To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, according to Newton's third law. A similar logical principle applies to football: for every underdog defying the odds, there is a devastated favourite left to face anguish and recrimination afterwards. Following a weekend full of surprises on the international footballing stage, a clutch of the biggest names in the game are in a state of panic, starkly contrasting with the elation and joy felt by some of the so-called smaller nations.
FIFA.com reviews the most recent qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, where Brazil and Ghana are now guaranteed to appear alongside the hosts, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Korea Republic and Korea DPR, and identifies a handful of heroes whose names do not always find their way into the headlines.
Emerging from Ronaldo's shadow
In the aftermath of Argentina's calamitous defeat to fellow titans Brazil, Diego Maradona's bitter frustration and uncertain future were always going to be a major topic of interest, although the sports pages also contain hymns of praise to master tactician Carlos Dunga.
The headlines in South America were dominated by Brazil's stunning 3-1 win away to Argentina, a victory on their arch-rivals' turf made even sweeter by the knowledge that the five-time world champions are now through to next year's finals. The spotlight has also fallen on one man who has contributed more than any other to the Brazilians recapturing their place at the pinnacle of the world game, namely Luis Fabiano.
The 28-year-old Sevilla striker is no star in the generally accepted sense of the word, but no-one now doubts his killer instinct when presented with a scoring opportunity. A tap-in and a lob from O Fabuloso in Rosario sparked wild celebrations in the Brazil camp at the weekend. Last year, his five goals fired A Seleção to glory at the FIFA Confederations Cup, and back to top spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. His nose for goal is the Brazilians' chief weapon at the present time as they seek to restore their reputation for near-invincibility on the world football circuit.
With an astonishing strike rate of 25 goals in 33 internationals, Luis Fabiano has emerged as the man finally capable of filling the Ronaldo-shaped hole at the heart of the Brazil forward line. "They had three chances and took them all," reflected Carlos Tevez. The Argentine hitman was more or less directly praising the double goalscorer, who now tops the South American qualifying scoring chart on nine goals, and is certain to strike terror into the hearts of defenders all over the world.
Wunderkind turns match-winner
After a poor start to the final round in CONCACAF qualifying, Mexico are back in business. El Tri are the form team right now, thanks in no small measure to Giovani dos Santos.
The 20-year-old scored one and provided two assists in a vital 3-0 victory over Costa Rica, who went into Saturday's match as group leaders. Currently on the books of Tottenham Hotspur, the schemer long hailed as a wunderkind in his home country has now finally proved his quality on the world stage. It confirms what was already apparent from a series of breathtaking displays as a junior: this could be one of a handful of genuinely top-class creative players in the years to come.
The emergence of Dos Santos, and a run of victories over Costa Rica, the USA and Trinidad and Tobago, are a powerful boost to Mexican morale, as the effort to rejuvenate the national team finally appears to be bearing fruit. No-one seriously doubted that the new Mexican generation had the potential to impress, but team unity and positional discipline were the missing pieces in the jigsaw up to now. With Dos Santos spearheading the charge, El Tri now appear on course to secure a berth in South Africa, as the downcast Costa Ricans will only too readily testify.
Gentleman and General in one
Ottmar Hitzfeld is already revered for leading both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to glory in the UEFA Champions League. Following a difficult transition from the club scene, the General is now starting to look a master of the art of national coaching too.
Switzerland began their campaign for a berth in South Africa by unnecessarily dropping points away to Israel and collapsing to a humiliating home defeat to Luxembourg, but the 60-year-old kept his cool and has piloted his side out of the crisis in some style. The Swiss have opened up a comfortable lead at the top of European Group 2 with a run of five qualifying victories on the trot culminating in a convincing 2-0 win against Greece at the weekend.
Hitzfeld possesses the rare ability, demonstrated time and again at club level, of guiding a team with relaxed authority, confident of maximising his players' potential and devising a perfect tactical plan. The Swiss are now reaping the benefit of hiring the German maestro. "I'm very motivated, and I'm convinced we'll succeed in qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa," Hitzfeld exclusively told FIFA.com just a few days ago. It is not just the neutrals who appreciate that next year's tournament will be the richer for the presence of this true gentleman among coaches.
Ghana are the talk of Africa - and rightly so, as the Black Stars sealed their ticket to the 2010 finals at the weekend. The strikers may have scored the goals to fire their nation to South Africa, but a significant contribution has come from the last line of defence too, where keeper Richard Kingson has been in outstanding form. Indeed, the 31-year-old has yet to concede a goal in the final African group qualifying phase.
Kingson, who spent a long time with a variety of clubs in Turkey and is currently on the books of English side Wigan Athletic, personifies African hopes of seeing at least one of their number go further at the finals than ever before - which would entail a place in the last four. The proven attacking prowess and physical strength of the top African nations, combined with genuine brilliance between the sticks, could well prove a winning formula. With Kingson marshalling a formidable defensive line, unheralded Ghana may be more than just an outside bet once the 2010 finals come around.
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