November 18, 2009
We've got our collection of World Cup finalists as six more teams fell by the wayside, but what will be the fate of those managers who failed to carry the burden of their nation's expectations?
Slovenia became the first European team to lose a play-off first-leg and still make the finals after a stirring display. They shattered Guus Hiddink's dreams of leading a fourth different nation to a World Cup. His Russian side capitulated with indiscipline costing them as both Alexander Kerzhakov and Yuri Zhirkov were sent off in their 1-0 defeat in Maribor.
The only winner from a Russian perspective is going to be Hiddink. Despite failing to qualify, one of the most sought-after managers of the past few years is now going to be on the market again seeking pastures new. And Manuel Pellegrini, Rafael Benitez and Mark Hughes should probably all shoot fearful glances behind them as the Dutchman is likely to want a return to club management after whetting his appetite during an enigmatic five-month spell at Chelsea last season.
In stark contrast to his rival in the dugout this evening, Matjaž Kek has little experience of the glamorous arenas of the globe. But the man whose previous coaching positions had been with the Slovenian under-15 and under-16 teams masterminded an upset of a horrified Hiddink and it is he, not his widely acclaimed opposite number who will be enjoying World Cup football next year.
Thierry Henry. Cheat. The words hardly roll off the tongue but those are the accusations heading the Frenchman's way after his "main de dieu" moment against Ireland stole a finals berth for the French. Though the streets of Paris will be overflowing with champagne, listen carefully and you will hear the simultaneous sigh of "merde" echoing amidst the empty bottles as fans remember that Raymond Domenech is somehow still in a job.
A disastrous display at Euro 2008 has been followed-up by a shambolic qualifying campaign saved only by a cunning piece of contentious improvisation from his captain. Domenech received a barrage of boos from tennis fans at the recent Paris Masters and has been under widespread pressure from supporters and the French media alike. But it seems the misfiring manager will amazingly get another opportunity to prove his lack of tactical nous in the southern hemisphere.
Giovanni Trapattoni has done a fine job with the Irish national team and was just 17 minutes away from one of the most famous results in Ireland's football history. That unlucky defeat to France in the play-off first-leg is the only stain on the wily Italian's record with the boys in green and he will undoubtedly be given the opportunity to continue his excellent work and spearhead Ireland's pursuit of a spot at Euro 2012.
Ukraine boss Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko had a four-year spell with the Ukraine under-21s before being given the top job to oversee Andriy Shevchenko and co's bid for qualification. And it looks like he may be heading back to the youngsters with his tail between his legs after Dimitrios Salpigidis wrote the final chapter of Mykhaylychenko's Greek tragedy by handing him defeat in Donetsk.
Otto Rehhagel will never be sacked from his job as Greece boss - the shock triumph at Euro 2004 has ensured that. But hats off to the tactically astute German genius, who continues to pull off surprises. This time, the veteran coach ensured a surprise finals berth for the Greeks who had only just manoeuvred past the mighty Latvia at the last minute to make the play-offs.
A Ronaldo-less Portugal made the finals and Carlos Queiroz has salvaged what little was left of his managerial reputation. Excellent as an assistant, he has consistently underachieved as a head honcho but he gets a chance to prove me wrong at next year's finals, when he will have his prize asset (not Nani) on hand to help his World Cup conquest.
Miroslav Blaževic is the oldest coach in Europe at 74 years old and it is impossible to ever undermine his credentials after he guided Croatia to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals. He missed out on qualification this time with an ever-improving Bosnia team, and the decision about whether he takes a well-deserved retirement will be firmly up to him.
Even if they secure a third successive African Nations Cup triumph in January, the taste of defeat is unlikely to have left the mouths of Egypt players and fans, after losing out on qualification to their bitterest of rivals Algeria - 1-0 in their unprecedented one-off play-off in Sudan.
However coach Hassan Shehata should not be packing his bags up yet as he has experienced this before after qualification failure in 2006. If he can bring home the Nations Cup there is a chance he can try for third time lucky in 2014. Meanwhile, Algeria coach Rabah Saadane will likely have a job for life after guiding les Fennecs to a first finals in 23 years. That he achieved it by getting one over on the old enemy Egypt means he is guaranteed a good table in the restaurants of Algiers for the foreseeable future.
Nicknamed the "mother of all matches", the grudge match that was Algeria vs. Egypt did not contain the sparks of the thrilling final group game; but Algeria won’t care. Beating the back-to-back African champions 1-0 in Sudan, the unfancied Algerian side worked wonders to reach their first World Cup in 23 years and many will suggest that it was well-deserved.
Not only did the Algerian side have the better of the qualifying group, they also had to suffer a violent attack as their team bus was stoned on the way to the stadium ahead of their 2-0 defeat in the final, all-important, qualifier. Now, victory five days later will taste all the sweeter as clashes between rival factions extended as far as France in the build-up to the game.
Such was the animosity before the kick-off, FIFA appealed for "fair play and responsibility." At least 32 people were injured in skirmishes after Saturday’s game, while Egyptian businesses in Cairo had millions of dollars worth of damage caused by riots.
The presence of 15,000 Sudanese police around the stadium - nearly one to every two spectators - calmed the atmosphere slightly, but FIFA would not have liked what they saw on the pitch within the first 30 minutes as four players were booked.
Algeria were on the back foot after the initial scuffles, but a moment of brilliance from Antar Yahia - as the centre-back volleyed an incredible strike into the net just before the half - sealed the tie. So often, ties like this are settled by such a moment, and it won’t be one that Yahia will forget in a long while.
Cue wild celebrations. But there was still work to do. A solid rearguard action saw Algeria keep out the Egyptian attack, with first-leg hero Emad Moteab going the closest. One could argue that Egypt coach Hassan Shehata had gambled by keeping Mohamed Zidan and Hosni Abd Rabou on the bench, but even their introduction for Amr Zaki and Ahmed Fahti made no difference.
At the end of the game Algeria ‘keeper Faouzi Chaouchi climbed onto his crossbar to celebrate, bringing back memories of his counterpart Essam El Hadari, who had done the same when Egypt claimed back-to-back African Nations Cup trophies. However it will Chaouchi who will travel to South Africa, against the odds. Egypt will head into the 2010 version of the ANC with a heavy heart. Algeria are in the finals for the first time since 1986.