Tuesday, December 29, 2009

1978 FIFA World Cup

England failed to qualify for the second World Cup in succession, losing out to Italy. European champions Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union also failed to make it through the qualifying tournament. Newcomers to the finals were Iran and Tunisia, while France, Spain and Hungary were back for the first time since 1966.
Argentina was a candidate to host the 1970 World Cup, but since Mexico City was hosting the 1968 Summer Olympics and had constructed new football stadia, it went to Mexico. This edition was the first appearance of Coca-Cola in the FIFA World Cup as a sponsor.
The 1978 FIFA World Cup, the 11th staging of the FIFA World Cup, was held in Argentina between 1 June and 25 June. Argentina was chosen as hosts by FIFA in July 1966. The 1978 World Cup was won by Argentina who beat the Netherlands 3–1 after extra time in the final. This win was the first World Cup title for Argentina who became the fifth team (after Uruguay, Italy, England, and West Germany), to be both hosts and world champions.
(wikipedia.org)

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1974 FIFA World Cup

Ninety-eight countries took part in the qualifying tournament, and as usual there were some high-profile failures on the road to the finals. France was among them, having lost out to USSR in their qualifying group. Spain, England and Hungary also failed to reach the finals. First-time qualifiers included East Germany, Haiti, Australia and Zaire, the first team from sub-Saharan Africa to reach the World Cup finals.
The 1974 FIFA World Cup, the tenth staging of the World Cup, was held in West Germany from 13 June to 7 July. West Germany had been chosen in July 1966 as hosts by FIFA. The tournament marked the first time that the current trophy, the FIFA World Cup Trophy, created by the Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga, was awarded. The previous trophy, the Jules Rimet Trophy, was won for the third time by Brazil in 1970 and awarded permanently to the Brazilians. The host nation won the title beating the Netherlands in the final, 2–1. The victory was the second for West Germany, who had won in 1954.(wikipedia.org)

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

1970 FIFA World Cup

The 1970 FIFA World Cup, the ninth staging of the World Cup, was held in Mexico, from 31 May to 21 June. Mexico was chosen as hosts by FIFA in October 1964. The 1970 tournament was the first World Cup hosted in North America, and the first held outside South America and Europe. In a match-up of two-time World Cup champions, the final was won by Brazil, who beat Italy 4–1. With their third World Cup triumph, Brazil were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently.

The Brazilian team, featuring the likes of Pelé (who was in his fourth and final World Cup), Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gérson, Jairzinho, Rivelino, and Tostão, is usually regarded as the greatest attacking World Cup team ever. This tournament saw the return of free-flowing, attacking play after the physical battles of 1962 and 1966, and is still considered by many fans to be the finest World Cup in history.

Brazilian right winger Jairzinho scored at least one goal in each of the six games that Brazil played (in the first game, against Czechoslovakia, he scored two), a feat which has never been repeated. However, the top scorer of the tournament was West Germany's Gerd Müller, with an impressive 10 goals in the competition. Müller incredibly scored hat-tricks in two consecutive games, against Bulgaria and Peru in the group stage.
(wikipedia.org)

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1966 Fifa World Cup

The 1966 FIFA World Cup, the eighth staging of the World Cup, was held in England from 11 July to 30 July. England was chosen as hosts by FIFA in August 1960 to celebrate the centenary of the standardisation of football in England. England won the final, beating West Germany 4–2, giving them their first (and to date, only) World Cup win, and becoming the first host to win the tournament since Italy in 1934.The 1966 World Cup was the subject of bitter disagreement before a ball was ever kicked. Sixteen African nations boycotted the tournament in protest of a 1964 FIFA ruling that required the champion team from the African zone to enter a playoff round against the winners of either the Asian or the Oceania zone in order to win a place at the finals. The Africans felt that winning their zone should have been enough in itself to merit qualification for the finals.

Despite the Africans' absence, there was another new record number of entries for the qualifying tournament, with 70 nations taking part. After all the arguments, FIFA finally ruled that ten teams from Europe would qualify, along with four from South America, one from Asia and one from North and Central America.
The 1966 World Cup had a rather unusual hero off the field, a dog called Pickles. In the build up to the tournament the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen from an exhibition display. A nation wide hunt for the icon ensued. It was later discovered wrapped in some newspaper as the dog sniffed under some bushes in London. The FA commissioned a replica cup in case the original cup was not found in time. This replica is held at the English National Football Museum in Preston, where it is on display.

The format of the 1966 competition remained the same as 1962: 16 qualified teams were divided into four groups of four. The top two teams in each group advanced to the quarter-finals. The draw for the final tournament, taking place on 6 January 1966 at the Royal Garden Hotel in London was the first ever to be televised, with England, West Germany, Brazil and Italy as seeds.
(wikipedia.org)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1962 Fifa World Cup

The 1962 FIFA World Cup, the seventh staging of the World Cup, was held in Chile from 30 May to 17 June. Chile was chosen as host by FIFA in June 1956, as the World Cup returned to the continent of South America after 12 years. It was won by Brazil, who retained the championship by beating Czechoslovakia 3–1 in the final.Santiago's Estadio Nacional served as the venue for the final itself, and after 15 minutes, Brazil again found themselves a goal behind in the World Cup final, as a long ball from Adolf Scherer was latched onto by Josef Masopust: 1–0 Czechoslovakia. However, just like the previous final four years earlier, Brazil soon hit back, equalising two minutes later through Amarildo after an error by the hitherto flawless Czechoslovak goalkeeper Schroijf. The Brazilians did not stop there and with goals from Zito and Vavá (another Schrojf error) mid-way through the second half, the Czechoslovaks just couldn't get back into the game. The match ended 3–1 to Brazil, a successful defence of the title for only the second time in the history of the competition in spite of the absence of their star player of 1958, Pelé.
(wikipedia.org)

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1958 FIFA World Cup

The 1958 FIFA World Cup, the sixth staging of the World Cup, was hosted by Sweden from 8 June to 29 June. Sweden was chosen as hosts by FIFA in June 1950. It was won by Brazil, who beat Sweden 5–2 in the final for their first title. The World Cup marked the debut on the world stage of a precocious unknown 17-year-old named Pelé.The final was played in Solna, in the Råsunda Stadium, as 50,000 people watched in amazement as the Brazilians went a goal down after four minutes. The Brazilians were not dismayed, and Vavá equalised shortly afterwards and then put them a goal ahead before half time. In the second half Pelé outshone everyone, notching up two goals, including the first one where he lobbed the ball over Bengt Gustavsson then followed it with a precise volley shot. Zagallo added a goal in between, and Sweden managed a consolation goal. But the game really belonged to Pelé, and the Jules Rimet trophy belonged to Brazil - the World Cup winners.
(wikipedia.org)

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Monday, December 21, 2009

1954 FIFA World Cup

The 1954 FIFA World Cup, the fifth staging of the World Cup, was held in Switzerland from 16 June to 4 July. As the year saw the 50th anniversary of FIFA, it was appropriate for football's premier competition to be played in the home of its governing body, and Switzerland was chosen as hosts in July 1946. The tournament was won by West Germany, who defeated Hungary 3–2 in the final, giving them their first title.

Germany's victory in the match is considered one of the greatest upsets of all time and one of the finest achievements in German sporting history. The German team was made up of amateur players as Germany did not have a professional league at this time, while the Hungarians were de jure amateurs, like in any communist country that time, and playing football as professionals, mainly for Budapesti Honvéd FC and later for major clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and were ranked best in the world. This is the only time a team has won the World Cup with amateur footballers and will likely be the only time ever.
(wikipedia.org)

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1950 FIFA World Cup

The 1950 FIFA World Cup, held in Brazil from 24 June to 16 July, was the fourth FIFA World Cup, and the first staged in 12 years due to World War II. Brazil was chosen as the host country by FIFA in July 1946. It was also the first tournament that the trophy itself would be referred to as the Jules Rimet Cup, to mark the 25th anniversary of Rimet's presidency of FIFA. It was won by Uruguay, who had won the inaugural competition in 1930, clinching the cup by beating the hosts Brazil 2–1 in the deciding match of the four-team final group (this was the only tournament not decided by a one-match final).

Originally, the tournament format would be that the 16 teams be divided into four first round groups (or "pools" as they were then called) of four teams, with the group winners advancing to a final group stage, playing in round-robin format to determine the winner. However, because only 13 teams competed, this left two first round groups with four teams, another with three teams, and the last group with only two teams. The draw took place in Rio de Janeiro, on 22 May 1950.[2] In fact, the entire tournament was arranged in such a way that the four first round groups had no geographical basis. Hence, several teams were obliged to cover large distances to complete their program, although Brazil was allowed to play two of its three group matches in Rio de Janeiro while its other game was in (comparatively) nearby São Paulo.

