Togo dreams big

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

What does the tiny, impoverished Republic of Togo have that mighty nations such as Russia, China and Canada don't?

A berth in the 2006 World Cup of soccer, that's what.

If you're keeping score -- and in Togo, you can bet your bippy they're keeping score -- Russia, China and Canada account for about 36 million square kilometres of planet earth's area. You could fit Togo's 57,000 square kilometres (the size of Nova Scotia) about 650 times into that land mass.

And that is the beauty of the beautiful game. Nobody is too small to dream big.

The long, winding qualifying road for each of the 32 berths on the starting grid in Germany next June, is coming to a close. Twenty-four nations, including Togo, already have qualified. After today's final round of qualifying games, three more names will join them.

That will leave five more qualifiers to be determined by FIFA's version of repechages. And when it's all over, people the world over will be weeping for joy ... or in anguish.

Does Togo, a tiny wedge of land on Africa's Atlantic coast, have a realistic chance to win the World Cup? No. But, then, did Greece have a realistic chance to win the 2004 European Cup? No. But somehow, they did.

For purposes of World Cup qualifying, the globe is divided into six distinct regions. And in case you were wondering, not all regions are created equal.

Europe, the traditional soccer hotbed, will send 13 qualifying nations to join the 14th, host Germany. Africa gets five spots in the final field. South America has 4.5 representatives. North and Central America have a total of 3.5 qualifying nations. Asia, by far the most populous region, has 4.5 teams. Oceania, which comprises all Western Pacific island nations, including Australia, is allotted just one-half a reservation.

Now, obviously, nobody can send a half a team. But for the purposes of qualifying those half teams are determined by crossover playoffs with other regions. For example, the Oceania winner (Australia) will play off against the fifth-place team from South America (Uruguay, Colombia or Chile) for one of the five remaining berths after today.

The fourth-place team from North and Central America will play the fifth-place team from Asia for another berth. And six second-place European finishers will play off for the remaining three spots.


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