Johannesburg, Nov 15 (DPA) There was joy for Cameroon, Nigeria and New Zealand as they booked their places at the World Cup finals in South Africa next year.
Algeria, who were hoping to pick up the final African place, will have to contest in a winner-take-all play-off against Egypt in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum Wednesday after losing 2-0 against the Pharaohs in Cairo – a result that sees both teams top Group C with the same number of points, goals scored and conceded.
In the European play-offs between Russia and Slovenia, Greece and Ukraine, Ireland and France as well as Portugal and Bosnia, only France managed to secure a distinct advantage ahead of Wednesday’s return legs.
The 1998 winners managed to secure an important 1-0 victory in Dublin against Ireland through a lucky Nicolas Anelka goal in the 72nd minute.
The Chelsea strikers’ shot, after being set up by Yoann Gourcuff, took a wicked deflection off Sean St Ledger that left Irish goalkeeper Shay Given, who was playing his 101st international game, flat-footed.
Anelka then had a chance to make it two, before French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris denied Glenn Whelan an equalizer two minutes from the end with a world-class save.
The result gives Raymond Domenech’s team a huge advantage ahead of the return leg in Paris and should see the team through to next year’s finals in South Africa.
In Athens Greece and Ukraine played a disappointing encounter, bereft of flowing football and lacking in virtually any clear-cut chances.
The scoreless draw leaves the tie finely poised ahead of Wednesday’s return leg in Donetsk.
In Moscow, Russia seemed well on course for a two-goal lead that would have given them plenty of confidence for the return leg in Maribor, but substitute Nejc Pecnik scored late to leave the tie wide open.
Earlier Everton striker Dinyar Bilyaletdinov looked to have put Russia in the driving seat for a place at the finals with goals in each half in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow to put Guus Hiddink’s side in control before Pecnik found a late goal that could prove important.
Incredibly, Pecnik almost equalised in added time but Igor Akinfeev pulled off a stunning save.
In Lisbon, Porto defender Bruno Alves headed the only goal of the game in the 31st minute for a Ronaldo-less Portugal against Bosnia after being set up by Nani.
Edin Dzeko nearly gave the visitors an equaliser a minute from time when his header crashed against the crossbar and Zlatan Muslimovic’s side-footer from the rebound hit the upright.
Senijad Ibricic had earlier in the first half also hit the crossbar for the Bosnians.
The first team through to South Africa Saturday was New Zealand, who managed to beat Bahrain 1-0 in front of a capacity 34,000 crowd in Wellington, to advance 1-0 on aggregate after the first leg in Bahrain had ended goalless.
Goalkeeper Mark Paston was the hero for the All Whites as he managed to save a second half penalty to ensure victory from Rory Fallon’s first half headed goal.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles had to come from behind in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi to beat Kenya 3-2 and move ahead of Tunisia in Group B.
Substitute Obafemi Martins scored twice in the second half, while Aiyegbeni Yakubu scored the other to give the North Africans the win they needed, while Tunisia, who would have made sure of their place in South Africa with a victory in Mozambique, slumped to a 1-0 defeat.
In Group A, Cameroon were always favoured to go through and they made no mistake winning 2-0 at Morocco through goals by Achille Webo and Samuel Eto’o.
Gabon, who could have overtaken the Indomitable Lions, if results had gone their way, lost 1-0 in Togo.
The first leg of the play-off in the American zones between Uruguay and Costa Rica will be played early Sunday.