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Sports

Everything Still to Play For

The line-up for the World Cup in Germany in 2006 is looking a little bare at the moment. Only the hosts are guaranteed a place which means 52 nations are still battling it out in the qualification stages.

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The Germans play to keep sharp as the other 52 teams battle for places

The World Cup finals in Germany take place in 2006 but in fact, the competition has been running since 2004. The tournament that will decide who will lift the famous 36 centimeters high, 18-carat gold trophy will be the culmination of two years of qualification games involving 204 countries from the FIFA family.

As host, Germany has an automatic place in the finals next summer. The proud soccer nation is the only European team guaranteed an appearance at the 2006 World Cup. The remaining 52 members of the European federation UEFA are currently half-way through their qualifying groups in a bid to one of the other 13 European nations that will compete for the trophy.

Euro qualifiers should be known by November

The UEFA qualifying pool is made up of eight groups -- three groups of seven teams and five groups of six teams – which play in a league system on a home and away basis. The eight winners of each group and the two best second placed teams qualify directly for the finals in Germany. The other six second placed teams are drawn against each other for three play-off matches, once again on a home and away basis, to determine the other three qualifiers. These are due to be played on the November 12 and 16, 2005.

In the South American qualifying group, ten teams fight it out home and away in a league situation similar to a reduced version of a domestic league, with the top four teams going through automatically to the finals. The fifth placed team in the league still has a chance to qualify by beating the winner of the Oceania group in a play-off match.

Brazil, Argentina looking good for finals

Ronaldo und Kleberson küssen die Trophäe

Brazil's Ronaldo, left, and Kleberson kiss the trophy after Brazil defeated Germany 2-0 in the 2002 World Cup final soccer match at the Yokohama stadium in Japan, Sunday June 30, 2002.

For Brazilians and Argentines who play their domestic soccer in Europe, this means a lot of traveling. But it doesn't seem to be having too much of an adverse effect on their countries' performance. Both World Champions Brazil and the much-fancied Argentina are placed first and second in the South American qualifying league. Incidentally, the 2006 qualifying campaign is the first in which a defending champion has to qualify. Normally, the title of World Champion comes with an automatic invitation to defend that honor at the following championship.

African qualification takes a rather different form. Instead of a league process, the 51 teams – normally 52 but Djibouti failed to register for this World Cup – are divided into two groups.

Nine teams advance directly to the second stage of qualification. These are the 5 African qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan -- Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and Tunisia – and the 4 highest ranking African teams in the FIFA World Ranking published on June 25, 2003 which were Morocco, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire and Congo DR.

Complex African group still up for grabs

The other 42 teams were paired off in a draw held in Paris on June 27, 2004 and placed into a cup system to play designated opponents on a home and away basis. The 21 winners from these games advance directly to the second stage. The 30 teams are then split into five groups of six teams to play off in a league situation on a home and away basis. The winners of the five groups progress to Germany.

Kameruns Nationalmannschaft beim Afrika-Cup 2002

Members of Cameroon's team hold up the trophy after the Africa Cup of Nations soccer match against Senegal in Bamako, Mali, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2002.

The balance of power in Africa seems to be a very fluid thing. The heavily-fancied Malians are already out of the competition while the Indominatable Lions of Cameroon have their work cut out to qualify in their group. African champions Tunisia have stuttered in their campaign but 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa are playing well.

In Asia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Bhutan and Brunei Darussalam did not enroll for the 2006 competition and Myanmar was excluded so the 44 teams of the Asian Federation were reduced to 39 for qualifying. In the first phase, the 14 lowest-ranked teams classified on the basis of the FIFA World Ranking published on October 22, 2003, start off playing in a cup system on a home and away basis.

Asian qualification a conundrum

The seven winners advance to the second stage where they join the rest of the federation teams to make up 32 teams which are split into eight groups of four to play in a league system on a home and away basis. The eight winners of each group then advance to the third stage.

Two groups of four teams then play-off for the chance to go to Germany. The first- and second-placed teams in each group qualify directly while the third placed team from each group will contest a two-leg play-off on a home and away basis.

In the North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying zone, 34 teams are split into ten groups of three teams and two groups of two teams to play in a cup system on a home and away basis. The group winners advance to the second stage which takes on a league format with three groups of four teams.

CONCAF group is advnaced stages

The three winners and three runners-up from each group will qualify for the third stage which consists of a single group of six teams playing in a league system on a home and away basis. The three top teams in the group will qualify for the 2006 World Cup Germany. The fourth placed team can still qualify over a two-match play-off with fifth placed team from the Asia zone.

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USA goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

The third stage is ready to begin with the USA, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Trinidad/Tobago preparing to play off for the three qualification places from February 9 to October 12.

Oceania has no guarantees

No team from the Oceania group qualifies directly for the World Cup finals. The winner of the Oceania group does get the chance but must beat the fifth placed South American team to get to Germany. At the initial stage, two groups of five teams play in a league format with the winner and runner-up of each group advancing to the second stage.

The second stage sees the introduction of the seeded teams, Australia and New Zealand, which complete a line-up of six teams in a single league group. The winner and the runner-up advance to the third stage which consists of home and away legs to see who earns the right to meet the South American contender for a place in Germany 2006. The group has already reached this stage and Australia and the Solomon islands will play on September 3 and 9.

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