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November 20, 2009

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Russia out but Greece, Portugal make it

THE final lineup of teams for next year's World Cup in South Africa was settled yesterday after six drama-charged playoffs on three different continents.

France joined Slovenia, Greece and Portugal as the last four qualifiers from Europe. Algeria snatched the last African spot while the World Cup's inaugural champion Uruguay grabbed the 32nd and final berth.

Unlike Ireland, Slovenia managed to clinch an upset by knocking out Russia which paid a heavy price for not wrapping up the first leg on Saturday when it allowed Slovenia a late goal in a 2-1 win.

Russia's late lapse proved costly in Maribor as Zlatko Dedic scored the only goal just before the break. That was enough to give Slovenia a 1-0 win and the tie on the away goals rule as it reached the World Cup finals for the second time since joining FIFA in 1992.

Russia finished with nine men after substitute Alexander Kerzhakov and Yuri Zhirkov were sent off.

Greece, held to a 0-0 draw by Ukraine in Athens on Saturday, went to Donetsk as underdogs, but stunned the home team by winning 1-0 with a first-half goal from Dimitris Salpigidis.

Coach Otto Rehhagel, who took charge of Greece in 2001 and steered it to the 2004 European title, will be involved in the World Cup for the first time in his 50-year career.

Portugal clinched its place 2-0 on aggregate, following up Saturday's 1-0 home win over Bosnia with another 1-0 win thanks to midfielder Raul Meireles who silenced a raucous 15,000 home fans in a cauldron of the Bilino Polje stadium after 56 minutes.

Uruguay advanced 2-1 on aggregate after its 1-1 home draw to Costa Rica in the second leg of the South American/CONCACAF playoff.

Substitute striker Sebastian Abreu gave the South Americans the lead with 20 minutes to go at the Centenario, where it won its first World Cup in 1930, before Costa Rica captain Walter Centeno equalized three minutes later. The draw was enough for Uruguay to advance.


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