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World Cup 2010 play-offs see France and Portugal heading for South Africa 2010

France and Portugal have booked their places at next summer’s World Cup after both nations enjoyed narrow victories in the play-offs yesterday. France had to rely on a controversial extra time goal against Ireland which included a hand-ball from Thierry Henry in the build up, whilst Portugal overcame Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 courtesy of a Jose Raul Meireles strike.

France had seemingly done the hard work in the first leg when they secured a 1-0 win in Dublin, yet the fragile nature of Raymond Domenech’s squad was exposed as the Irish skipper Robbie Keane equalled the tie with a crucial away goal in the 33rd minute. The match headed to extra time before France struck decisively courtesy of a William Gallas goal. The controversy lay in the build up as Barcelona striker Henry clearly handballed before squaring to Gallas. The result left Ireland heartbroken and angry towards referee Martin Hansson for not disallowing the goal.

It was slightly more straightforward for Portugal who took a goal advantage to Bosnia and secured their World Cup spot with another 1-0 victory on the night. Bosnia- Herzegovina failed to make their first leg chances count and couldn’t threaten the Portuguese once Meireles’ shot had found the net in the second half.

Elsewhere the greatest shock of the evening saw Gus Hiddink’s Russia dumped out by Balkan side Slovenia. Russia were leading 2-1 from the first leg but once Slovenia struck late in the first half via Zlatko Dedic the away goals rule came into effect and Russia failed to mount a response. Therefore they, along with Ukraine who lost to Greece in the other play-off miss out on the World Cup next summer.

With virtually all the teams confirmed for the tournament now may be the perfect time to start thinking about your World Cup tips. France and Portugal both look shaky despite their recent victories and odds of 16/1 aren’t tempting enough for two teams riddled with fragility. Slovenia (200/1) and Greece (100/1) are never going to trouble anyone so its probably best to back a stronger side for victory next summer.

Brazil, Spain and England are all tipped by the bookies across the board so it’s wiser to exploit the odds of the teams in tier below them for the best value. Germany (12/1) and Holland (14/1) are both capable of winning and could yield a nice earner if backed. Argentina (9/1) and even the Ivory Coast at 33/1 have a chance and may be favoured. Its worth noting that last time round eventual winners Italy were good for up to 18/1 to win proving that making the right call for an outsider could potentially be really rewarding.
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