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WORLD CUP : New Zealand, Nigeria, Cameroon earn berths

November 15, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

The field for soccer's 2010 World Cup in South Africa grew by three on Saturday when Cameroon, New Zealand and Nigeria clinched their places in the 32-team world championship.

Meanwhile, France, Portugal, Russia, Ukraine and Uruguay moved to within 90 minutes of securing their berths, and Egypt forced Algeria into a winner-take-all showdown.

Cameroon, arguably the most globally popular of Africa's soccer powers, swept into its sixth World Cup by overcoming Morocco, 2-0, on the road in Fes, where Achille Webo and Samuel Eto'o provided the goals for the Indomitable Lions.

Nigeria had a much more difficult time. To qualify, it needed to defeat Kenya in Nairobi and also have favored Tunisia lose to Mozambique.

Two goals by Obafemi Martins, including the game-winner seven minutes from the end, earned the Super Eagles a 3-2 victory. At the same time this was going on, Mozambique, playing at home in Maputo, got a late goal from Dario and upset Tunisia, 1-0.

The two results allowed Nigeria to overtake Tunisia and win the qualifying group by a single point. It also led to a tearful celebration in the Nigerian locker room as the team's veteran players realized what they had accomplished.

There were similar scenes in Wellington, New Zealand, where the Kiwis advanced to the World Cup for the first time since 1982 by defeating Bahrain, 1-0, on a headed goal by Rory Fallon seconds before the halftime whistle.

"It's incredible. We're back. We're there," said New Zealand Coach Ricki Herbert, who played for the Kiwis at the Spain '82 tournament.

In a tense encounter in Cairo, Egypt prevented Algeria from clinching a World Cup place when Emad Meteab headed in a goal five minutes into injury time to give the Egyptians a 2-0 victory.

A 1-0 loss would have been enough for Algeria to reach South Africa, while a 3-0 victory would have secured a place for Egypt. Instead, the teams will play again on Wednesday in neutral Sudan to decide which team goes to the World Cup.

Saturday also saw the eight remaining European teams square off in the first leg of a home-and-home playoff series, with the second leg set for Wednesday.

In Moscow, Russia earned a 2-1 victory over Slovenia as Diniyar Bilyaletdinov scored a pair of goals in front of a sellout crowd of 80,000 at Luzhniki Stadium that included Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister.

The victory was not decisive, however, and a goal two minutes before the end by Nejc Pecnik gave Slovenia some hope for the return match.

In Lisbon, Portugal shrugged off the injury-enforced absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and managed to defeat Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1-0, on a first-half goal by Bruno Alves.

"The important thing was that we played intelligently," said Portugal Coach Carlos Queiroz. "We won without conceding any goals."

In Dublin, France also earned victory by a single goal, edging Ireland, 1-0, on Nicolas Anelka's shot that deflected into the net off defender Sean St. Ledger.

France, which won the 1998 World Cup and was runner-up to Italy in 2006, should qualify, but as striker Thierry Henry said, there are "still 90 minutes to go, and it's going to be a tough game for us in Paris."

Ukraine traveled to Greece and came away with a 0-0 tie in Athens that sets it up well for its home game in Donetsk.

Uruguay is also well-positioned after defeating Costa Rica, 1-0, in San Jose, Costa Rica, on a goal by Diego Alfredo Lugano.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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