Sat, Nov 24, 2007 - Page 19 News List

FIFA: England praying for lucky draw

HOLDING THEIR BREATH 2010 World Cup qualifying groups for teams outside South America and Oceania will be revealed at tomorrow's draw in South Africa

AFP , DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

A shattered England will be praying for a lucky break at the preliminary draw for the 2010 World Cup tomorrow after seeing their Euro 2008 dreams crushed.

With the pairings and groups for the first stage of European qualifying being decided in Durban, South Africa, the hapless English will be desperate to avoid the traditional big guns to ease their passage to the showpiece event.

Forced to watch next year's Euros from home after failing to get the point they needed against Croatia on Wednesday, England have until August next year to sort themselves out before World Cup qualifying starts.

First and foremost they need a coach after Steve McClaren was dumped, with Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill regarded as the best-placed candidate.

The Europeans face a different format than at previous World Cups, with 53 teams split into nine groups, eight of six teams and one of five.

The nine group winners will automatically qualify with the best eight runners up playing off for the last four tickets to South Africa.

UEFA President Michel Platini welcomed the changes.

"It's a good compromise solution, because I wasn't really happy with the format for the last qualifying competition with groups of seven and eight teams," he said.

As well as England, defending champions Italy, and powerhouses Germany and France will be in the draw.

Twenty teams from Asia will also be in the hat tomorrow in what promises to be a glitzy affair, led by seeds Australia, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan, as the pairings for their third round are decided.

Like England, Australia, South Korea, and Iran are currently without coaches, while Japan is waiting to see whether Ivica Osim recovers from a serious stroke that sent him to hospital last week.

They will be split into five groups of four with the winners and runners-up progressing to round four. The continent has four automatic places to play for with the fifth ranked team challenging Oceania's best side for a fifth berth.

Forty-eight countries from Africa will be watching intently with the draw having added interest because the fixtures double as 2010 African Nations Cup qualifiers.

Countries from the region will be split into 12 groups of four with winners and the best eight runners-up advancing to a third round where they will play off to be one of five continental representatives.

The North, Central and Caribbean zone has 35 teams in contention for three places, with the US and Mexico favorites to go through to the tournament from June 11 to July 11 in nine South African cities.

Exempt from the draw are South America, whose qualifiers are already under way in a home-and-away league format, and Oceania, whose preliminary competition began with the South Pacific Games in August.

Once the 32 teams for the finals are decided, the draw for the World Cup proper will be held in December 2009.

For South Africa, the draw tomorrow is a chance to show the world it can properly organize and pull off what will be its first real World Cup test.

Concerns have been voiced about stadium construction amid recent strikes by workers, with the last one, in Nelspruit, only resolved on Thursday as thousands of delegates and journalists began arriving for the draw.

A workers' strike also halted construction at a stadium in Cape Town earlier this year.

But organizers are confident that everything is on schedule and that tomorrow's preliminary draw will illustrate the country's organizational skills.

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