The average attendance of nearly 61,000 per game, aided greatly by eight matches (including five featuring hosts Brazil) held in the newly-built Maracanã, set a record that would not be broken until 1994. Not counting the Maracanã matches, the average attendance was a still-impressive 37,500. However, the only venues that saw crowds comparable to or greater than those in recent World Cups were the Maracanã and São Paulo. Other venues saw considerably smaller crowds.
(wikipedia.org)

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1938 FIFA World Cup

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was the third staging of the World Cup, and was held in France from 4 June to 19 June. France was chosen as hosts by FIFA in August 1936. Italy retained the championship, beating Hungary 4–2 in the final.

The tournament was again held in a knockout format, similar to 1934. This was the last tournament where there was not a group stage. Due to World War II, the World Cup would not be held for another 12 years, until 1950. As a result, Italy were the reigning World Cup holders for a record 16 years, from 1934 to 1950. The Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, hid the trophy in a shoe-box under his bed throughout the Second World War and thus saved it from falling into the hands of occupying troops. (wikipedia.org)

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

1934 FIFA World Cup


The 1934 FIFA World Cup, or the World's Cup as it was known then, was the second football World Cup staged, and hosted by Italy from 27 May to 10 June. Italy was chosen as hosts by FIFA at the Stockholm congress of October 1932. It was the first World Cup for which teams would have to qualify in order to take part. 32 nations entered the competition, and after qualification, 16 teams participated in the finals tournament. Italy became the second World Cup champions, beating Czechoslovakia in the final, 2–1.

After a lengthy decision-making process in which FIFA's executive committee met eight times, Italy was chosen as the host nation at a meeting in Stockholm on 9 October 1932. The decision was taken by the executive committee without a ballot of members. The Italian bid was chosen in preference to one from Sweden; the Italian government assigned a budget of 3.5 million lire to the tournament. 32 countries applied to enter the tournament, so qualifying matches were required to thin the field to 16. Even so, there were several notable absentees. Reigning World Cup holders Uruguay declined to participate, in protest at the refusal of several European countries to travel to South America for the previous World Cup, which Uruguay hosted in 1930. As a result, the 1934 World Cup is the only one in which the reigning champions did not participate. The Home Nations, in a period of self-imposed exile from FIFA, also refused to participate. Football Association committee member Charles Sutcliffe's view was typical of British attitudes: "the national associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have quite enough to do in their own International Championship which seems to me a far better World Championship than the one to be staged in Rome".

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1930 FIFA World Cup

The 1930 FIFA World Cup was the inaugural edition of the world championship for international association football teams – the FIFA World Cup. It was played in Uruguay from 13 July to 30 July. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) selected Uruguay as host nation as the country would be celebrating the centenary of its independence, and the Uruguay national football team had successfully retained their football title at the 1928 Summer Olympics. All matches were played in the Uruguayan capital, Montevideo, the majority at the Estadio Centenario, which was built for the tournament.

Thirteen teams, nine from the Americas and four from Europe, entered the tournament. Few European teams chose to participate due to the duration and cost of travel. The teams were divided into four groups, with the winner of each group progressing to the semi-finals. The first two World Cup matches took place simultaneously, and were won by France and the USA, who defeated Mexico 4–1 and Belgium 3–0, respectively. Lucien Laurent of France scored the first goal in World Cup history.

Argentina, Uruguay, the USA and Yugoslavia each won their respective groups to qualify for the semi-finals. In the final, hosts and pre-tournament favourites Uruguay defeated Argentina 4–2 in front of a crowd of 93,000 people, and became the first nation to win a World Cup.

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Fifa World Cup Host

Early World Cups were given to countries at meetings of FIFA's congress. The choice of location gave rise to controversies, a consequence of the three-week boat journey between South America and Europe, the two centres of strength in football. The decision to hold the first World Cup in Uruguay, for example, led to only four European nations competing. The next two World Cups were both held in Europe. The decision to hold the second of these, the 1938 FIFA World Cup, in France was controversial, as the American countries had been led to understand that the World Cup would rotate between the two continents. Both Argentina and Uruguay thus boycotted the tournament.

Since the 1958 FIFA World Cup, to avoid future boycotts or controversy, FIFA began a pattern of alternating the hosts between the Americas and Europe, which continued until the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The 2002 FIFA World Cup, hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan, was the first one held in Asia, and the only tournament with multiple hosts. In 2010, South Africa will become the first African nation to host the World Cup. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be hosted by Brazil, the first held in South America since 1978, and will be the first occasion where consecutive World Cups are held outside Europe.
The host country is now chosen in a vote by FIFA's Executive Committee. This is done under a single transferable vote system. The national football association of a country desiring to host the event receives a "Hosting Agreement" from FIFA, which explains the steps and requirements that are expected from a strong bid. The bidding association also receives a form, the submission of which represents the official confirmation of the candidacy. After this, a FIFA designated group of inspectors visit the country to identify that the country meets the requirements needed to host the event and a report on the country is produced. The decision on who will host the World Cup is usually made six or seven years in advance of the tournament. However, there have been occasions where the hosts of multiple future tournaments were announced at the same time, as will be the case for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

For the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the final tournament is rotated between confederations, allowing only countries from the chosen confederation (Africa in 2010, South America in 2014) to bid to host the tournament. The rotation policy was introduced after the controversy surrounding Germany's victory over South Africa in the vote to host the 2006 tournament. However, the policy of continental rotation will not continue beyond 2014, so any country, except those belonging to confederations that hosted the two preceding tournaments, can apply as hosts for World Cups starting from 2018. This is partly to avoid a similar scenario to the bidding process for the 2014 tournament, where Brazil was the only official bidder.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

USA


With typical efficiency, the United States reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ by qualifying in first place in the final six-team Hexagonal phase of North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying. Under the careful guidance of coach Bob Bradley, a well-drilled Stars and Stripes' blend of proven internationals and up-and-coming stars never looked in danger of missing out, and will be keen to build on their second-place finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.

The road to South Africa
After putting nine goals without reply past minnows Barbados in Stage 2, the USA found themselves drawn with Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and Cuba in Group 1 of Round 3. Bradley's charges held firm to win five of their six encounters in the penultimate group stage, their only defeat a 2-1 reverse in Port of Spain against the Soca Warriors with progress to the Hexagonal already in the bag.

The United States kicked off the decisive final phase in the best fashion possible by beating arch-rivals Mexico 2-0, a result they followed up with a 2-2 draw in El Salvador. A comfortable 3-0 victory over T&T was backed up by a 3-1 reverse in Costa Rica, one of only two defeats in the final section. The other came by a score of 2-1 in Mexico's fortress-like Estadio Azteca, though the Stars and Stripes kept their nerve to stay on track and clinch their South Africa 2010 ticket with a 3-2 win in another of CONCACAF's toughest grounds: the Estadio Olimpico in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

The star players
In recent years, the name Landon Donovan has been synonymous with the US national team. The Los Angeles Galaxy attacker has often saved his very best performances for a USA shirt, and there is little doubt that Donovan will once again be one of his team's leading men at South Africa 2010. Providing an impressive supporting cast are the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, all of whom are plying their trade on European soil.

The coach
Bradley was originally appointed national coach on a caretaker basis, though a run of ten games unbeaten quickly convinced the powers that be that he deserved the role on a permanent basis. And anyone who doubted his credentials would have been silenced by events at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009, where the USA ousted favourites Spain in the semi-finals before going down to a narrow 3-2 final defeat to Brazil.

Previous FIFA World Cups

• The United States have taken part at nine FIFA World Cups, with Mexico the only CONCACAF team involved in more editions of the showpiece event.
• The Stars and Stripes' best finals performance came at Uruguay 1930, when they exited at the semi-final stage.
• South Africa 2010 will be the United States' sixth consecutive finals appearance. At Germany 2006 they bid farewell to the tournament at the first hurdle.

Records
• The United States' 2-0 victory over Spain at South Africa 2009 prevented La Roja extending their 35-game unbeaten run, a record they hold jointly with Brazil.
• The USA had enjoyed a 58-match unbeaten home streak against CONCACAF opponents until July 2009, when arch-rivals Mexico thrashed them 5-0 in the final of the Gold Cup.
• Altidore, currently on loan at English Premier League outfit Hull City from Villarreal, was the Stars and Stripes' six-goal top scorer in qualifying.

What they said
"We're very proud to have finished at the top of the final Hexagonal. It was a great effort and required a great deal of determination on our team's part. Every time we took the field we spoke about proving to the world what we were capable of and I think we did just that." Bob Bradley, USA coach, after his side claimed top spot in North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying.

(fifa.com)

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Uruguay


Few nations have the footballing history of Uruguay. Nestling on the northern bank on the River Plate, the country has a population of a little over three million yet boasts an impressive collection of world, Olympic and continental titles and a record that compares favourably with the world’s best. The glory years of Uruguayan football are but a fading memory, however, with La Celeste having made just two appearances at the last five FIFA World Cup™ finals.

The man charged with the task of improving that record and raising their profile once more is Oscar Tabarez, who is now in his second stint as national coach, having taken the Uruguayans through to the last 16 at Italy 1990. El Maestro, as he is known in his homeland, certainly has the resources to do achieve those objectives. Sprinkled with players from Europe’s major leagues, his young side are determined to impress in South Africa, and in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez they have the star quality to advance beyond the group phase and into the knockout rounds for the first time in two decades.

