The draw for the qualification stages of the World Cup 2006 took place in Germany on Friday with countries from around the globe hoping for smooth routes to the finals. Europe’s top teams, however, had no such luck.
The logo is all smiles but a number of the world's soccer coaches may not be so cheerful.
Frankfurt became the focus of the soccer world on Friday when the qualification groups for the World Cup 2006 in Germany were drawn out of the hat in a ceremony in the city’s Festhalle. The draw, which placed the world’s teams in separate regional contests, threw up some enthralling games with much fancied European sides such as England, France and Italy facing the prospect of difficult games against stiff opposition.
A total of 198 countries were represented at the lavish affair which also boasted dignitaries from the global game’s governing bodies from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, South America and CONCACAF (North/Central America and the Caribbean) boosting the attendance to almost 3,500 guests.
The Germans, with their plans for the soccer extravaganza already well underway, sat back with pride and without pressure as the large majority of the other contenders awaited the draw that would place them in groups with the chance to be among the 32 finalists competing in Germany and maybe one of the two teams to contest the golden trophy in Berlin on July 9, 2006.
Germany already qualify as hosts
Franz Beckenbauer and Pele have been here before.
Germany as hosts are automatically installed as one of the finalists but for the first time ever, the current holders, Brazil, will have to qualify through the group stages. Their federation has already held their qualification draw and the group stage, devised as a league format, has already begun in South America.
Unlike the South Americans, the European teams were divided into three groups of seven and five groups of six, with each team playing their group opponents both home and away over the course of the qualification stage.
The top side in each group will qualify for the finals automatically along with the two best-placed runners-up. The other six second-placed teams will then be paired off to play each other over two-legged play-offs for the remaining three places.
Celebrity hosts make European draw
Despite the fact that the host country was not involved, the selection process was an exciting one for the Germans as a number of potentially dramatic clashes were picked out in the European association’s draw by six-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher and the highly respected Italian referee Pierluigi Collina (picture), who was in charge of the 2002 World Cup final. Germany coach Rudi Völler watched with interest as a number of his European counterparts were drawn against tricky opponents.
Top Europeans face tough groups
The top seeds in the UEFA group -- England, France, Portugal, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy and Turkey -- were all separated but that didn’t mean that they would all avoid difficult challenges. England face local rivalries against Wales and Northern Ireland while Italy take on Berti Vogts’ Scotland and the difficult Norwegians. Former champions France will also face heavy resistance in their visits to the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland.
Turkey hope to celebrate again at the next World Cup.
Turkey, third placed at Japan/Korea in 2002, will have problems against the hard-to-beat Danes and will face logistical as well as tactical headaches against old foes Greece. The Czech Republic will have to repeat their Euro 2004 exploits against the Dutch while Portugal, Sweden and Spain will spend their qualification games laboring against awkward Eastern European sides.
African stars breathe easy
The seeded African teams -- which are hoping to fulfill Brazilian legend Pele’s prophecy that a nation from the continent will soon win the ultimate trophy -- were also separated in their draw with Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal, France’s tormentors at last year’s competition, all destined to face lower opposition in the group stage.
In the Oceania group, favorites Australia and their South Pacific neighbors New Zealand get a free ride into the second round of their qualification phase, a helping hand that could see the Socceroos once again reach the play-off stages against one of the winners from the South America, Asia or CONCACAF groups.
Long way to go for holders
Brazil have to qualify to defend their title this time.
The South American teams pushing for their own final spots in their qualification league are currently Paraguay in first position, Argentina and Brazil in third after four games with 14 more to go.
Stange eyes German homecoming with Iraq
In the CONCACAF group, the United States, one of the favorites and World Cup quarter-finalists in 2002, will play the winner of the Granada vs. Guyana game in the second phase. In the Asian qualification stage, the Iraqi team, coached by German Bernd Stange, will play Palestine, China and Uzbekistan for a place in the finals.