Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Thu 12 February 2009

World Cup 2010 Round-up: February 2009

With the end-of-year international break now over, it's time once again to plunge head first back into the qualifying competition for the 2010 World Cup Finals.

The last 24 hours have seen a return to action for the remaining teams in Asia and the CONCACAF regions, so let's begin our round-up of who did what with the first of those…

You'll remember from our last thrilling instalment that we're now in the last qualifying round here and only ten teams are left. Of those, four will earn a ticket to South Africa 2010, namely the two group winners and two runners-up. The two third-placed teams will enter a home and away play-off and the winner of that will meet Oceania winners New Zealand in a further play-off.

In yesterday's Asia matches, there were few goals to be found. In Group 1, Japan and Australia played out an uneventful 0-0 draw to retain second and first places in the group respectively while Bahrain picked up a surprising 1-0 win away to Uzbekistan to leapfrog Qatar into third place.

In Group 2, meanwhile, North Korea did well to beat Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Pyongyang while Iran and South Korea drew 1-1 in Tehran. That win for North Korea means they now squeeze into second place in the group just behind their neighbours south of the border with Iran dropping to third.

With Japan and Australia cruising in Group 1 and South Korea looking solid in Group 2, it would seem that the balance of power is now shifting away from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who have been two of the stronger Asian teams of recent times. A resurgent Iran and North Korea means there are now some new teams coming to the fore on the continent, but one of them will require a play-off if they're to reach the World Cup Finals next year.

The next matches in the Asian section will be played on March 28th, and with both group leaders sitting out the action, the key games will see Japan host Bahrain in Group 1 while North Korea play the UAE in Group 2.

In the North and Central American zone (not forgetting the Caribbean, of course), we're down to the final round-robin group of six teams. The top three at the end of qualifying will go through to the Finals while the fourth-placed team goes into a play-off with the fifth best team from the South American zone.

And what better a way to start this final round of CONCACAF qualifying than with a match up between the two biggest teams, the USA and Mexico. They faced each other for the 56th time in Columbus, Ohio with both teams heading in distinctly different directions. The Americans were looking for a third straight shut-out on the trot while the Mexicans were trying not to contemplate the fact that their coach is perhaps more suited to a career at Portsmouth.

In the wet and windy conditions that prevailed, both sides battled away with no real emphasis on playing sexy football, but out of that it was the USA that scored first. Michael Bradley, son of head coach Bob, finished off a decent move just before half time to put the home side in front and it was Bradley again who doubled their lead in stoppage time at the end of the match.

That win leaves Mexico with only one point from their last four qualifiers and back in the same gloomy predicament they ended the last qualifying round in. Can Sven turn things around in time for Mexico before the end of the round or will it be 'adios Eriksson'?

Elsewhere yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago looked to have their away match against El Salvador all sown up inside the first half an hour, but they were forced to settle for a draw. Carlos Edwards (currently on loan to Wolves from Sunderland) gave T&T the lead with a long range shot after just seven minutes and Dwight Yorke added another from the penalty spot twenty minutes later.

But the home team struck back through an Osael Romero free kick eleven minutes from the end and with the El Salvador fans urging a last ditch equaliser in injury time, their wish was granted when Romero scored his (and his side's) second to earn an unlikely 2-2 draw.

Finally, Costa Rica had a rather more comfortable 2-0 win over Honduras in San Jose. A brace from Andy Furtado early in the second half means the Ticos share the lead at the top of the group after Matchday 1 with the USA, and who's to say they won't be the top two when the group ends in October?

Of more pressing concern are the next set of matches to be played on March 28th and 29th. USA travel to El Salvador hoping not to take their foot off the gas like Trinidad and Tobago did, while T&T play host to Honduras and Sven's Mexico side welcome the arrival of Costa Rica in what could be the key game of all three.

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