The road to South Africa
Just as they did in 2001 and 2005, Uruguay finished fifth in the ten-team qualifying group, which meant yet another play-off. But unlike four years ago, when they were eliminated by Australia, the Uruguayans were this time pitted against Costa Rica, the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF Zone. The South Americans gained the upper hand in the first leg in San Jose, winning 1-0 through a goal from captain Diego Lugano. Four days later they completed the job in Montevideo, with Sebastian Abreu, one of the few survivors from Korea/Japan 2002, scoring in a 1-1 draw.

In the group phase Los Charrúas scored 28 goals in all, the third-highest tally behind Brazil and Chile, and collected 24 points. Those figures were almost good enough for an automatic qualification slot. A top-four place would have been theirs had they beaten neighbours Argentina at home on the final matchday. As it turned out, their rivals from the other side of the River Plate snatched a 1-0 win to condemn them to their now customary fate.

The star players
The Uruguay side features a mix of youthful players and household names and is led by the authoritative figure of Diego Lugano. The latest in a long line of temperamental, strong-willed Uruguayan skippers, the blond centre-half likes to combine his defensive duties with often-profitable forays into the opposing penalty box.

Up front La Celeste can count on a fearsome strike partnership formed by Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. The Atletico Madrid striker is another veteran of Korea/Japan 2002 and has put together an impressive CV during his time in Europe. His sidekick Suarez is busy making a name for himself with Ajax Amsterdam, taking over the captaincy after barely two years with the Dutch giants. Together the duo scored 12 goals in the qualifiers.

The coach
The 62-year-old Oscar Washington Tabarez is preparing for his second appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals with Uruguay. Tabarez was the man in the hotseat when Los Charrúas were knocked in the Round of 16 at Italy 1990 by the host nation. Now, 20 years on, El Maestro is set to return to the big stage with a youthful and resilient side.

Reliable, hard-working and a man of few words, Tabarez began coaching with local club Bella Vista and the U-20 national team. During his lengthy career he has worked at some of the biggest clubs in world football, among them Penarol, Boca Juniors and AC Milan. He was reappointed Uruguay boss in 2006, taking over from Jorge Fossati following La Celeste’s penalty-shootout loss to Australia in the Germany 2006 play-off.

Previous FIFA World Cups
. Uruguay will be appearing in the FIFA World Cup for the 11th time at South Africa 2010.
. Uruguay hosted the inaugural FIFA World Cup finals in 1930 and went on to win the tournament after defeating Argentina 4-2 in the Final.
. The last time that the men in sky blue advanced beyond the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup finals was at Mexico 1970, when they finished fourth.

What they said
“We had to work hard to qualify, especially in the games in Montevideo. Luckily for us, though, the World Cup’s taking place far away from home! I know we have to improve a lot if we are to perform well in South Africa but we do have a lot of strong points and we hope to be able to show them.” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez

(fifa.com)

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Switzerland


Switzerland will be appearing at the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the ninth time when next summer's tournament gets underway in South Africa, where coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and his men are aiming for more than just a supporting role.

The former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich boss took the national helm after Switzerland's disappointing showing at UEFA EURO 2008, and has now led them to their second FIFA World Cup finals in a row. The Swiss made it to the Round of 16 at the 2006 event in Germany, where they were unluckily eliminated on penalties by Ukraine.

The Swiss boast a healthy blend of youth and experience, combining talented younger players such as Eren Derdiyok, Tranquillo Barnetta and keeper Diego Benaglio with seasoned campaigners like Alexander Frei and Blaise N'Kufo. The current team is hoping at least to emulate the achievements of their forebears who made the last eight in 1934, 1938 and 1954.

The road to South Africa
Hitzfeld and his team made a distinctly inauspicious start on the road to the 2010 finals. After conceding in the final minute to draw away to Israel, a disastrous 2-1 defeat to minnows Luxembourg in Zurich brought shame and embarrassment on the team.

However, the cringeworthy defeat ultimately acted as a wake-up call, and the Swiss duly reeled off five wins on the spin, against Latvia (2-1), Greece (2-1 and 2-0) and Moldova (2-0 and 2-0). They only dropped points again in a 2-2 draw away to the Latvians.

A comfortable 3-0 revenge victory in Luxembourg and a goalless draw with Israel in front of a delirious Basel crowd sealed top spot in European Group 2 and a confirmed place in South Africa for Frei and company.

The star players
Alexander Frei is the undisputed chief on and off the field of play. The Basel striker, who is his country's all-time record goalscorer, was Hitzfeld's natural choice as national team captain. He finished the qualifying campaign on five goals.

That total was equalled by Blaise N'Kufo of Twente Enschede. The striker, who was born in Kinshasa (DR Congo), was first called up by the Swiss in 2000 and has struck up a productive attacking partnership with Frei.

The coach
Ottmar Hitzfeld is one of Europe's most highly regarded and most successful senior coaches. He is one of only two men to guide two different clubs to UEFA Champions League glory (Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich).

He became Switzerland head coach on 1 July 2008, and after a bumpy settling-in period, led his team to a direct qualifying berth for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The former Germany amateur international, who appeared at the 1972 Olympic Games, is no stranger to Switzerland after spending spells with Basel (1971-75), Lugano (1978-80) and Lucerne (1980-83) in his playing days.

Previous FIFA World Cups
- In South Africa, Switzerland will be appearing at the FIFA World Cup for the ninth time.

- The Swiss reached the quarter-finals in 1934, 1938 and 1954. They were knocked out in the Round of 16 at the 2006 finals in Germany.

The words
"If my father had known I'd be this successful as Switzerland coach - not as Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund coach - he'd have been overjoyed. It's the place we call home, you see." Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland coach

(fifa.com)

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Spain

On a scale of one to ten, Spain's performance in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ can only be given top marks. On top of wins in each of their ten games, La Roja were the European Zone's second top scorers with 28 goals while conceding a miserly five at the other end. Maturity, resilience and the ability to overcome adversity were all in evidence during their campaign, and few national teams in world football are blessed with squads of such depth and sheer talent. The Iberians have not rested on the laurels of their UEFA EURO 2008 victory, consistently bringing in new faces without renouncing their commitment to attractive short-passing football.

The road to South Africa
The title of European champions inevitably meant that Spain's opponents redoubled their efforts to claim what would be a notable scalp. Their narrow 1-0 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina - courtesy of a solitary strike from David Villa - was typical of the kind of gritty resistance they have had to overcome since Austria/Switzerland. And though Armenia and Estonia were dispatched relatively comfortably, an away clash in Belgium and a double-header against EURO 2008 semi-finalists Turkey forced the Spaniards to dig deep for nine valuable points.

Following a 2-1 win in Brussels, when they fought back to clinch victory via an 88th-minute Villa strike, came a 1-0 success over Turkey in Madrid, the goal coming from Gerard Pique. The return in Istanbul marked another 2-1 comeback triumph courtesy of goals from Xabi Alonso and then Liverpool team-mate Albert Riera. Belgium were subsequently dispatched 5-0 in La Coruna and a ticket to South Africa 2010 was assured with two rounds to spare after a comfortable 3-0 home win over Estonia. Far from taking their foot off the pedal, La Selección capped a flawless campaign with victory in Armenia and a 5-2 away thrashing of closest challengers Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The star players
The team's success has been based on quality and balance throughout the side. In captain Iker Casillas Spain have one of the world's finest keepers, a man who can be relied upon to bring his superhuman reflexes to the rescue when most needed. Midfield string-puller Xavi Hernandez's inch-perfect passing and vision is vital to the Spaniards' fluid style, while at the sharp end of the attack there can be few if any better finishers than David Villa and Fernando 'El Niño' Torres.

The coach
Vicente del Bosque took over where Luis Aragones left off after the EURO 2008 triumph, keeping the same footballing philosophy and core of players which dazzled the continent that summer. The experienced supremo has also hit the heights at club level with Real Madrid, winning two UEFA Champions Leagues (2000, 2002), two La Ligas (2001, 2003), a Spanish Super Cup (2001) a UEFA European Super Cup (2002) and the Toyota Intercontinental Cup (2002).

Del Bosque continued Aragones' faith in the one-touch style that has traditionally characterised Spain's play and which relies upon midfielders of the highest quality. As a recult, the Spaniards have won every game but one since the former Los Blancos boss took charge, the exception being a semi-final reverse against USA at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.

Previous FIFA World Cups
- Spain have taken part in the finals of 12 FIFA World Cups and have not missed a single edition since failing to reach Germany 1974.
- La Roja's best performance at the global showpiece was a fourth-placed finish at Brazil 1950.
- At senior international level, Spain have two major titles to their name: the 1964 and 2008 European Championships.

Records
- Spain recorded ten wins from ten South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
- La Selección were the European Zone's second-highest scorers, firing 28 goals to end the campaign just six strikes short of the Fabio Capello's England.

