they failed four years ago? FIFA.com takes a closer look.
It was fitting that Korea DPR, who endured the longest wait, should be the first of this returning dozen to take their place. The North Korean success story was, in fact, one of the preliminary campaign’s great fairy tales, with Kim Jong-Hun’s side edging out three of the continent’s traditional heavyweights - Saudi Arabia, Iran and United Arab Emirates – en route to South Africa 2010. Kim certainly had much to do with the transformation of a side that had lost all but one of their final stage 2006 qualifiers. The 53-year-old, himself a former defender, took charge early in 2008 and, despite a lack of star names, moulded his team into a solid unit whose defence was breached just five times in eight qualifiers.
Asian influences were also key to New Zealand’s first successful preliminary campaign in 28 years. Australia’s departure to the AFC allowed the All Whites to claim a regional stranglehold in Oceania, while Bahrain were their victims in a memorable play-off triumph that witnessed a new generation of Kiwi stars secure a place in folklore.
Just as blossoming of players such as Shane Smeltz and Ryan Nelsen proved vital to New Zealand, so Greece profited from the emergence of Theofanidis Gekas as a force to be reckoned with in the international arena. Otto Rehhagel’s side have stayed true to the principles that brought them European glory in 2004 but, unlike in 2006, when they lacked a natural goalscorer, the Greeks were this time able to call on the European Zone’s most prolific marksman in the predatory Gekas.
Chile also had a star striker to thank as they returned to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since France 1998. A haul of ten goals established Humberto Suazo as the top scorer in the South American Zone and played a large part in ensuring that Marcelo Bielsa’s Roja side finished just a point behind Brazil in the continental standings.
Continuing this theme, nine goals in 11 qualifiers from Samuel Eto’o proved crucial to Cameroon reaching an African record sixth FIFA World Cup. Yet the turning point for the Indomitable Lions came in July when, with the team bottom of their qualifying section, Paul Le Guen took over as coach and brought about a radical transformation, which included installing Eto’o as captain. Like Cameroon, Nigeria qualified on a dramatic final day in the African Zone. Still stinging from their failure to qualify for Germany 2006, the Super Eagles looked destined for yet more heartbreak when Obafemi Martins, one of the high-profile forwards who had disappointed last time around, struck twice to secure a dramatic and decisive comeback win in Kenya.
Of the teams ending their FIFA World Cup exile, perhaps only Honduras endured a more nerve-shredding finale. Reinaldo Rueda’s adventurous side had impressed during the preliminaries, with the likes of David Suazo, Wilson Palacios and Carlos Pavon all shining, but would have faced a play-off had Costa Rica not conceded in the dying seconds of their final fixture.
That fateful goal left Los Ticos to contest a two-legged duel with Uruguay from which the South Americans emerged triumphant. Consistency continues to prove problematic, but with Diego Forlan at the peak of his powers and ably supported by Luis Suarez, La Celeste’s new and improved forward line will persist in striking fear into opposition defences.
Celebrations and sensations
Algeria might not possess such a wealth of attacking options, but under Rabeh Saadane - who was in charge when they reached their last FIFA World Cup in 1986 - Les Fennecs have proved that they are nevertheless well worth watching. Having finished below the likes of Angola, Zimbabwe and Gabon in the race to Germany 2006, Algeria brought back Saadane in 2007 and reaped the benefits throughout a memorable campaign that culminated in that unforgettable play-off win over Egypt.
While the likes of Algeria and Uruguay required play-offs to advance, others in this group of returning heroes secured their places in some style. Denmark, in fact, fought arguably the most impressive preliminary campaign of all, comfortably topping a formidable section that included Portugal, Sweden and Hungary. Though lacking the individual talent their rivals possessed in the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibraminovic, the Danes prevailed largely thanks to the stability and tactical nous provided by Morten Olsen, now in his tenth year at the helm.
If Denmark’s successes against the Swedes and the Portuguese were a surprise, Slovenia’s ousting of Russia was little short of a sensation. Few had given this nation of two million people a hope against Andrei Arshavin and Co, but a miserly defence that was breached just four times in ten qualifiers provided the basis for a spectacular success story.
Then, last but far from least, we must pay tribute to this FIFA World Cup’s sole debutants. Slovakia can, of course, claim some credit for the eight appearances made by the former Czechoslovakia, but South Africa 2010 will be their first since securing independence in 1993. They had to earn their place too, finishing top of a section that included Czech Republic, Poland and Slovenia, and Vladimir Weiss’s side will hope that the steel and spirit that secured this maiden appearance will ensure that it proves one to remember.