Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Aboutrika share a common goal: all three want to spend 11 June to 11 July 2010 in South Africa for the first FIFA World Cup™ on African soil. Before any of that can happen, the trio must successfully tackle the hurdle of qualifying.

The contest for places at the 2010 finals continues on 28 March 2009. All over the world, fans' nerves are tingling at the prospect of the next round of matches, as the race for berths in South Africa moves into its decisive phase. With an eye on the next round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers, asked you the users which player you were most looking forward to watching in the forthcoming clashes. The result provided clear evidence that surprises can never be ruled out on the road to the world’s greatest football tournament.

Close-run thing in Asia and Africa

The overall winner on 38.82 per cent of the votes was Park Ji-Sung. The Manchester United and Korea Republic midfielder joins his national team-mates in Seoul on 1 April for the meeting with Korea DPR, determined to inspire his side to another home win and a giant stride towards a place at the 2010 finals. The man in second on 27.87 per cent, Egyptian wizard Mohamed Aboutrika, will hope the reigning continental champions can make their perfect start to the final round of qualifying in Africa when they entertain Zambia in Cairo on 29 March.

A trifle surprisingly, Lionel Messi (19.49 per cent) and Cristiano Ronaldo (10.33 per cent) finished down the field in third and fourth. The diminutive Argentine star and his team-mates will expect maximum points when they meet Venezuela in Buenos Aires on 28 March, whereas the Portuguese-born FIFA World Player 2008 faces a far more challenging prospect on paper. Portugal, fourth-place finishers at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, must beat Sweden in Porto in order to stay in touch with European Group 1 leaders Denmark.

Stars around the globe
Fifth place went to USA goal-getter Landon Donovan (2.16 per cent), with Roque Santa Cruz from South American leaders Paraguay bringing up the rear on 1.33 per cent. Both strikers face challenging away games in national colours on 28 March, as the USA visit El Salvador, and Paraguay travel to Uruguay.

In an intriguing statistical quirk, our English site was the only individual language version where Park actually finished top of the pile. That honour went to Messi among Spanish, French and German speaking users. However, taking all the votes cast together, it was enough to hand the Korean dynamo top spot overall. With this kind of passion and excitement all over the world, next year’s showdown in South Africa already promises to be a unique and truly thrilling spectacle.