The nine group winners in European qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ are already busy with their plans for next summer's tournament in South Africa, but the campaign has metaphorically gone into extra time for the eight nations contesting the play-offs.
The four match-ups, to played on a home-and-away basis on 14 and 18 November, were revealed after a draw at the Home of FIFA last Monday. Naturally, our Have Your Say debate last week posed the most relevant question of the day: Who will win the FIFA World Cup play-offs?
We received an overwhelming global response on all five language versions of FIFA.com, as you the users posted more than 1,000 comments. From Colombia, Algeria, Canada and Thailand, the burning question drew opinions from every corner of the planet, proving yet again the spellbinding power and fascination of the FIFA World Cup.
You clearly feel the games will all be tight affairs, as only a small minority consider the outcomes clear-cut before a ball has been kicked. "I've never seen such evenly-matched play-offs. Every team has the potential to qualify for the 2010 World Cup," commented cheche from Spain, voicing the majority opinion. "They'll all be really close battles!" agreed Austrian user Fruchtiger.
"A World Cup without France and Portugal would be boring, but both face really tough tasks," multisync92 opined: "I hope Portugal, France, Ukraine and Russia qualify." Those four names were also nominated by Abu_Saker (Palestine), 08usmalger (Algeria), mecca755 (England) and a host of others. But nothing's decided yet, as many of you pointed out. "Anything could happen!" countered Nebster from Switzerland.
"People are underestimating Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were really good in qualifying, but Portugal dropped points to so-called weaker opponents. I agree that Portugal are favourites, but it certainly won't be easy," argued polka16 from Argentina. "I've actually had a dream in which Bosnia scored twice against Portugal," revealed Bolle88 - writing from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A fellow Bosnian user, Bosnien_2010, offered an alternative opinion: "I want Ireland, Ukraine, Bosnia and Slovenia to win. France don't play good football, and neither do Greece. Why shouldn't up-and-coming teams like Slovenia or Bosnia make it to the World Cup once in a while? Especially as Bosnia have a great team. I'd also like Ireland to get through, because they're another small country. It would be really terrific for the smaller nations to have something to celebrate."
"France have a 70% chance, Portugal 80%, Greece 53% and Russia 90% of going to the World Cup," calculated 076449805 (Algeria). Writing from Thailand, Toonnos insisted there were no favourites: "The best players make the difference, but Franck Ribery is injured, and Cristiano Ronaldo isn't on form. There could well be surprises."
If the passionate debate is any yardstick, the games in three weeks time will be packed with tension and thrills. That's when we'll find out if the established names live up to their past reputations, or the footballing Davids manage to slay a few Goliaths.