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World Cup qualifying

Joy, hope and frustration for FCB stars

Bayern’s international stars experienced the full range of mixed emotions at the weekend. Ten Munich men are set to feature at the World Cup finals in Brazil next summer after they and their European national teams sealed top spot in their respective qualifying groups, but two of the players will be forced to battle through the play-offs, and David Alaba has been condemned to watching the tournament from afar.

Germany coach Joachim Löw gave his men two days off after the 3-0 victory over Ireland that confirms the three-time winners’ 18th appearance in the finals. Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos, Jérôme Boateng, Mario Götze and their team-mates can now relaxed ahead of Tuesday’s final group fixture away to Sweden, who claimed second place and the play-off berth with a 2-1 victory over Austria.

Deep disappointment for David

However, that scoreline meant bitter disappointment for David Alaba, as the Austrians missed out on their first tilt at the World Cup since 1998. “We’re totally gutted,” declared Alaba after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’ 86th-minute winner last Friday. “Obviously, you’re deeply disappointed after a match like that, but we’ll do everything in our power to keep following our current course!“ Naturally, the Austrians’ final fixture away to the Faroes next Tuesday is now a dead rubber.

By contrast, celebrations were the order of the day for Arjen Robben, Xherdan Shaqiri and Daniel van Buyten. Robben and 2010 World Cup runners-up the Netherlands were already safely through to Brazil even before Friday’s 8-1 thrashing of Hungary, but Shaqiri and Switzerland finally wrapped up their ticket to South America with a 2-1 victory away to Albania. “It’s been a great qualifying campaign, and we deserve to be going to the World Cup,” commented Shaqiri, although the wide midfielder is out of his country’s final group match against Slovenia on Tuesday with a hamstring problem. “We’re very hungry. Everyone can see we’re a great team. Hopefully we can hit the headlines at the World Cup,“ Shaq continued.

Daniel’s World Cup debut at 36

The Belgians last made the finals in 2002, where they were knocked out by eventual winners Brazil in the Round of 16. Naturally, the Red Devils’ camp and their army of supporters were overjoyed following the decisive 2-1 victory away to Croatia. King Philippe personally called coach Marc Wilmots on his mobile to pass on congratulations, while thousands of euphoric fans gathered at Brussels airport to give their heroes an ecstatic welcome home in the early hours of Saturday morning. Van Buyten is now set to make his World Cup debut next June, by which time he will be 36.

Nothing more than pride now rides on the Netherlands’ trip to Turkey and Belgium’s home meeting with Wales. That is also true for Mario Mandzukic and the Croats, because despite the bitter defeat to Belgium, they are certain of their place in the play-offs.

Glimmer of hope for Ribéry

The same applies to Franck Ribéry and France, although the European Footballer of the Year and his team-mates are not entirely out of the running for a direct qualifying berth, as they go into the final round of fixtures with a slender chance of dislodging world and European champions Spain from top spot in the group. The Spanish are three points ahead of Les Bleues, so for that to happen, the French must beat Finland by a big score and hope the Spaniards slip up at home to Georgia.

The draw for the play-offs among the eight best runners-up takes place on 21 October at Home of FIFA in Zurich. The procedure will take into account the next edition of the World Ranking, due out on 17 October. The four best-placed teams will be seeded in the draw for the two legged play-offs, to be played on 15 and 19 November.