|1) First of all, Voros has posted his latest qualifying odds which are always extremely fascinating. Anyone who enjoys this blog would enjoy that post. According to him, the teams on course to qualify are:|
(italics = already qualified)
2) As those odds show (and most people still believe), Mexico really doesn't have too much to worry about. Nobody expects them to miss out on the top three, and even if they do they would certainly be the favorite in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff. The key thing to remember about Mexico is that they've only played one home game versus three away. They can pretty much count on at least 10 points from the remaining four home matches, which would get them to 13 in total and on the brink of qualification (see next item, #3). El Salvador has the opposite problem having already played 3/4 at home.
3) How many points does it take to qualify out of the hex? In the previous three cycles, no team with more than 14 points has missed out on the top three. Honduras finished fourth in 2002 with 14, which was also the total of the worst third place finisher, Jamaica in 1998. So 15 points appears to be the magic number. That means Costa Rica is basically one win away from qualification.
4) Speaking of Costa Rica, guess what? Saturday's games saw them leapfrog Mexico for second place on the all time hex table (1998-present)! Costa Rica now has 63 points from 35 games, while Mexico has a game in hand with 60 from 34. Mexico has a better goal differential, so they would jump back to second with a win versus Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday. The USA is in first with 66 points, taking over the lead after trailing Mexico by a point going into this cycle. It's amazing how close the three teams are in the table:
5) Every World Cup since 1982 has seen at least three teams qualify for the first time. That seemed like a long shot this time around, but there are plenty of good candidates emerging. Here's a list of the best bets for 2010: Bahrain, Bosnia, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Slovakia, Venezuela, Zambia. As usual, Africa is the best bet.
6) I'm sure you're all wondering the same thing I am: Why is Gabon playing so well? They've started the final round of African qualifying by beating Morocco 2-1 away and Togo 3-0 home. FIFA.com describes them as "composed largely of footballers from small clubs around Europe," similar to Angola and Togo last cycle.
Their captain and most well known player is Daniel Cousin (Hull, England), but he was injured for the latest match. Roguy Meye (Ankaraspor, Turkey) has scored in the last two matches. Many of their players are based in France, though most are in Ligue 2. Much of their success may be due to their coach (FIFA interview), who is a member of one of the greatest midfields ever. That helps just a bit.
7) It's become increasingly clear that the key moment in Asian qualifying this cycle didn't come on the field. It came on June 27, 2008, when the draw for the final round was made. The ten teams were separated into five spots of two teams each. Australia and South Korea were top seeds, followed by Iran in the second pot. For some reason, Japan and Saudi Arabia were tied for the 4th and 5th positions in the ranking, and therefore also tied for the last spot in the second pot. Japan won a coin flip, and were then placed into the second pot with Iran. Saudi Arabia was placed with Bahrain in pot three.
So that one coin flip meant that the loser would face an extremely tough group no matter what, with two other 2006 World Cup teams in it. Had the Saudis won it, they probably would've qualified automatically a few days ago instead of Japan. Instead, they could be facing at least a playoff.
But that's not all. The other major part of this was when the actual draw took place. That third pot consisting of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia meant that one group would be incredibly tougher than the other. Indeed, Australia/Japan got lucky while South Korea/Iran didn't. South Korea has done well, but Iran has struggled. Drawing the hard team from that pot may have cost Iran a place in the 2010 World Cup.
8) This isn't a piece of analysis or anything, but as someone obsessed with stats and that sort of thing I need to mention this: Sporcle.com is an amazing web site. They have quizzes for every topic, including plenty on soccer. For example, can you name the top overall World Cup goalscorers (link)? How about all the teams who have played in the Premier League since its inception (link)? I waste so much time there.