- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 28, 2009

What began with a match in Samoa ended 853 games and 27 months later in Uruguay.

A record 200 countries participated in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, a number now reduced to the 31 nations that will join host South Africa in June.

Next up is the draw Friday in Cape Town, which will determine the eight four-team groups for the opening round. Here are the highs and lows of two-plus years of qualifying:

Score one for the U.S.- The Americans scored 42 goals in qualifying, more than any other team. New Zealand, led by former D.C. United midfielder Ryan Nelsen, notched 15, the fewest of any team to advance to the World Cup.

Some worked harder- The Netherlands and New Zealand needed only eight games to qualify. Uruguay labored through 20.

No taste of defeat- Nigeria, Germany, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands all coasted through qualifying undefeated.

A stunning first-timer- Slovakia competed in qualifying for the first time and did so in style, winning its group.

Defense rules- An average of only 2.75 goals were scored in each game, the fewest since qualifying for the 1990 World Cup. Surprisingly, England, coached by defense-oriented Fabio Capello, produced the highest goal average (3.40). North Korea had the lowest (1.25).

Big crowds- More than 20 million fans flocked to see the qualifying games, with an average of more than 23,000 in attendance at each match. The United States appeared in the game with the highest attendance, a contest played before 104,499 on Aug. 12 in Mexico City. Overall, Mexico pulled the biggest crowds at home, drawing an average of 81,600 in nine games.

Mexico spreads the talent- El Tricolor had a record 19 goal-scorers. It also produced the most goals by substitutes (11) and converted the most goals from the penalty spot (five).

Score one for the haters- The soccer critics will love this: The most common result in qualifying was - you guessed it - 1-0, the final tally in 164 games. The next most-common results: 2-0 (115 times) and 2-1 (110).

Picking the players- The Netherlands qualified by using just 25 players. Argentina tried a whopping 50.

French bosses- There were 275 coaches from 135 nations heading up teams in the qualifying round. The French dominated the coaching ranks (14), followed by the Dutch (12).

Pick a number - Finally, if you want to buy your kid a shirt for Christmas, stick the No. 9 on it. Players wearing that jersey number accounted for 348 goals, followed by No. 10 with 334 and No. 11 with 257.

Emergency meeting-FIFA boss Sepp Blatter called an “extraordinary meeting” of the organization’s executive committee Thursday in Cape Town.

The cause: the controversy over the blatant hand ball by Thierry Henry that helped France defeat Ireland and gain a spot in the World Cup. Could instant replay be in the works?

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