The honor of being the host country for World Cup 2010 didn’t mean much in the draw for South Africa, as they were drawn in a Group A that contains three countries who’ve all won the World Cup in the past.
In the present, however, while France, Mexico, and even perhaps Uruguay are, on their best days, all capable of doing some damage in South Africa, all three had their share of bumps, bruises, and struggles on the way to earning a place in this year’s tournament.
We know how host country South Africa secured their place in the 2010 World Cup, but how did the other three participants in Group A book their tickets?
Road to Qualification: 2nd in UEFA Group 7 – 6W-3D-1L, def. Republic of Ireland 2-1 on agg. in playoffs
France got off to a slow start in World Cup qualifying, losing 3-1 to Austria in their opener and earning only four points from their first three matches. From there, Raymond Domenech’s side picked it up, winning five and drawing two in their last seven. It wasn’t enough to overtake Serbia for top spot in the group, but it was enough to get them into the playoffs.
In the playoffs, they faced the Republic of Ireland. The two traded solitary away goals, with France scoring a 1-0 win in Dublin, and Ireland forcing extra time with a Robbie Keane strike at the Stade de France. And well, unless you’ve been living under a rock the last several months, you know what happened in extra time (now‘s the time to look away if you‘re Irish).
Road to Qualification: Second Round: def. Belize 9-0 on agg., Third Round: 2nd in Group 2 (3W-1D-2L), Fourt Round: 2nd (6W-1D-3L – automatic qualifier)
Mexico breezed past minnows Belize to kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign, but after getting off to a fast start in the next phase by winning three in a row, they picked up only one point in the final three matches and only advanced on goal difference over Jamaica.
The struggles carried on into the final phase, with a defeat in the opener vs. the U.S. and an embarrassing 3-1 loss to Honduras, which marked the end of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s short tenure as manager. Things didn’t get instantly better upon the appointment of Javier Aguirre, as his first match in charge was a 2-0 defeat to El Salvador, which left Mexico on three points through four matches.
However, it didn‘t take long for Aguirre to put his magic touch on El Tri, as they went on to win their next five matches in a row. A draw in their final qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago prevented them from beating out the U.S. for top spot, but in the end, that matters little when qualification was a lot harder than the final standings indicate.
South Africa (CAF)
Road to Qualification: Qualified as host country
Sure doesn’t hurt to be the host, does it? Though they automatically qualified, South Africa still did take part in Africa’s World Cup qualification tournament, as it also served as the qualification tournament for the 2010 African Cup of Nations. Unfortunately, they failed to make it out of the second round, finishing second in their group behind Nigeria and not ranking high enough among the runners-up to advance to the final round.
Road to Qualification: 5th in CONMEBOL qualification tournament (6W-6D-6L), def. Costa Rica 2-1 on agg. in CONMEBOL/CONCACAF playoff
There wasn’t a lot to be impressed about with Uruguay’s qualification campaign, outside of a couple of home routs of Bolivia and Peru (the bottom two teams in the CONMEBOL table). However, thanks to Ecuador being able to beat Chile in the final round of matches, Uruguay landed in the playoffs for the third straight campaign.
In the playoffs, Uruguay made up for the heartbreak of losing out to Australia on penalties in the playoffs four years prior by defeating CONCACAF fourth-place Costa Rica. After a 1-0 win in Costa Rica in the first leg, Uruguay held on for a 1-1 draw in Montevideo to return to the World Cup for the first time since 2002.
Back to 2010 World Cup Qualification History.