A record 853 qualifying matches were staged prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, including a number of controversial contests and shock results that astonished pundits and fans alike. FIFA.com takes a look back at a few of the standout matches on the road to South Africa.
The African qualifiers for the first FIFA World Cup to be held on the continent were among the most fiercely contested in the tournament’s history, and none more so than the three-match affair between North African rivals Egypt and Algeria.
The first was the opening match in Group C, held in the Algerian town of Bilda on 7 June 2009, and it was the Desert Foxes who upset their fancied Egyptian rivals 3-1. After winning successive CAF Africa Cup of Nations titles in 2006 and 2008, Egypt had been expected by some to coast through the group, but they were brought down to earth by a comprehensive defeat.
Five months later and Cairo played host to the return leg in the final round of matches. A victory by two goals would see the Pharaohs draw level with their opponents on both points and goal difference. Three goals, and they would go through automatically.
As it was, Egypt striker Amr Zaki needed just three minutes to put his side ahead in front of 80,000 excited fans, but with no addition to the score for the remainder of normal time it looked as though the Algerians were through. Imad Moteab had other ideas, however, smacking in Egypt’s second five minutes into injury time, and forcing a deciding match to be held four days later in the Sudanese town of Omdurman.
Both sides had qualified twice for the finals of the showpiece of international football, so the play-off on 18 November 2009 would decide which would make a third appearance. The huge crowd that turned out in Sudan to watch the rivals face off was ample proof of the game’s importance to the two countries, and it was Algeria who went away with the spoils, Antar Yahia’s spectacular 40th-minute strike securing their passage to South Africa.
Asia: Saudi Arabia-Korea DPR
Four-time FIFA World Cup participants Saudi Arabia were confident of securing the win they needed over a relatively inexperienced Korea DPR team to book their ticket to South Africa. The Arab side needed three points from the final match in Group C, on 17 June 2009 in Riyadh, while their unheralded opponents required a draw.
Saudi stars Yasser Al Qahtani and Nayef Hazazi were the inspiration behind a scintillating attacking display from the hosts that saw a number of chances go begging. Goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk was the hero of the hour as he pulled off a succession of world-class saves, and even after Kim Yong Jun was sent off a minute before time, the Korean rearguard refused to yield.
When the final whistle blew, the score was still goalless and Korea DPR were on their way to a FIFA World Cup finals for the first time in 44 years.
Despite only losing two games out of ten and collecting an impressive 22 points along the way, Russia were unlucky enough to share Group 4 in European qualifying with Germany, who topped the table with a staggering 26 points and forced them into a play-off with Slovenia.
Slovenia were very much the underdogs and in the first leg in Moscow on 14 November 2009, a brace from Dinyar Bilyaletdinov put the home side two goals ahead with almost 40 minutes left on the clock. Substitute Nejc Pecnik grabbed one back for the minnows two minutes from time, though, to keep his side’s hopes alive for the return leg.
Four days later, Slovenia defied expectations when they became the first team to qualify following a first-leg defeat in the European play-offs, securing their place in the finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a 44th-minute strike by Zlatko Dedic.
South America: Bolivia-Argentina
When news of Argentina’s 6-1 defeat by Bolivia on 1 April 2009 first filtered out, many thought it was an April Fool’s joke. No-one, not even the most pessimistic Argentinian or optimistic Bolivian would have predicted such a humiliating margin of defeat for the South American giants.
La Albiceleste had a record of five wins, including a 3-1 defeat of Bolivia, four draws and two losses. Bolivia, on the other hand, had won just twice up to that point, with a worrying six defeats and three draws to their name.
The odds were stacked against the minnows then, and a 12th-minute strike by Bolivia’s Marcelo Moreno did little to ruffle the favourites, who equalised with a 25th-minute effort by Lucho Gonzalez. So far so unremarkable, but when Bolivia converted a penalty kick ten minutes later, the match was turned on its head.
Alex Da Rosa doubled Bolivia’s lead just before the break and then Joaquin Botero scored two more to add to his first-half spot-kick, recording a hat-trick and taking the score to 5-1. Finally, Didi Torrico slotted home three minutes from time to revive memories of the previous worst defeat in Argentinian history when Czechoslovakia dealt them a 6-1 drubbing at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden.