Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and the Netherlands are all through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals in South Africa, while Denmark and Venezuela edged closer to places at the world’s most prestigious sports event with crucial victories. But the winners’ elation was matched by sorrow elsewhere, as a clutch of the big names in the world game slumped to shock defeats.

FIFA.com looks back on a weekend which has yet again highlighted the fine line between joy and despair on Planet Football.

Aside from the on-fire Dutch and England, Morten Olsen’s Denmark side took arguably the biggest stride of any European contender towards the 2010 finals. Thomas Kahlenberg struck the only goal of the game in the all-Scandinavian clash away to Sweden as the Danes extended their lead at the top of Group 1.

The 1992 European champions remain undefeated in their six games so far and have moved three points clear of closest pursuers Hungary. Portugal are seven points off the leaders, with the Swedes in real trouble at a yawning ten points adrift of their high-flying neighbours.

In North and Central America and the Caribbean, El Tri fell to another calamitous defeat. El Salvador, without a win before the weekend round of matches, finally got off the mark in the final qualifying round with a 2-1 home win over their more illustrious opponents. The Mexicans now have a mountain to climb if they are to claim a place in South Africa next year.

The team led by new coach Javier Aguirre have won just one of their four matches to date and now lie fifth in the standings, outside the qualifying places. Only Trinidad and Tobago have amassed fewer points, a meagre two to be precise. Thirteen-time FIFA World Cup participants Mexico now face the bottom country on 11 June knowing anything less than victory could cost them a 14th appearance at the finals.

Korea DPR suffered a setback in their bid to seal a place in South Africa. At home to out-of-sorts Iran, Yong-Jun Kim’s men were held to a frustrating goalless draw. If the second-placed North Koreans had managed a victory in front of their home Pyongyang crowd, they would have extended their advantage over chief rivals Saudi Arabia to three points.

However, the position has now significantly worsened for the 1966 FIFA World Cup participants, who have not added to their single finals appearance since then. The Saudis are only a point behind with a game in hand, and could leapfrog into the second qualifying spot on Wednesday. However, the truly decisive clash comes on 17 June, when the Saudis entertain the team currently still a place above them in the standings.

Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina have pulled clear at the top of the South American table, but the battle for fifth and a play-off spot has intensified. Venezuela won 1-0 in Bolivia, their second victory on the spin following a home win over Colombia back in April.

The Vinotintos are now just a point behind fifth-placed Uruguay, who were defeated at home by Brazil. As fate and the fixture computer would have it, Venezuela now meet the team spearheaded by star striker Diego Forlan on Wednesday, 11 June. A win would see coach Cesar Farias’ side take over the play-off spot.

After examining the line-up for African qualifying Group A, the experts agreed it would be a three-horse race for top spot, with Gabon bringing up the rear. Two games into the series, the rank outsiders have forced all the pundits to reappraise their views.

The team coached by Alain Giresse followed up a 2-1 win away to Morocco in late March with a 3-0 success against Togo. Gabon have streaked clear at the top of the section, followed by Togo and only then favourites Morocco and Cameroon. Attention now turns to the showdown between the Azingo Nationale and the Indomitable Lions in Libreville on 20 June.

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