World Cup Qualifying Playoffs: Mexico and Uruguay Secure Berths in Final Day of Qualifying

There are just under two weeks remaining until the final draw for the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, and the remaining two slots in the 32 country lineup were decided on November 20th. Both Mexico and Uruguay successfully defended their enormous leads from the first leg of the intercontinental playoffs to see off hopefuls New Zealand and Jordan. However, both hopeful teams put up thrilling matches in the second legs. Jordan, after conceding 5 goals to Uruguay in Amman, stepped up in the away leg to keep the game scoreless in Montevideo. Despite the failure to qualify for the World Cup, the Jordanian side’s achievement of earning a clean sheet against Uruguay, currently placed at fifth in the FIFA world rankings, it no small consolation. The Jordanian team came a long way to get as far as they did. In the fourth round of Asian qualifying they were undefeated at home, including 2-1 defeats of both Japan and Australia, the two teams who finished ahead of them and qualified directly. In the Asian playoff they held a vaunted Uzbekistan to a draw in both legs, defeating the Uzbek favorites in a penalty shootout. Holding the two time World Cup champions and seeded Uruguayans to a goalless draw is only capping off a remarkable achievement for the Jordanians in the qualifying campaign.

Meanwhile, the Mexican national team overcame the final hurdle in a very poor qualification to limp into the last spot in the World Cup. For Mexico, the qualifying campaign was an utter disaster. The team’s home record at the formidable Estadio Azteca was just one win out of five games. They also had three draws where Mexico failed to score any goals and a shocking loss to Honduras. The 1-2 loss to Honduras is only their second loss ever at the Estadio Azteca in a competitive match. Mexico only managed to reach the intercontinental playoff thanks to a United States defeat of Panama in the final matchday keeping Mexico at fourth in the Hexagonal. Once they faced New Zealand, however, that luck seemed to change. The 5-1 victory over the Oceanian side spelled an almost assured qualification for Mexico. The second leg definitely solidified it. Oscar Peralta slammed goals into the New Zealand net, earning a hat trick in just 33 minutes. New Zealand bounded back in the final minutes with a penalty kick in the 80th and another goal from Rory Fallon in the 83rd, but Mexico put their qualification beyond doubt with a goal from Carlos Peña in the 87th minute.

With that, the preliminary round is over and we have the 32 nations that will be participating in the 2014 World Cup six months from now. The determining of pots for the final draw on December 6 will not be decided until December 3. However, the seeded teams have already been determined, as per the October FIFA rankings. Joining hosts Brazil are fellow South American nations Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Colombia, and Europeans Spain, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. Belgium, Switzerland, and Colombia are unexpected seeds. All previous winners of the World cup will be present at the 2014 tournament looking for another victory, but Brazil as host remains the favorite. Other top contenders will likely be strong Spanish and German teams that were finalists in the European tournament last year.

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