Tuesday, August 21, 2007
According to my eyes and ears in Africa, Mr. Mark Gleeson (respected Reuters journalist and African football scribe, a.k.a. Man I'd Like to Become One Day) South Africa will become the first World Cup hosts in more than 70 years to participate in its own qualifying competition, although they will play in the finals regardless of their performance, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
The African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup are to be combined with the preliminaries for the 2010 African Cup of Nations earlier the same year, necessitating the participation of South Africa, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) said.
While all the other African nations involved in the qualifiers will be vying for spots in both tournaments, World Cup hosts South Africa will only be chasing a berth in the 2010 African Nations Cup being held in Angola.
Similarly, Angola will be only trying to qualify for a World Cup berth.
For the first time, Africa has a full quota of 53 entries for the 2010 preliminaries, which will be divided into three stages.
The bottom 10 African teams in the FIFA rankings have been drawn into five preliminary round ties, which are to be played over two legs in October and November.
FIFA says the draw has been conducted and is expected to be announced in the next days. (We'll have that news for you once it comes in, so check back!)
The five winners will join 43 other countries in the first group phase, where the teams will be divided into 12 groups of four teams each at the World Cup draw in Durban on Nov. 25.
They will play six rounds of matches through 2008 with the 12 group winners plus eight best runners-up progressing to the last league stage.
The 20 remaining teams are to be divided into a final stage of five groups of four, with the resultant group winners going onto the World Cup in South Africa and the top three in each group qualifying for the 2010 Nations Cup finals in Angola.
Should South Africa finish top of their group, the runner-up would qualify for the 2010 World Cup, officials told Reuters.
The CAF also used the 2006 World Cup qualifiers to determine its 16 Nations Cup finalists in Egypt the same year.
Africa are to have six teams at the World Cup finals for the first time.
The only previous World Cup host forced to play a preliminary tie was Italy in 1934. They played a single match against Greece just months before the finals, winning 4-0 in Milan before the Greeks withdrew from the return match.