Last five World Cup spots up for grabs

The last five spots in the World Cup finals are up for grabs, and another newcomer is guaranteed.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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The last five spots in the World Cup finals are up for grabs, and another newcomer is guaranteed. Twenty-seven teams are already on their way to next year's tournament in Germany, and the five remaining spots will be decided in playoffs during the next week. In the three European playoffs, Spain hosts Slovakia, Norway welcomes the Czech Republic and Turkey goes to Switzerland for Saturday's first legs. Two-time champion Uruguay, which finished fifth in South American qualifying, hosts Oceania winner Australia, whose only World Cup appearance was in 1974. The other series will definitely send a newcomer - either CONCACAF's fourth-place team Trinidad and Tobago of Asian playoff winner Bahrain. Wealth of talent If Spain fails to qualify it will be a disappointment for a country that has provided two of the game's most storied clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, and traditionally has a wealth of talent as well as massive fan support. The Czech Republic, which was a World Cup runner-up as Czechoslovakia in 1934 and '62, hasn't qualified since 1990. But it has the players to be a contender this time and Juventus star Pavel Nedved has decided to come out of international retirement to help the team reach the finals. Uruguay, winner of the first World Cup in 1930 and a surprise champion in Brazil 20 years later, must beat Australia to reach the finals for the 11th time. Bahrain is lucky to have gotten this far. It lost to Uzbekistan 1-0 in the first leg of its previous playoff, but FIFA ordered a replay because of a referee's blunder. Uzbekistan was awarded a penalty but the goal was disallowed because a teammate had run into the area too early. Instead of retaking the penalty, the referee gave a free kick to Bahrain. The game was replayed, drawn 1-1, and Bahrain advanced on away goals after a 0-0 draw in the second leg. Boost to chances Trinidad's bid to reach the World Cup finals has been boosted by Dwight Yorke's decision to come out of international retirement. The 34-year-old striker, who helped Manchester United win the European Champions League title in 1999, has teamed up with Derby County's Stern John, whose two goals in a 2-1 qualifying victory over Mexico took his national team tally to 64 in 89 games. Whichever team qualifies after the second leg on November 16, it will join a record number of newcomers. Already sure of a first-ever appearance on soccer's biggest stage are African nations Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast and Angola. Serbia-Montenegro has qualified for the first time since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and former Soviet republic Ukraine also makes its debut. The field also includes five-time champion Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador from South America; host Germany, France, Italy, England, Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Croatia, and Poland from Europe; Japan, South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia from Asia; United States, Mexico and Costa Rica from CONCACAF; and Tunisia from Africa. (AP)