The words
"We've got good players and a well-oiled team, but there are some very strong sides out there. Our aim is to challenge for the next World Cup but we know how difficult it is. We're not the favourites but we are among the hopefuls." Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach.

(fifa.com)

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

South Africa

There is an air of cautious optimism in South Africa as the Rainbow Nation prepares to write what is undoubtedly the most significant chapter of its short football history. A mammoth task lies ahead.

Recent years have brought ample disappointments, but Bafana Bafana have also shown, albeit in patches, that - given motivation and purpose - they can be a potent threat. And there can be no greater motivation than representing their country in a FIFA World Cup™ on home soil.

In 1996, four years after their readmission to international football, South Africa shot to prominence and stunned the African continent by claiming their maiden CAF Africa Cup of Nations trophy against Tunisia at Soccer City in Johannesburg. How ironic that, 16 years later, South Africa will return to the venue where they achieved this first major success, aiming to rewrite the script on an even bigger stage.

Their gallant performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup last June, when they lost narrowly to Brazil in the semi-finals and to Spain in the third place play-off, should certainly serve as a chilling reminder to their detractors that this team, when stretched to its potential, cannot be underestimated. That tournament witnessed several impressive performances strung together by the hosts, and ultimately it was only their inability to convert cleverly-tailored moves into goals that led to their demise.

The road to South Africa
South Africa, by virtue of their role as hosts, gained automatic qualification.

The star players
Talented midfield maestro Steven Pienaar is South Africa's prize assert. In the absence of the country's most successful striker, Benni McCarthy, who remains out of favour, Pienaar brings much-needed innovation and imagination to the side.

Since his arrival at Everton, Pienaar has reinvented himself and matured as an all-round player. While he continues to polarise opinion in his native country, no-one in South Africa disputes the confidence he exudes on the field and his ability to inject inspiration into the team's play. His performances during the FIFA Confederations Cup were yet another reminder that he will be key to any South African success in 2010.

Yet arguably just as vital to the Bafana Bafana cause are two players who have laboured tirelessly and effectively with little recognition: wingbacks Siboniso Gaxa and the enterprising Tsepho Masilela.

The coach
Now in his second stint as a South Africa coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira's return was greeted with mixed feelings in South Africa, although the Brazilian's many supporters are adamant that he is the man to lead this side to the ‘Promised Land' in 2010. Parreira certainly has the pedigree, having led his native country to the beautiful game's ultimate prize at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA. The extensively-travelled coach also brings a wealth of experience, which should prove vital in revitalising a South African side struggling with some significant pre-tournament problems. However, Parreira will be hoping to avoid the difficulties he endured during an inauspicious first spell as head coach, which witnessed him fail to lead South Africa beyond the first round at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

Previous FIFA World Cups
South Africa have failed to make it beyond the group stages in either of their two previous FIFA World Cup appearances. Clearly, this is a situation they will be desperate to remedy. Their first appearance was in France 1998, six years after they had been readmitted to the global football family. Despite a 3-0 drubbing to France in their opening game, they went on to put a decent show against Denmark and Saudi Arabia, drawing against both. Korea/Japan 2002 was expected to be an opportunity for Bafana Bafana to step up to the next level but, ultimately, they flattered to deceive, crashing out after the group stage despite beating Slovenia 1-0 for their first-ever FIFA World Cup win.

Record
* This is South Africa's third appearance at the FIFA World Cup. Their first participation was at France 1998 and they also qualified for Korea/Japan 2002.

* Benni McCarthy scored the country's first goal at the FIFA World Cup in a 1-1 draw against Denmark on 18 June 1998.

* South Africa's incumbent captain, Aaron Mokoena remains the country's most capped player.

* South Africa hosted and won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 at their first attempt, beating Tunisia 2-0 in Johannesburg's Soccer City. They went on to finish as runners-up at the following edition in 1998, losing to Egypt 2-0 in the final.

What they said
"We are all aware that it is a huge honour to play in a World Cup on home soil; not many players have had such a privilege. We are also aware of the task that lies ahead. For us, the World Cup is our priority, it's our biggest goal. We need to represent our country with pride," Aaron Mokoena, South Africa captain.

(fifa.com)

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Slovenia

A nation of just two million people, Slovenia have already punched above their weight to secure a place at this FIFA World Cup™. When one considers that they knocked out Poland, Czech Republic and, finally, Russia - population 142 million – to take their place in South Africa, the achievement becomes near-miraculous. Yet 2010 is, in fact, this fledgling football nation’s second appearance on the game’s biggest stage, and they are determined to continue defying the odds when they square up to the world’s best.

The road to South Africa
When the Preliminary Draw was made, most observers envisaged Group 3 being dominated by Czech Republic and Poland, two teams who had successfully qualified for both Germany 2006 and UEFA EURO 2008. As it was, the anticipated favourites melted into the background as the section developed into an enthralling two-way battle between Slovenia and Slovakia.


The Slovenians’ success was based on a defence that was arguably the meanest in the entire European Zone. True, the Netherlands just edged them in statistical terms, but Bert van Marwijck’s side also played two games fewer than a Slovenia team who conceded just four times in 10 group matches. Indeed, Matjaz Kek’s outsiders took their bid for top spot down to the final day, only to be denied when Slovakia – a team they had beaten home and away – somehow dug out a 1-0 win away to Poland.

Despite the Slovenians’ impressive efforts, it was clear that Russia could barely contain their glee being paired with them in play-offs, with Alexander Kerzhakov among those describing it as “a favourable draw” for Guus Hiddink’s team. How wrong they were. Everything looked to be adhering to the expected script when the Russians raced into a two-goal lead in Moscow, but their unheralded visitors refused to lie down and set up a thrilling return meeting when Nejc Pecnik fired home with just two minutes of the first leg remaining. The stage was set, and Slovenia rose to the occasion with a performance in Maribor worthy of any arena, one justly rewarded by a decisive Zlatko Dedic strike that secured one of the great qualifying upsets of recent years.

The star players
Household names are conspicuous by their absence in this Slovenia squad. Yet although his team’s success has been built on collective strength and spirit, Kek is not without talented individuals to call upon. Arguably the best known is Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic, who scored five times during qualifying and, at 30, is approaching this FIFA World Cup at the peak of his powers. The Ljubljana-born striker describes himself as making up one third of Slovenia’s “backbone”, with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and captain Robert Koren, a talented attacking midfielder, identified by Novakovic as comprising this key triumvirate.

The coach
A player renowned more for his leadership skills rather than any great natural talent, Matjaz Kek was already in his 30s by the time he won his one and only Slovenia cap in 1992. It was at Maribor, the club with which he won three successive titles in the twilight of his playing career, that Kek was given his first managerial post eight years later. After a moderately successful six-year stint, Kek moved on to Football Association of Slovenia in 2006, initially taking charge of the national U-15 and U-16 teams. By January 2007, however, he had been promoted to the position of senior coach, and has since gone on to exceed all expectations by leading his unfancied team back to the game’s greatest stage. As Kek himself said after seeing off the Russians: “Slovenia has realised a dream.”

Previous FIFA World Cups
Given that they only gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenia’s football history is shorter than the majority of their South Africa 2010 rivals. They can, however, reflect with pride on having qualified for the FIFA World Cup at just the second time of asking, when a team led by Srecko Katanec pipped the likes of Switzerland and, ironically, Yugoslavia to a place at Korea/Japan 2002. Sadly though, that debut tournament didn’t go as planned, with star player Zlatko Zahovic sent home after coming to blows with Katanec following the first of three straight losses during a disappointing group phase.

What they said
“For a small country like ours, it’s an incredible achievement to qualify for a World Cup. Before this qualification series started, nobody was giving this young team a hope. But now, the players and the whole country are proud of our success. We want to show that, small as we are, we can compete with the best,” Milivoje Novakovic, Slovenia striker.

(fifa.com)

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Slovakia

Appearing for the first time in a major international competition, Slovakia have been striving to relive the glory years enjoyed by the former Czechoslovakia since going it alone in 1993.

While their team is hardly filled with household names, Slovakia can nonetheless rely on a well-organised collective with plenty of admirable qualities. Likewise, their continuing progress gives them good reason to be optimistic about their voyage to South Africa.

The road to South Africa
Fourth in their section in qualifying for the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ France, third on the road to Korea/Japan 2002 and runners-up ahead of Germany 2006, Slovakia continued their rise by sealing top spot in Group 3. Vladimir Weiss's side booked their historic place on 14 October 2009, upsetting a number of predictions that they would struggle to cope with a difficult pool.

Their passage was far from smooth, but slowly and surely Slovakia mounted their bid, losing only to closest challengers Slovenia. Their nearest rivals proved a real thorn in their side, downing them 2-1 in their second outing and, above all, prevailing 2-0 in Bratislva in the penultimate round of matches, yet Slovakia's desire to experience a FIFA World Cup finals shone through in the end. Needing to prevail in Poland in their final outing, they duly triumphed 1-0.

