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Bish's Briefs - Sowing the World Cup seeds of doubt

Published: 17 Nov 2009 - 09:51:54

UEFA's last-minute decision to weight the Europe World Cup Play-Off draw in favour of it's bigger nations may still not be enough to save Portugal whilst the weekend's real drama took place in North-East Africa.

When Sepp Blatter decided that UEFA should seed what had planned to be an open play-off draw as recently as September - over eighteen months after World Cup Qualification had begun, the conspiracy theorists rightly mooted that it was a ploy to secure the places of France, Portugal and Russia at next summer's South Africa showpiece- countries with previous pedigree, and in FIFA's eyes, far more lucrative television markets.

Quite rightly, this outraged those nations in-line to suffer from UEFA's change in policy. FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, recently mumbled 'If someone misses out it is because they haven't deserved it.'

Whilst the seeding convention correctly places Portugal ahead of the Republic of Ireland, in that it is based on previous performance, why should they be given an advantage over Giovanni Trapattoni's men?

The Rep. of Ireland felt no great disgrace in coming second in their group behind defending World Champions Italy, whilst Portugal stumbled into a runners-up spot, coming second to Denmark - 17 places below them in the FIFA World Rankings.

If, as the wisdom of Blatter tells us - 'If someone misses out it is because they haven't deserved it', why should countries such as Portugal be favoured again when they could not top their qualification group? Do nations such as the Rep. of Ireland not 'deserve' - as Blatter puts it - to reach the World Cup as much as nations such as Portugal and France who have clearly under-performed during qualification?

In Bosnia-Herzegovina however, Portugal may have stumbled across a most gifted of dark horses. On Saturday night in Benfica's sublime Estadio da Luz, scene of their Euro 2004 Final defeat v Greece, Carlos Quieroz's side somehow came away with a one goal lead to take to Zenica on Wednesday night. Bosnia, who hit the frame of the goal on three occasions, twice in the 90th minute, have as much reason to be optimistic as perhaps they were downbeat following the referee's final whistle at half-time in this two-legged affair.

Portugal's problem remains the lack of a prolific goalscorer. It was a shortfall that denied them glory on their own turf in Euro 2004, and perhaps again in 2000, when they were a whisker, or a Fabian Barthez save, away from a Golden Goal that would have taken them to the European Championship Final.

As when the dexterous and diligent midfield play of Luis Figo, Paulo Sousa & Rui Costa was not sufficient enough to seal glory without a predator operating in-front of them - the problem has continued as the following generation of Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Deco have taken over.

This blogger backed Bosnia in his play-off accumulator and with the goalscoring prowess of Edin Dzeko and midfield creativity of Zvjezdan Misimovic added to a fervent atmosphere in Zenica, he still feels it may just be enough.

Bosnia, stand on the brink of history. A country that only came back into being in 1992 are potentially just 90 minutes away from a first-ever appearance at a major football tournament, let alone a World Cup. Add all those ingredients together and it may just be enough for Bosnia to slay a side 35 places above them in the world rankings. Portugal will need that elusive away goal.

However, if the drama is half as good as what was played out in front of 100,000 fans in Cairo's International Stadium on Saturday evening then it will be worth cancelling any plans to find the time to watch it.

Egypt needed to secure a winning margin of three goals to overhaul their opponents Algeria as group winners in the final game of Africa's Group C, unsurprisingly an atmosphere as vitriolic as you could imagine surrounded this do-or-die fixture.

The Algerian team, just a game away from a first World Cup appearance since 1986, were greeted at their team hotel by an army of Egypt supporters that hurled bricks and stones at the team bus, smashing windows, wounding players and perhaps, shattering confidence. Algeria's call to FIFA to postpone the game was ignored.

By no surprise, Amr Zaki gave Egypt a flying start with a goal in the second minute, against a clearly apprehensive Algerian side. Uniquely, a second Egyptian goal would bring up the conundrum of two exactly identical qualifying records, and, you guessed it, in the fifth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game, Emed Meteab found himself unmarked at the far post to head the teams into a sudden-death play-off in Sudan on Wednesday, sparking delirium and agony inside the same stadium.

DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:andy bishop
Having worked in radio, newspapers, magazines, internet and television I hope to now bring my passion for the game to your computer screens with analysis, comment and tongue-in-cheek humour on all things global in the world of football - from Barcelona to Boca and from Blatter to Berlusconi...enjoy!

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