Preparations for World Cup going full steam ahead

As Sepp Herberger, coach of the West German team that won the 1954 Fifa World Cup, once memorably said: "After the final whistle blows, kickoff's never far away."

As Sepp Herberger, coach of the West German team that won the 1954 Fifa World Cup, once memorably said: "After the final whistle blows, kickoff's never far away."

This saying is very much reflected in the period between Fifa World Cup final phases.

When the referee blew the final whistle on July 9 last year in Berlin's Olympia stadium, he was also kicking off the build-up to the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The finals will be held in nine cities throughout South Africa from June 11 to July 11 2010.

Though the tournament may seem a long way off, the preparations for this greatest of sporting events are already going full speed ahead.

While the infrastructure and stadiums are obviously the focus of a great deal of attention at the moment, a tournament of this magnitude also requires a lot of work in other vital areas.

No area is more pivotal than the qualifying process that determines which of the world's footballing nations are strong enough to earn a place in South Africa.

This first phase officially got under way when invitations were sent to all 207 member associations.

These forms have to be completed and returned to Fifa by March 1 2007 in order to allow each national team to take part in the qualifying rounds of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

South Africa qualify automatically as the host nation, so the rest of the world will be competing for the remaining 31 places in the final.

As has been the case at past tournaments, most of the teams will come from Europe, which has 13 slots.

African teams have an interesting three years ahead of them, since this will be their first Fifa World Cup on home soil and in front of their own partisan fans.

Each of Africa's participating nations will therefore be doubly keen to secure one of the five berths available.

South America have been allocated four places, with a further slot available via a playoff with a team from the North, Central American and Caribbean Zone, who themselves have three guaranteed places.

Asia will be represented by four teams at the tournament, with a fifth berth also available via a playoff with the winners of the Oceania Zone.

Most of the teams that have successfully submitted their application by March 1 will go into the various pots for the preliminary draw, which will take place on November 23 2007 in Durban.

South Africa's second largest city will provide a picturesque backdrop to this widely followed event, where qualifying groups and ties will be drawn for all six confederations.

But by the time the draw takes place, some teams will have already got their campaigns under way, with the qualifying process in a number of confederations starting much earlier.

The first qualifying matches will be held as early as August, when the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) hosts the South Pacific Games from August 25 to September 8.

It will serve as a preliminary qualifying tournament for the Oceania Zone.

The top three teams will then go on to meet New Zealand in the OFC Nations Cup from September 8 to November 21 2007, with home and away games between the four teams to determine the winners and runners-up.

Five-time world champions Brazil will be in action from September or October this year, when the South American Zone begins its qualifying league.

Every country will play each other home and away, and most games will be played as part of a double match day (Wednesday to Saturday) format, to reduce the travel required for those players plying their trade in Europe.

Qualifying in the African Zone will also get under way towards the end of the year.

Should more than 48 nations apply to take part in the qualifying phase, then pre-qualifying matches will be held over two legs, on October 13-14 and 17-18.

The winners of these matches will then go into a 48-team pot for the draw on November 23.

The final areas to join in the fun are the European, Asian and the North, Central American and Caribbean zones, where the race to qualify will only begin after the draw in Durban.

Security in the various stadiums where the qualifying rounds will take place is, of course, a priority. - Fifa website