The star players
Solid at the back for Premier League heavyweights Liverpool, Martin Skrtel is a central figure for his country, while midfielder Marek Hamsik has both a knack of scoring goals for Napoli and the welcome habit of shining for the national side. The latter is unlikely to go unnoticed in South Africa and the same applies to Stanislav Sestak, who finished top scorer for Slovakia with six strikes in qualifying and is eager to continue in similar fashion.

The coach
Born in 1964, former Slovakian international Vladimir Weiss was appointed in June 2008, taking over from Jan Kocian after his predecessor failed to take the side through to UEFA EURO 2008.

Blessed with a strong personality, Weiss learnt the coaching ropes at Artmedia Bratislava, leading the unfancied Slovakian outfit into the UEFA Champions League group phase in 2005/06. The following season, he opted to boost his credentials with Saturn Moscow Oblast in Russia, before celebrating a triumphant return to Artmedia with the Slovakian league title a year after. All that remained was a tilt at leading the national team and, given his previous successes, who knows how far they can progress together?

Vladimir Weiss is also the son of... Vladimir Weiss, a former Czechoslovakian international. In fact, he is the father of Vladimir Weiss too, with his son plying his trade at Manchester City and often called up to demonstrate his worth in a national team shirt.

Previous FIFA World Cups
While this may be Slovakia's first appearance on the global stage, the country's footballing past is naturally tied up with that of the former Czechoslovakia, who participated in eight finals overall. Czechoslovakia even reached the final in 1934, losing 2-1 after extra time to Italy, and 1962, when they succumbed 3-1 to Brazil. They also advanced as far as the last eight in 1990.

Honours (as Czechoslovakia)

- 1 UEFA European Championship (1976)
- 1 Olympic Football Tournament (1980)

What they said
"We're very persistant: we don't give up until we've succeeded," Stanislav Sestak, striker.

(fifa.com)

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Serbia

Serbia played their maiden international, independently, on 16 August 2006, winning 3-1 away to Czech Republic. They did, however, former part of two now disbanded teams: Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro.

The former participated at nine FIFA World Cups™ between 1930 and 2002, and finished runners-up at the UEFA European Championship twice. Then, at Germany 2006, Serbia and Montenegro lost all three matches in a competitive group to fall at the first hurdle.

While Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montengro wore blue shirts, Serbia adopted a red jersey and the nickname Beli Orlovi (White Eagles).

The road to South Africa
When the draw for the first phase of European Zone qualifying was made, the consensus was that Austria, Romania and Serbia were competing for second place behind France. However, although Les Bleus edged the Beli Orlovi 2-1 in Saint-Denis in their second outing, Radomir Antic's team won their next five preliminaries to establish a four-point lead atop of the section. They retained it by drawing 1-1 at home to the French. That result left Serbia needing victory from their penultimate qualifier with Romania to make sure of a place at South Africa 2010, and they achieved it in emphatic fashion with a 5-0 success in Belgrade.

The star players
Widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the world, Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic is a rock at the heart of the Serbian backline. Fierce in the tackle and strong in the air, the 28-year-old was named the 2008/09 English Premier League's player of the season. Multifunctional midfielder Dejan Stankovic has played international football since 1998 and now captains his country, while Marko Pantelic and Milan Jovanovic carry a threat in attack.

The coach
Radomir Antic's playing career included an impressive eight-year spell with Partizan, and stints in Turkey, Spain and England, but it was at the coaching reins that he truly began to excel. He led Zaragoza, Real Madrid and Oviedo prior to landing at Atletico Madrid, who he improbably guided to a La Liga/Copa del Rey double in his first season in 1995/96. Antic had three spells at the Atletico controls, but had been out of the game for four years when he was appointed Serbia coach in 2008. However, thanks to his tactical expertise and ability to elicit the best from his charges, the Serbians charged through to South Africa 2010.

Previous FIFA World Cups
* Serbia will be appearing at the FIFA World Cup independently for the first time in South Africa.
* They formed part of the Yugoslavia side that appeared at nine editions of the competition, and the Serbia and Montenegro team that competed at Germany 2006.

What they said
"We're thrilled to have booked a place in South Africa. We've proven ourselves to be a strong team. I am sure that we will play the best we can and not let our fans down at the World Cup," Serbia forward Nikola Zigic.

(fifa.com)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Portugal

Finalists at UEFA EURO 2004 and semi-finalists at Germany 2006, Portugal have displayed some dazzling football in recent years, but without ever landing a major prize. Having never progressed beyond the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup™, A Selecção das Quinas will be aiming to go all the way this time around.

Mozambican-born coach Carlos Queiroz is no stranger to South Africa, and his previous experience as the host nation’s coach could prove invaluable. With talents of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Deco to call upon, Queiroz will know that expectations are sure to be high.


The road to South Africa
Recording only one win from their first five group matches, Portugal quickly went from being group favourites to standing on the cusp of elimination. The second half of qualification brought a spectacular transformation, however, and they scored eight goals without reply in their last four group qualifiers to earn a play-off spot. Despite the absence of Ronaldo, their captain and talisman, for the two-legged tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they won home and away to clinch a comfortable 2-0 aggregate victory.

The star players
While fans are rightly excited about the prospect of Cristiano Ronaldo’s involvement on football’s biggest stage, the 2008 FIFA World Player played a subdued role in qualification, failing score in any of his seven appearances. Nevertheless, the Real Madrid star is known for his ability to rise to the big occasion and will undoubtedly be one of the men to watch at South Africa 2010.

Yet Portugal are arguably equally as strong at the back. The aggression and aerial ability of Pepe and Bruno has proved effective at both ends of the pitch, while fellow defenders Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho add a high work-rate and calm-footed consistency. Veteran midfield pair Simao and Deco are also expected to shine.

The coach
Having guided the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto to consecutive FIFA World Youth Championship titles in 1989 and 1991, Carlos Queiroz is credited as the mastermind behind Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation’.

At senior level, Queiroz enjoyed great success as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, with a 10-month stint in charge of Real Madrid sandwiched in-between his two spells as No2 at Manchester United. Having succeeded Luiz Felipe Scolari after EURO 2008, this is in fact Queiroz’s second term as the senior national team coach. He last coached the senior side from 1991 to 1993, a disappointing period during which he failed to lead them to either EURO 1992 or the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

Previous FIFA World Cups
Portugal set the bar incredibly high on their first FIFA World Cup appearance in 1966, walking away with a third-place finish along with a golden boot award for Eusebio. That maiden voyage remains their best performance to date on football’s biggest stage.

After failing to progress past the first stage in 1986 and 2002, Germany 2006 marked a return to FIFA World Cup form for the Portuguese. Undefeated during the group phase, they went on to overcome Netherlands and England en route to the semi-finals, only to lose 1-0 to France and then go down to the hosts in the play-off for third place. South Africa 2010 will be Portugal’s fifth FIFA World Cup appearance.

What they said
"Portugal are candidates for the trophy. We have great players and we made a statement with great pedigree and determination. This is a unique moment," Liedson after eliminating Bosnia-Herzegovina to qualify for South Africa 2010.

(fifa.com)

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Paraguay

Having just put together their best ever qualification campaign, Paraguay are entitled to think big ahead of their fourth consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ finals. Under the guidance of Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino, the current Albirroja crop look to have what it takes to build on the progress made by their predecessors at France 1998 and Korea/Japan 2002, where the Paraguayans reached the Round of 16 before being knocked out by France and Germany respectively.

While maintaining the defensive standards set by those two sides, Los Guaraníes have added an exciting attacking dimension to their game thanks to the emergence of a clutch of powerful and talented forwards with the ability to unsettle any opposing rearguard. That new-found offensive threat could make all the difference as Paraguay look to make amends for their first-round elimination at Germany 2006, a setback that several members of the current squad experienced at first hand and are determined not to repeat in South Africa.


The road to South Africa
Paraguay broke through the 30-point barrier for the first time since the current qualifying system came into being. Recording ten wins (the most in the group along with Chile), three draws and five defeats, they collected 33 points in all to finish third behind the Chileans and Brazil. Martino's side confirmed their ticket to the finals in style with a 1-0 defeat of Argentina in Asuncion in September, with President Fernando Lugo declaring a national holiday to allow the nation to celebrate the achievement.

The key to the Paraguayans' impressive progress was their form at the imposing Estadio Defensores del Chaco, where they won seven games in all. On the road they lost just three times and picked up 12 points in total, a record that suggests they have the resources to cause problems for their opponents in the finals.

The star players
Martino can call on the services of several internationally renowned players, most of whom play their club football in Mexico and Europe. And while the side is sprinkled with proven performers in every area, the Paraguayans' biggest names can be found up front.

Roque Santa Cruz needs no introduction after several successful seasons in England, his importance to the national side undiminished despite his absence from most of the qualifying competition. Deputising admirably throughout the campaign were Salvador Cabanas and Nelson Haedo Valdez, who scored 11 goals between them. The formidable trio were all present at Germany 2006, and memories of Paraguay's disappointing group-phase exit could be the spur they need to get in among the goals in South Africa.

