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World Cup Qualifiers progressing

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With the London Olympics and Paralympics now over, the next major global mega-event will be the 2014 World Cup Football finals in Brazil.{{more}} Thirty-two teams will then be competing for the coveted title of “World Champions”, with only the host team, Brazil, guaranteed of a place among the competitors. Even the holders, Spain, have to go through the qualifying process in Europe.

The process of qualification is not a uniform one, depending on specific circumstances in the six zonal regions. In some regions, notably the Caribbean/Central and North American region, prospective countries are almost at the deciding stage, while, at the other end, Europe, its own Nations Cup just concluded, has now commenced the qualifying process. Africa, has a necessarily extended agenda, its teams engaged in qualification for the 2013 African Cup of Nations in January, thereby delaying World Cup qualification to an intensive period between June and September next year.

CONCACAF: Mexico advance

In the Caribbean/Central and North American (CONCACAF) zone, six teams from three groups, the top two in each, go forward to a home-and-away play-off to determine the three World Cup finalists. Newly-crowned Olympic champions Mexico seem to be riding a wave of success, advancing to the final six-team stage of the CONCACAF region, with two matches to go. Vying to accompany the Mexicans from Group B is the Central American pair of El Salvador (5 points from 4 matches) and Costa Rica (4 points from the same number of games). The lone representative team from the English-speaking Caribbean, Guyana, looks set to be eliminated at the next hurdle.

Another Caribbean representative team, Cuba, is already out from a competitive Group C, where Panama, two points ahead of rivals Honduras and Canada, seem likely to go through. The critical match in upcoming fixtures is likely to be the clash of Honduras and Canada.

The group attracting most interest is Group A, and again, there is a hang-over from Olympic rivalry. Jamaica and the USA may have gone toe-to-toe in track-and-field in London, but their footballers must relive those contests at World Cup level. Together with Guatemala, they are level on points, having each recorded a home victory against the other. The United States is perhaps best placed to advance, with a home match against Guatemala before concluding in Antigua, against the team which is about to join Cuba on the also-rans list. If Jamaica can at least get a draw against Cuba, it will fancy its chances against Antigua and Barbuda, tipped to be the next team to be booted out of the qualifiers.

Columbia charging

In the South America Group, most interest centres around whether global superstar Lionel Messi can at last repeat his club success at Barcelona by leading his country, Argentina to a World Cup triumph. An added edge is given by the finals being held on the territory of archrivals, Brazil. In spite of this, and Argentina heading the qualifying table, the spotlight in South America focuses elsewhere these days.

That spotlight hones in on Colombia, and the performances of one Radamel Falcao, considered now one of the top strikers in the business. His exploits for Atletico Madrid in Europe has already had many a moneybags team-owner drooling to commit millions to sign him. He has proven that he is no fluke, by repeating his feats for his country, powering it to second-place in the South American table, one point behind Argentina.

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