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Friday, June 25, 2010

Football League at World Cup 2010: Update 3

The 19th FIFA World Cup is taking place in South Africa during June and July - and we're covering the event in our own unique fashion.

In total, there are 11 Football League players from seven countries featuring in the tournament - and we're keeping tabs on how they're getting on.

Our third update looks at the final round of group fixtures - did any Football League player make it into the last 16?

In Group A, hosts South Africa, with one Football League representative, faced France - knowing they needed a win and then the right result from the game between Mexico and Uruguay to go their way in order to qualify.

Aaron Mokoena

The hosts secured only their second ever win at a World Cup as they defeated former Champions France.

However, it wasn't enough to see South Africa qualify for the knockout stage, as they lost out on goal difference to Mexico.

The victory over a dispirited, yet talented, French side was a fitting end to their campaign. Captain Mokoena was a solid presence at the back - limiting France's attacking threat.

They were opened up in the second half as Flourent Malouda got France back into the game, but first half goals from Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela ensured the hosts took all three points.

Final score:
France 1 South Africa 2

In Group B, Nigeria, with two Football League players, were attempting to make World Cup history by making the last 16 despite losing two of their group games. That could be achieved by beating South Korea and Greece losing to Argentina.

Nwankwo Kanu

The Super Eagles played one of their Football League stars - captain Kanu making his first appearance in the tournament.

Showing the kind of skill and composure on the ball that has been his trademark, Kanu was an important presence up front as Nigeria led in the first half through Kalu Uche.

However, Korean goals from free kicks either side of the break from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young put the Asian side ahead.

Kanu was substituted before the hour mark as he began to tire and, despite his replacement Obafemi Martins converting a penalty, Nigeria's 2-2 draw was not enough to save them from exiting the tournament.

After playing in his third World Cup for his country, Kanu announced his retirement from international football.

Final score: Nigeria 2 South Korea 2

In Group C, the two sides with a player from the Football League amongst their 23-man squads - the USA and Algeria - met. Both had hopes of making the last 16 ahead of rivals Slovenia and England.

Jay DeMerit

The USA secured top spot in Group C and a place in the last 16 with a last gasp goal against Algeria.

DeMerit's side controlled the game for large spells - forcing their African opponents back as they searched for the goal they required to progress.

However, that was only after the Americans had a huge let off early on. DeMerit himself missed a long ball and Rafik Djebbour's volley hit the bar.

With time running out, it appeared as though the USA would be going home, but Landon Donovan's 92nd minute strike from close range sealed a dramatic win.

Nadir Belhadj

Algeria's World Cup campaign ended in disappointment as they crashed out of the tournament without even scoring.

They were also denied only their second ever World Cup clean sheet, as well as a second point in 2010, with the USA's injury time winner.

Belhadj's natural attacking instincts were largely curtailed as he found himself part of an Algerian defence resisting wave after wave of American attacks.

He can reflect upon a tournament where he was one of his country's better performers in a World Cup where, despite suffering an early exit, they didn't disgrace themselves.

Final score: USA 1 Algeria 0

Ghana, in Group D, were hoping - with the help of their Football League player - to make it to the second round. They faced Germany in their final game.

If either slipped up, then another country featuring a Football League man - Australia - could have taken advantage with victory over Serbia.

Kevin Prince-Boateng

Ghana became the first African side to qualify for the knock out phase despite losing to Germany.

Serbia's defeat ensured Prince-Boateng and his colleagues equalled Nigeria's record of making the World Cup knock out phase twice.

In a difficult game for the Ghanaians, Boateng was a solid presence in midfield as his side worked hard to restrict their opponents to few chances.

A long range beauty in the second half from Mesut Ozil eventually broke the deadlock - and the Germans held onto their advantage with relative ease.

He completed his first full match at the tournament and can hopefully look forward to doing more offensive play in Ghana's game in the last-16.

Final score: Ghana 0 Germany 1

Richard Garcia

Australia recorded their first win of the World Cup, but it wasn't enough for them to progress past the group stage.

A second half header from Tim Cahill followed swiftly by Brett Holman's long range drive gave them a 2-0 advantage.

After 82 minutes, Garcia was brought on a substitute for Luke Wilkshire as the Socceroos sought fresh legs to help preserve their advantage.

However, Marko Pantelic pulled back a goal with six minutes remaining, and the Aussies had to withstand late pressure.

With help from the linesman's flag, they held on to register their first ever World Cup victory over a European side. Some comfort as they board an early flight home from South Africa.

Final score:
Australia 2 Serbia 1

Rank outsiders in Group F, New Zealand, have three players from the Football League in their squad. They were battling to escape from a group including World Champions Italy, Slovakia, and their last group game opponents - Paraguay.

Tommy Smith

Smith helped his country to their first ever clean sheet in a World Cup game as they held group winners Paraguay.

In a game of few chances, the Kiwis were under greater pressure against their South American opponents.

However, Smith and his fellow centre halves helped protect keeper Mark Paston's goal, restricting Paraguay to few opportunities.

Despite their exit in the group stage, Smith's impressive performance will improve his hopes of a more regular place in the Ipswich team in the Championship next term.

Chris Killen

As with their two previous games, underdogs New Zealand found themselves largely under the cosh against Paraguay.

That restricted striker Killen to very little service as Rickie Hebert's men looked to sit back and soak up any pressure from their opponents.

It took them until the second half to register a shot on target - their only one of the entire game.

Killen was replaced by Jeremy Brockie with around ten minutes remaining as New Zealand fell at the first hurdle.

Rory Fallon

Fallon will look back on New Zealand's first World Cup for 28 years as personally frustrating, despite his country's good showing.

With three draws from three games - the All Whites returned home unbeaten in their South African adventure.

Their defensive approach limited striker Fallon to just a single shot on target in those three matches, though. He was often found defending and closing down space in his own area.

With little creativity on offer, Fallon will be disappointed he wasn't given more opportunities to score an historic goal at the World Cup finals. He was substituted for Chris Wood midway through the second period.

Final score:
Paraguay 0 New Zealand 0

With the group stage over, we move onto the knock out phase. Of the seven countries
competing which had Football League players, only two have survived.

They are the USA and Ghana who, in a twist of fate, will face one another in Rustenburg tomorrow for a place in the quarter finals.

For the African country, a place in the last eight in only their second ever tournament would represent an historic achievement. The States will be looking to equal their best performance of reaching the quarter finals in 2002.

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