The coach
Born in November 1962 in Rosario, Gerardo Martino is yet another Argentinian tactician currently excelling in the South American game. The man they call El Tata made his name in the 1990s as a talented attacking midfielder before moving into coaching in 1998. After working for a number of lesser-known sides in his native country, he made the switch to Paraguay, taking over at Cerro Porteno and then Libertad, where he enjoyed his greatest achievements at club level.

Often compared to his mentor Marcelo Bielsa, Martino was rewarded for his efforts at Libertad in 2006 when he accepted the invitation to take over the national side from Anibal Ruiz. The hard-working Argentinian proved to be an inspired choice, keeping a low profile as his side negotiated their way to South Africa 2010 in record-breaking fashion.

FIFA World Cup record
. Paraguay will be making their eight FIFA World Cup finals appearance next year and their fourth in a row.
. La Albirroja have never won two games at the same finals and have yet to progress beyond the Round of 16.
. In those eight appearances they have won six matches, drawn seven and lost nine.

What they said
"The secret to our qualification was the fact that the players and all the professionals involved with the national team went about their job responsibly and with a minimum of fuss. If we had failed to do what previous coaches achieved and missed out on qualifying, then we would have become a negative footnote in Paraguay's footballing history. Anyone who coaches a national team does so for one of two reasons: to stay in the job or go down in history. I've chosen the second option." Coach Gerardo Martino

(fifa.com)

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Nigeria

Expectations are diminished for Nigeria at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but it was not long ago that the Super Eagles were seen as the most likely African nation to finally reach the last four of a FIFA World Cup. And though they have just one point from their last five matches in the finals and missed out on Germany 2006 altogether, the continent’s most populous nation looks likely to be a dangerous dark horse with little to lose up against the world’s best.

That was how the side came to USA 94, where they dismantled eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria 3-0 in their first match before going on to cruelly fall 2-1 against Italy in the second round. However, that was not before the likes of Sunday Oliseh, Victor Ikpeba, Jay-Jay Okocha and Finidi George had become synonymous with the next generation of explosive African football. A similarly quick start in 1998 - they stunned Spain 3-2 in one of the matches of the tournament to start and beat Bulgaria again 1-0 - gave way to another second round defeat, this time a disheartening thumping at the hands of Denmark 4-1. But after dramatically reaching South Africa in their final qualifier, Nigeria could be forgiven for going into the finals with a positive attitude.

The road to South Africa
A surprising scoreless draw in their first match in the final round of CAF qualifying to Mozambique left Nigeria playing catch-up to Tunisia from the start, and consecutive draws with the Carthage Eagles had the west Africans staring elimination in the face. However, Tunisia lost 1-0 in Mozambique and Nigeria came from a goal behind twice to win 3-2 in Kenya. Striker Obafemi Martins was the hero on the day, coming on at half-time before scoring the first equaliser on the hour mark and the winner just nine minutes from time. The goal stamped Nigeria’s ticket to the next World Cup.

The star players
The Super Eagles have the ability to score a lot of goals in South Africa behind a pacy, dynamic attack that features the likes of Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Peter Odemwingie as well as youngsters Victor Obinna and Ikechukwu Uche and evergreen Nwankwo Kanu in what is surely his last role of the dice. They won’t be a soft touch behind that either, with Jon Obi Mikel anchoring the midfield, and captain Joseph Yobo in the centre of defence.

The coach
Qualification was sweet vindication for Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu, who was embattled from the start of the final round of qualifying. The veteran has led the national team on two previous occasions, including during the second half of a successful qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup -- though he was sacked before the finals after a semi-final exit at the CAF African Cup of Nations.

Record
• Nigeria’s 3-0 waltz over Bulgaria in their USA 94 debut match was more remarkable given that the Europeans went on to beat Greece, Argentina, Mexico and Germany in the tournament.

• Since Clemens Westerhof built the 1994 side and left the Super Eagles, the team has been coached by such well-known European journeymen as Jo Bonfrere, Philippe Troussier, Bora Milutinovic and Berti Vogts.

• Nigeria have a rich history at other worldwide tournaments, having won the 1985, 1993 and 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup as well as the 1996 Olympic Football Tournament.

What they said
“The finals in South Africa will be a tournament for all Africans. The South Africans may be hosting, but we will all be playing for the honour of the continent. The first order is to put a team together that is good enough and prepared enough to take up the challenge. The Nigerian people will be desperate for us to make a mark in 2010 and that is our aim. It will be my goal to put some of these players together with the older boys and make a more powerful Nigerian team than anyone has ever seen before,” Nigeria coach Shaibu Amodu.

(fifa.com)

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New Zealand

After a disastrous campaign four years ago, New Zealand bounced back in emphatic fashion under coach Ricki Herbert to qualify for their first appearance on the world stage in 28 years following a debut showing at Spain 1982. Herbert, and assistant Brian Turner, were both key figures in the campaign nearly three decades ago. The duo have turned the All Whites into a solid unit whose rearguard, the fifth-placed Asian nation Bahrain was unable to breach over 180 minutes of the intercontinental play-off.

Four years after elimination by the Solomon Islands, the Kiwis claimed the Oceania crown to earn a trip to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, where they showed solid form after a poor opening against European champions Spain. The dramatic South Africa 2010 play-off victory against Bahrain united the Rugby-mad nation behind the All Whites like never before, resulting in a national record crowd in the capital Wellington for the decisive qualifier.


The road to South Africa
New Zealand topped their Oceania qualification group comfortably winning their first five games before an inconsequential defeat in Fiji with many of the first-team regulars were unavailable. The Kiwis then had an 11-month wait before a two-legged meeting with the fifth-placed Asian nation. Bahrain saw off regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia to earn the right to play New Zealand, having also reached the same stage four years ago, only to fail against Trinidad and Tobago. In exhausting heat, New Zealand battled gamely in the first leg to earn a scoreless draw in Manama. The second leg was poised on a knife-edge throughout, with New Zealand triumphing courtesy of a thumping header from Rory Fallon in the final minute of the first half, though goalkeeper Mark Paston will equally be remembered in the years to come for his penalty save five minutes into the second half.

The star players
Captain and centre-back Ryan Nelsen is undoubtedly the highest profile and best credentialed member of the squad. The resolute defender has been a regular at Blackburn Rovers for a number of years, and is the only New Zealander to achieve such longevity in the English Premier League. At the other end of the pitch, the All Whites have a number of key attacking options led by the prolific Shane Smeltz. Oceania Player of the Year and Australian A-League top-scorer Smeltz has an all-round finishing ability, and is deadly in the air or with his feet. Celtic target-man Chris Killen is a perfect foil for Smeltz, while Fallon and teenage giant Chris Wood both possess quality aerial ability.

The coach
Ricki Herbert is one of New Zealand football’s most-famous figures, having been a regular member of the Spain ’82 squad and then becoming one of the first Kiwis to play in England which he did with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After assuming the reins of the national team in 2005, Herbert has for several seasons also been the coach of New Zealand’s only professional club, Wellington Phoenix who compete in the A-League. Well regarded across both New Zealand and Australia, Herbert has formed the All Whites into a solid working unit who produce consistent performances.

Previous FIFA World Cups
New Zealand have appeared on the world stage just once, with the qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ considered one of the country’s most famous sporting achievements. The squad attained stunning results including away wins in Australia, Saudi Arabia and China over a then-record 15-match qualification campaign. Featuring a teenage Wynton Rufer, who went on to become New Zealand’s most well-known export, the All Whites lost all three matches at Spain ’82, but were not disgraced in a high-quality group featuring Brazil, Soviet Union and Scotland.

Records
• Coach Ricki Herbert is set to claim the rare honour of featuring at the FIFA World Cup as a player and as a coach in the nation’s only two FIFA World Cup appearances.

• New Zealand are the second consecutive Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) member to qualify for the FIFA World Cup after Australia achieved the same feat in 2006.

What they said
“This group have given it everything, four years of total commitment. We’re back, we’re there. South Africa, here we come.” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert.

(fifa.com)

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Netherlands

The final or bust. The Oranje have set lofty aims for their campaign in South Africa, 32 years after their 3-1 extra-time defeat by Argentina in the showpiece game, which itself came four years on from their 2-1 final loss to West Germany. Since the retirement of pioneering coach Rinus Michels, a multitude of players have followed in the footsteps of the Johan Cruyff generation without ever advancing as far as the final hurdle, though one particularly talented crop did claim the European title in 1988. Often seen as spectacular but mentally fragile, the Netherlands hope to banish that image under Bert van Marwijk, who took over in the wake of their disappointing UEFA EURO 2008 campaign.

He and his charges at least have history on their side this time around. The last team to reach a FIFA World Cup™ finals without dropping a single point in qualifying - West Germany in 1982 - went on to contest the final. The current Oranje vintage have made no efforts to conceal their ambitions and, once again, look on paper to have all the ingredients necessary to go far.

