The next batch of critical World Cup qualifying matches gets underway this weekend. Middle East/North Africa countries Egypt, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Sudan are all still alive. [See our last Tuque Souq World Cup 2010 post for more background.]
But those of you dreaming of an Iran vs Israel grouping in South Africa next year--dream on. Israel took only 1 point from back-to-back disappointing games against Greece in April, and now find themselves in 4th place behind Greece, Switzerland and Latvia(!) in Europe's Group 2.
(In a scheduling quirk, Israel do not play this weekend while most of Europe does, and actually they don't play again until September 5th against... Latvia!)
In Asia, the Iranians, who just sacked their coach, have about a snowball's chance in Qom of qualifying after a 2-1 home defeat to Saudi Arabia in March knocked them to 4th place in Asia Group 2, four points back with 3 to play. Assuming they beat UAE (June 10), they'll still have to win in North Korea (June 6) and probably get a point in South Korea (June 17) to have a chance at a third-place finish, which would yield a playoff.
Saudi Arabia rallied to beat UAE last time out, and need only to win their final home game (June 17) against North Korea to finish no worse than 3rd place in Group 2, and in fact could finish second barring Iranian fortune. Heck, they could win the group if they upset South Korea in Seoul (June 10).
Bahrain certainly will be the representative in the Asia playoff out of Group 1. The Islanders picked apart arch-rival Qatar in April, and coupled with Qatar's 4-0 drubbing in Uzbekistan four days earlier, the Q's are finished. Bahrain finish with a game in Australia (June 10), which they will lose, but then a home victory over Uzbekistan (June 17) will be enough to see them into a playoff bout with the 3rd place team in Group 2.
The United Arab Emirates, like Qatar, are now booking golf trips for the summer of 2010.
Over in Africa, they're only 1 game (out of 6) into the final qualifying round, which also resumes this weekend. Beloved Tunisia looked sharp in a 2-1 away victory over Kenya on March 28. They return to Stade du 7 novembre on Saturday to take on Mozambique, and then stay at home to face rivals Nigeria on June 20. Win those two, and Tunisia become prohibitive favourites to emerge from Group B.
Egypt waxed WTF in being held 1-1 in Cairo against lowly Zambia back in March. This Sunday they play away to Algeria, which drew 0-0 with Rwanda to open their final round.
Morocco were pitiable against Gabon, falling 2-1 in Casablanca. Next up: a trip to mighty Cameroon Saturday. Er, Cameroon lost to Togo last time out. Group A is upside down.
Sudan, 1-1 drawers against Mali, play Benin on Sunday.