Cruel joke: Coin toss could decide World Cup fate

Could this really send one team out of the WC?; Photo by ICAM photos

Could this really send one team out of the WC?; Photo by ICAM photos

While the US soccer community is hoping and praying for Charlie Davies as recovers from surgery after a truly horrific car accident, much of the rest of the soccer world is focused on the last round of World Cup qualifying matches. Saturday’s games took much of the drama out of the remaining qualifying games, but three crucial matches on three continents promise a reprise of the Soccer War, the possible last gasp for a soccer legend, and a very plausible scenario that would lead to a coin toss to decide one entry to the World Cup Finals.

Results in Europe tipped heavily towards established soccer powers, with the possible exception of England’s surprise defeat to Ukraine likely pushing Croatia out of the World Cup. Ukraine only has to beat Andorra who is yet to score a single point in qualifying to keep the Croats out of the tournament. Germany beat Russia, ensuring its qualification and Russia trip to the playoffs. Sweden fell in Denmark which, combined with Portugal’s win over Hungary, puts the Swedes out and the Portuguese on the verge of the playoffs if it can get past Malta (even without Ronaldo, Portugal should have an easy time). The Swiss only need a point at home against Israel, and the Greeks seem a lock for the playoffs facing Luxembourg’s part-timers. San Marino and its -43 goal difference is the only thing between Slovenia and at least a playoff spot, forcing the Czechs to sit on the sidelines this time round. Italy’s late goal won it’s group, putting Ireland into the playoffs joining the Bosnians who kept out the Turks. Fortunately, the rest of the world isn’t so dull.

The US team has qualified, but we still want to finish top in Concacaf, and our opponents Costa Rica and Honduras are battling for the last guaranteed place. Honduras are two points behind Costa Rica and need to win at El Salvador in order to have chance at claiming third place and avoid a playoff matchup against the fifth place South American team (more on that below). El Salvador has yet to lose at home in the hexagonal, meaning the missed penalty that would have earned Honduras a point against the US is particularly costly – a draw on Wednesday would have been enough if Costa Rica lose to the US. The Honduras v El Salvador rivalry is the fiercest in Central America, even once resulting in an actual war after rioting during and after a World Cup qualifier between the two countries in 1969. Already eliminated themselves, the Salvadorans would like nothing more than to spoil the party for the Hondurans and relegate them to a playoff.

Who that opponent would be is still very much in doubt. Argentina rescued three points with a stoppage time goal in the driving rain on Saturday to move them back into the last automatic qualifying spot above Uruguay. Those were two precious points, but Diego Maradona’s side is not out of the woods yet. Their shaky win at home against bottom side Peru should do nothing to calm the nerves of Argentine supporters, especially when they look at the team’s road record. Argentina have simply been abysmal on the road, losing their last four matches by a combined score of 10-1, and only picking up two points in their last seven road fixtures. Uruguay, fittingly Argentina’s opponent on Wednesday, has a reasonably strong home record, four wins and three draws with its only loss coming against Brazil. A win for Uruguay puts them in the World Cup and a draw may see them miss out entirely – so I expect fireworks in Montevideo. It could be a very bad day for Argentina; a loss could see them fall to sixth if Ecuador beat Chile on the road. Ecuador doesn’t have that strong a road record, but the Chileans have already qualified and it will be interesting to see how motivated they are for this game. Hold on to your hats.

But the most bizarre scenario certainly goes to Africa’s Group C, where Algeria currently lead Egypt by three points, but face them in Cairo on Wednesday. If Egypt win by the exact score 2-0, then all five tiebreakers would be dead even: goal differential for all group games (+5), goals scored in all group games (9), head to head points (3), goal differential in head to head matches (0), goals scored in head to head matches (3). FIFA rules stipulate that the next tiebreaker is a coin toss, seriously. That is a cruel joke. If that happens, FIFA should sanction a playoff to coincide with the other playoffs on November 14th and 18th.

While Association Football will be at RFK and my heart will be with Charlie Davies, I’ll be keeping an eye on these three other matches Wednesday as we inch ever closer to the final 32 teams headed to South Africa.

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