The road to South Africa
It was a full house for the Netherlands as they picked up eight wins from eight games. The Van Marwijk era has proved to be a faultless one so far, with the former Feyenoord coach leading his troops to the top of Group 9, where Norway and Scotland came equipped as their major rivals. As it happened, the Dutch let in the only two goals they conceded all campaign against Iceland and FYR Macedonia, while hitting two of their 17 efforts to secure slender but controlled 1-0 victories in Glasgow and Oslo.

The coach
Not the most heralded player in his time, having collected a solitary international cap, Mark van Bommel's father-in-law has known far more success in the dugout. He shone especially brightly at Feyenoord, leading the Rotterdam outfit to the UEFA Cup trophy in 2002 before taking the Dutch crown upon his return after a two-year stint with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Calm, affable, discrete but approachable, the 56-year-old believes it is important to be close to his players, saying: "An international coach has few opportunities to work with his squad. Because of that, I want to make the most of the time I spend with my players, mix with them, take part in training, and add and vary exercises to get to know them better." Although his style marks a real break with that of his predecessor, Marco van Basten, the tactics remain similar. "Marco put a 4-2-3-1 formation in place," he says. "The players got used to that and I intend to keep it." Flanked by former stalwarts Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer in the assistant coaching roles, Van Marwijk's record is impeccable thus far.

The star players
With Edwin van der Saar and Ruud van Nistelrooy having called time on their international careers, Van Marwijk has needed to apply his own touch to the core of players he inherited from Van Basten, without shaking things up too vigorously. The key men now are Arjen Robben, Joris Mathijsen, Andre Ooijer, Dirk Kuyt, Mark van Bommel, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Giovanni van Bronckhorst, all of whom enjoyed considerable playing time under the previous trainer. Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie, Nigel De Jong and Wesley Sneijder also remain closely involved.

Previous FIFA World Cups
In their eight finals appearances, the Oranje have reached the showpiece match twice, falling narrowly short of the global crown in 1974 and 1978. They also came in fourth at France 1998.

Honours

- 1 UEFA European Championship (1988)

What they said
"We have a mission: that mission is to be champions of the world," Frank de Boer, assistant coach.

(fifa.com)

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Mexico

After a turbulent couple of years that has seen three coaches come and go and more than sixty players pull on the famous green jersey, Mexico have returned to calmer waters under the steadying influence of Javier Aguirre. The former Atletico Madrid coach has put together a team comprising bright young talents and established stars, restoring their wavering confidence in the process.

Following the appointment of the man they call El Vasco (The Basque), the regional powerhouses shot up from fifth to second place in the final six-team qualification group in the CONCACAF Zone, winning five games, drawing one and losing just the one. Having safely made their way to the finals, their objective will now be to progress beyond the Round of 16, where they have been knocked out at the last four FIFA World Cup™ finals.


The road to South Africa
After disposing of Belize with a minimum of fuss in the second qualifying round, Mexico were drawn into a tough group containing Jamaica, Canada and Honduras in the following phase. Coached at the time by Sven Goran Eriksson, El Tri struggled to impose their authority and only scraped in the fourth and final round on goal difference ahead of the Reggae Boyz.

The Mexicans' erratic form continued in the final six-team round-robin group, kicking off with a 2-0 defeat in the USA before beating Costa Rica by the same scoreline and then losing 3-1 to Honduras. That last defeat cost Eriksson his job and his replacement by Aguirre, who stepped in in similar circumstances on the road to Korea/Japan 2002.

And once again the unflappable Aguirre worked a miracle, transforming Mexican fortunes despite kicking off with a 2-1 reverse in El Salvador. Victories over each of their five group rivals then followed, giving them a ticket to the finals with one game to spare. After a draw against Trinidad and Tobago in their final outing, the men in green ended the group in second place behind eternal rivals USA.

The star players
Veteran playmaker Cuauhtemoc Blanco is perhaps the player Mexico fans should thank for their side's turnaround. Lured out of retirement by Aguirre, the uniquely talented 36-year-old became the symbol of a revitalised team, helping younger team-mates such as Guillermo Ochoa, Efrain Juarez, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos to find their best form. Along with skipper Rafael Marquez, they are sure to provide the nucleus of the squad that will travel to South Africa 2010.

The coach
Javier Aguirre is Mexico's most successful coach of recent times. After guiding the unfancied Pachuca to the league championship in 1999, El Vasco was handed the job of reviving the national team's faltering bid to qualify for Korea/Japan 2002. After doing just that, he then took the Mexicans to the top of a challenging group that contained Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, though their Asian adventure came to an end with a last-16 defeat to USA.

After the tournament he signed a contract with Spanish club Osasuna, taking them to the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06. That impressive achievement led to a switch to Atletico Madrid, and though he steered Los Colchoneros into fourth place in 2007/08, he was dismissed halfway through the following season, the wheel turning full circle again when he took over a crisis-stricken Mexico. And having come to his country's rescue for a second time, the wily Aguirre is eyeing a lengthy stay at South Africa 2010.

Previous FIFA World Cups
· Mexico have qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals 14 times in all, more than any other side from the CONCACAF Zone.
· Mexico's achieved their best-ever performances in the finals as tournament hosts in 1970 and 1986, reaching the last eight on both occasions.
· South Africa 2010 is their fifth appearance in the finals in a row. On all four previous occasions they have bowed out in the Round of 16.

Records
· Under Javier Aguirre, Mexico went an impressive 12 games without defeat before losing 2-1 to Colombia in a friendly, a game in which they used only home-based players.
· The Mexico squad that earned qualification for South Africa 2010 contained four players who won the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005: Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Efrain Juarez and Hector Moreno.
· Surprisingly, there were no Mexicans among the top 20 scorers in the CONCACAF qualifying competition, although no fewer than 18 Tricolor players found the back of the net at least once during the qualifiers.

What they said
"I feel relaxed. Whenever you reach an objective you've been brought in to achieve you have the satisfaction of knowing that you haven't let down the people who put their faith in you. I am happy and proud. When I came into the job we were fifth and nine points away from first place, and now we're in the World Cup." Coach Javier Aguirre reacts to his side second-place finish in the CONCACAF Zone.

(fifa.com)

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Korea Republic

Asia's most frequent visitors to the FIFA World Cup™, Korea Republic are also the continent's most successful team at the showpiece event. The Taeguk Warriors will be hoping to translate their regional dominance on to the world stage again when South Africa 2010 kicks off.

The road to South Africa
Korea Republic may have qualified for their seventh consecutive world finals, but it was a bumpy ride this time. Despite a series of lacklustre performances in the third round, the South Koreans managed to top their group after two goalless draws with neighbours Korea DPR. The North Koreans proved to be their nemesis again in the final round, holding the Taeguk Warriors to a 1-1 stalemate in Shanghai. However, they bounced back in style with back-to-back wins over United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, before a crucial 1-1 draw with Iran in Tehran. A 1-0 home victory in the Korean derby followed, and the mission was accomplished with a 2-0 win against UAE on the road.


The star players
Park Ji-Sung has played a key role in Korea Republic's two previous FIFA World Cup campaigns and established himself as the captain of his country in recent years. The multifunctional winger of Manchester United is now an indispensible member of the Taeguk Warriors, with his ability to create space and chances for his team-mates.

A clinical forward, Park Chu-Young is widely tipped as the one to solve the problem in front of goal. After a below-par performance against Switzerland at Germany 2006, the Monaco marksman is eager to redeem himself in the national team as the No10 prepares for his second appearance at the showpiece event at the age of 24.

The coach
The appointment of Huh Jung-Moo in December 2007 put an end to the Dutch influence under the likes of Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. Despite a sluggish start in the Asian Zone qualifying, the former Korea Republic midfielder silenced his critics by guiding his experimental side into the finals with two games to spare.

Having scored a goal against Italy at Mexico 1986, he is no stranger to this stage as he also took part in Italy 1990 and USA 1994 as fitness trainer and assistant coach respectively. Huh was an interim coach of Korea Republic twice before, and led the U-23 side at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000.

Previous FIFA World Cups
Although Korea Republic were the first team to represent Asia at the FIFA World Cup in 1954, it took more than three decades for them to make their second appearance at Mexico 1986. While the South Koreans have become regulars to the tournament since then, a victory in the competition remaining elusive until 2002, when the co-hosts got off to a winning start with a 2-0 reverse of Poland, before beating Portugal 1-0 to reach the second round. They went on to defeat Italy and Spain to advance to the semi-finals, where they lost 1-0 to Germany. But their subsequent journey to Germany four years later came to a premature end, as the Taeguk Warriors made an early exit from the group stage.

Records

* Korea Republic are the most frequent visitors from Asia to the FIFA World Cup, and are set to make their eighth appearance this time in South Africa.

* The best result the Taeguk Warriors have achieved so far was at Korea/Japan 2002, where they swept past European powerhouses Portugal, Italy, and Spain to reach the last four.

