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Nov 18, 2009

Villain Henry as Ireland, Ukraine, Russia exit in play-offs

All 32 World Cup finalists are now decided after play-offs in Europe, Africa, and the cross-federation tie between Uruguay and Costa Rica confirmed the continents' representatives in South Africa.

• The final qualifiers
• World Cup Gallery
• Jon Carter on Algeria
• Mark Lomas: Hiddink remains a wanted man

Thierry Henry will not be granted the freedom of Ireland after his nefarious part in the goal that decided France's play-off with Ireland. It surely sent the Emerald Isle into a fervent rage they may long hold against the Barcelona striker after a 1-1 draw in Paris.

With Robbie Keane scoring the goal that placed the tie level at the Stade De France, and Ireland missing chances through both Keane and Damien Duff, justice will not be seen to have been served to a France team that continued to struggle under embattled coach Raymond Domenech. Extra-time dawned, after Nicolas Anelka had failed to secure a penalty with what looked a clear dive.

In the 103rd minute, a Florient Malouda free-kick found Henry. He used two clear touches of his hand to control the ball and then pass across the goal for an embarassed-looking William Gallas to nod in. Ireland and manager Giovanni Trapattoni flew into a justified rage. They exit the tournament with their dignity intact though, while France, losing finalists in 2006, deserve to be sheepish about their presence in South Africa. Their players - Henry especially - certainly looked so.

Andriy Shevchenko and Ukraine will not be in South Africa. The 2006 quarter-finalists were defeated in their own Donetsk backyard by a Greece team masterminded by Otto Rehhagel, the man who led Hellas to glory at Euro 2004. Dimitris Salpigidis was the deliverer of Greek tragedy to Ukraine. His clipped finish, hit with a coolness that belied the occasion, in the 31st minute gave Greece a 1-0 platform to defend.

Shevchenko, in what may be one of his last forays in the international arena, was culpable, missing a wondrous chance with the Greek goal gaping. Greek 'keeper Alexandros Tzorvas was the hero as Rehhagel's men held on and Greece are in their first finals since 1994.

Cristiano Ronaldo is in his second World Cup finals and he can thank his Portugual team-mates for their professional despatching of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica. Raúl Meireles burst from midfield on to a Nani pass to score a vital away goal that killed the tie following the weekend's 1-0 win in the first leg.

Bosnian tempers frayed as their team failed to convert a number of chances. When referee Roberto Rosetti sent off Sejad Salihovic for dissent, his Italian assistant was hit by a missile launched by angry fans. Bosnian hopes collapsed with that regrettable incident and Ronaldo, resting that injured ankle in Madrid, has his dream of returning to the finals.

There will also be no Russia in South Africa. Having led 2-0 at one point in their first leg with Slovenia only to concede an away goal, that late concession proved costly as Guus Hiddink's men were rocked by a Zlatko Dedic goal that placed the tie in Slovenian hands. And Slovenia held on to their 1-0 lead.

Russia failed to find an away goal in Maribor and then completely lost their cool with the sending off of Alexander Kerzhakov for a clash with goalkeeper Samir Handanovic that looked to have the Slovenia man in the wrong. Referee Terje Hauge saw it differently and sent off the Russian, and later dismissed Yuri Zhirkov for a second bookable offence after a clash with Slovenian subs.

It had taken an extra play-off to divide avowed rivals Algeria and Egypt and it was the Algerians who were 1-0 victors in the neutral venue of Khartoum, Sudan. African champions Egypt had looked marginally the better of the teams approaching half-time before a wonderful volley from Antar Yahia in the 39th minute gave the Desert Foxes a lead they protected.

Egypt had opportunities in the second-half but they were all half-chances save for a shot from sub Mohamed Zidan that was saved well by Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi. Egypt slumped in misery as full-time rang in Sudan and Algeria celebrated reaching their first finals since 1986.

The very last place of all was booked by Uruguay, winners of the first ever World Cup in 1930, after a 1-1 home draw with Costa Rica. Rain lashed down in Montevideo yet the quality of play was good between the pair. Uruguay took a 1-0 lead from their intercontinental play-off first leg with their Central American opponents and needed it.

Sebastian Abreu headed the home side ahead in the 69th minute to frenzied celebration from the home fans but nerves were frayed when the Ticos' Walter Centeno equalised four minutes later and left the game on a knife-edge. Costa Rica never managed to get the away goal they required to go through and Uruguay, who could have scored more late on, are back in the finals for the first time since 2002.

They join 31 other teams, after a qualifying tournament that began across the globe in October 2007, in the finals draw that takes place in Cape Town on December 4.

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