What they said
"This will be the last chapter in my football life. I will put in all my energy to achieve good results in the World Cup," Korea Republic coach Huh Jung-Moo

(fifa.com)

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Korea DPR

Korea DPR seemingly came from nowhere to storm into the Asian Zone's final round of qualifying, where they defied sizeable odds to take one of the continent's four automatic spots at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In a sense they lived up to their long-standing reputation as Asia's surprise packages, their qualifying success marking a return to world football's top table for the first time since going all the way to the last eight in 1966.

After spending nearly 30 years in wilderness, the past decade saw the revival of the nation's footballing fortunes. With their women's football teams running riot at all levels on the international scene, the men's side came close to qualifying for Germany 2006 before successfully negotiating the road to South Africa 2010.


The road to South Africa
To reach the 2010 showpiece, Korea DPR went through a gruelling qualifying campaign spanning 20 months and a whopping 16 games. They made light work of Mongolia in the Asian Zone's first qualifying round, winning both home and away to earn a bye to the third round as one of the 11 highest-ranked first-round winners. Once there, they finished second in their group behind southern neighbours Korea Republic to qualify for the final round.

There they got off to a brilliant start by defeating UAE 2-1, before holding Korea Republic to a 1-1 draw. Despite losing to Iran 2-1 in the next game, they bounced back with a 1-0 home win against Saudi Arabia. Even a 1-0 loss to Korea Republic did not dent their chances too badly, followed as it was with a draw against Iran which kept them in second place. Needing just a point against Saudi Arabia in the closing game to qualify, they bravely held on for a goalless draw to seal their passage.

The star players
Two-thirds of the squad come from domestic clubs, though their small overseas-based contingent are vital cogs in the Korean machine. FC Rostov's Hong Yong-Jo was in lethal form up front, the 27-year-old goalgetter scoring four times in as many games. Playing alongside him is Japan-based Jong Tae-Se, who has the power and pace to breach any rearguard. Home-based midfielder Mun In-Guk is the man who makes the team tick, while keeper Ri Myong-Guk's safe hands and agility can be relied upon between the sticks.

The coach
Coach Kim Jong-Hun was only ten years old when the Chollima made history at England 1966 and now, 43 years on, he was the man who guided them back to the pinnacle of world football. Given his squad largely consists of domestic-based players lacking in international experience, the strategist favours a pragmatic and defensive approach based around discipline and teamwork.

Previous FIFA World Cups
Going into the global showpiece as debutants in England in 1966, the unfancied East Asians undid European heavyweights Italy with a single-goal victory to march into the quarter-finals. In what remains one of the all-time classic encounters in FIFA World Cup history, they flew into a three-goal lead against Portugal within 25 minutes, only for Eusebio to go on to strike no fewer than four times in a 5-3 comeback win for the Selecção das Quinas.

Records

* Korea DPR reached the last eight in their last and only previous appearance at the finals of a FIFA World Cup.


What they said
"It was as a result of our hard work that we will return to the World Cup, 44 years after we reached last eight at England 1966. We are likely to meet European teams once more at South Africa 2010 and I hope we can repeat the feats of our predecessors." Korea DPR head coach Kim Jong-Hun

(fifa.com)

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Japan

Boasting one of the strongest squads in Asian football, Japan, winners of three of the last five editions of the AFC Asian Cup, have high hopes for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ - their fourth appearance at the global showpiece.

First on the agenda is an improvement on the disappointing showing at Germany 2006, when the Samurai Blue exited at the first hurdle after a 3-1 reverse against Australia, a 0-0 draw with Croatia and a resounding 4-1 defeat by Brazil. Japan will also be facing their first finals without iconic midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata. The former Roma schemer featured in each of the national side's games at France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006 before hanging up his boots after the latter event aged just 29.

The road to South Africa
Having comfortably reached the fourth and final stage of Asian Zone qualifying for South Africa 2010, Japan won four, drew three and lost just one of their eight matches in Group 1. A 2-1 reverse in Australia and a frustrating 0-0 at home against the same opponents were the lowlights of this final phase, though coach Takeshi Okada's charges still finished well clear of Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan in the five-team section.

The star players
Japan's biggest star is former Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura, who in the summer 2009 made the switch from Glasgow to La Liga with Espanyol. Another European-based performer is young midfielder Keisuke Honda, at Eredivisie outfit VVV Venlo and like Nakamura a gifted left-footer. Leading from the back is 31-year-old defensive rock and captain Yuji Nakazawa, who with over 90 senior caps to his name is Japan's third-most capped player of all time.

The coach
National supremo Okada is widely considered to be one of the finest Japanese strategists around. He was at the helm during the Samurai Blue's first FIFA World Cup appearance at France 1998, having successfully negotiated a tricky play-off meeting with Iran, and later enjoyed spells at club level with Consadole Sapporo and Yokohama F Marinos.

The 53-year-old former international defender's time in Sapporo included taking the team from the second division into the top flight, while the tactician led Marinos to successive J.League titles in 2003 and 2004. Having stepped away from his role in Yokohama in 2006, he picked up the reins of the national team for a second time a year later - following the stroke suffered by previous incumbent Ivica Osim.

Previous FIFA World Cups
South Africa 2010 will be Japan's fourth FIFA World Cup finals, and their fourth in a row. Their best finish came as hosts at Korea/Japan 2002, when they topped Group H ahead of Belgium, Russia and Tunisia to advance to the knockout stages for the first and so far only time. Once in the Round of 16 they put in a brave fight only to go down 1-0 against eventual third-place finishers Turkey, the goal coming after 12 minutes from Umit Davala.

Records

* At his first finals as Japan coach, back at France 1998, Okada's charges lost each of their three group games, scoring once and conceding four times in the process.
* Masashi Nakayama scored Japan's first ever FIFA World Cup finals goal, netting in the 74th minute of the 2-1 reverse against Jamaicaon French soil.

What they said
"We are not going to change our tactics because when I set this team's basic tactical approach, it was already done with a view to winning against the world's biggest teams. Our main target in South Africa is to reach the semi-finals." Japan coach Takeshi Okada

(fifa.com)

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Italy

Defending champions Italy will naturally be one of the leading contenders to emerge triumphant at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ South Africa. The only country along with Brazil to have won the tournament twice in succession, Marcello Lippi's men will be vying to match the performance of their pioneering predecessors in 1934 and 1938.

The road to South Africa
The Azzurri topped Group 8 thanks to their traditional efficiency and pragmatism, even if they failed to set the continent alight along the way. In total, they recorded seven wins and three draws, firing 18 goals and conceding seven.


Italy set the pace in their section right from the off with an opening-day 2-1 victory over Cyprus, and after that result took them to the summit they remained there. It nonetheless took them until their penultimate encounter to seal their passage. Intriguingly, the generations that claimed the world title in 1982 and 2006 also booked their tickets with one match to spare.

Alberto Gilardino finished top scorer for Lippi's team with four strikes to his name, including a stunning hat-trick in less than 15 minutes to down Cyprus 3-2 in their final outing.

The star players
Billed for a number of years now as one of the finest goalkeepers on the planet, at 31 Gianluigi Buffon remains one of the two pillars of the Italian defence. His spectacular reflexes to keep out a Zinedine Zidane header in extra time during the 2006 Final illustrated just why he has an undisputed claim on the gloves.

The other leader at the back is none other than evergreen captain Fabio Cannavaro. Now 36, the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year continues to contribute his superb positioning sense and the vast experience of his 130 caps.

In midfield, tireless tackler Gennaro Gattuso no longer needs any introduction. The 31-year-old is still the motor, battler and all-round talent at the heart of the Azzurri line-up, the man who never admits defeat and whose hunger for victory inspires all those around him.

The coach
A veritable monarch in the field of coaching, 61-year-old Marcello Lippi is an expert at making changes that yield results, with no fewer than five of the 12 goals Italy registered at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany coming from substitutes. The man with more than an air of Paul Newman has won everything in his career, which is precisely why he called time on his first stint as Italy trainer on 12 July 2006, having clinched the global crown. After the Azzurri floundered at UEFA EURO 2008, however, he did not need much persuasion to return to the role, and he immediately set about rebuilding the defence, remodelling the midfield and trying out a fresh crop of forwards. He puts little stock in his landmark 31 consecutive international matches without defeat, preferring to amass titles than statistics, and his natural feel for the game means his tactical decisions are never called into doubt. For the qualifiers, he called up a total of 36 players, with Cannavaro and full-back Gianluca Zambrotta the players most used (810 minutes each).

Previous FIFA World Cups
Italy have qualified for 16 of the 18 FIFA World Cup finals, failing to book themselves a place in 1958 and having not opted to take part in the first edition in 1930. They have won the competition on four occasions, in 1934, 1938, 1982 and four years ago in 2006. They also finished runners-up in 1970 and 1994 and claimed third place on home soil in 1990.

Honours

- 4 FIFA World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
- 1 UEFA European Championship (1968)
- 1 Olympic Football Tournament (1936)

What they said
"No team is superior to Italy. I don't want to say that we're better than everyone, but you might say that we're not inferior to any other team," Marcello Lippi, coach.

(fifa.com)

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