The tournament's Super Eight phase opens on Saturday with five teams having seized the inside running for the four available World Cup places, and the remaining three contenders will have to make up ground quickly if they are to have any chance of achieving the big prize.

For Afghanistan and Namibia, who enter the second phase without any points from the group stage, it already seems that a more realistic target is ODI status, and to pull that off they would probably need to win three of their four games.

Kabir Khan's men have continued to improve, and their achievements in pushing the Dutch all the way and then scoring 251 for eight against the UAE are testimony to how far they have come.

The batting remains unreliable, but their attack is consistent and varied enough to trouble many a more experienced side, and they might just have a shock or two in their locker before this tournament is over.

Namibia, who squeezed into the Super Eights courtesy of a remarkable effort by Oman against Uganda, have been one of the big disappointments of the competition so far, and it will take a huge reversal of form if they are to climb out of the lower reaches of the table.

But they remain a dangerous side, and if their key allrounders, Gerrie Snyman and Sahel Burger, were to receive more support from their team-mates, they too could upset the plans of their more fancied rivals.

The other main underachievers have been Scotland, who seemingly hit rock bottom when they were dismissed for a miserable 104 by Canada on Wednesday.

If either Afghanistan or Namibia begin to climb and their form does not improve, even their continuing ODI status could come into question, while they probably need to win at least three of their four Super Eight matches to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup.

They have triple centurion Neil McCallum and Kyle Coetzer to thank that things are not even worse: Navdeep Poonia, Gavin Hamilton and Colin Smith have each played one significant innings, but in their remaining twelve knocks have mustered only 63 runs between them, while skipper Ryan Watson has had a terrible tournament so far with only 42 in five innings.

The bowling has fared a little better, with Jan Stander the leading wicket-taker, but even there all has not been well, and the fact that Oman got to within 10 runs of a target of 275 against them reflects that fact.

The return of spearhead John Blain will make a difference, but Scotland will need a massive effort if they are to challenge the top sides, starting with The Netherlands in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Four teams start the Super Eights with two wins and a loss, and barring an Irish catastrophe at least one of them will not make it to the World Cup.

The UAE start with the disadvantage of a heavily negative net run rate, the legacy of their overwhelming defeat at the hands of Kenya.

They have a top-class batsman in Saqib Ali and a potentially devastating one in Amjad Javed, and the rest of the top order are capable of more than useful contributions. It's their bowling, however, which is their greater asset, with seamer Zahid Shah among the leading wicket-takers in the competition.

They start the second phase with a game against Namibia in Pretoria, which will surely be crucial to the further fortunes of both sides.

Ahead of them are The Netherlands, whom they beat in a group match where they had distinctly the better of the conditions, and made full use of them.

The great strength of the Dutch is their batting: most of the top and middle order have contributed important innings, with Ryan ten Doeschate and Alexei Kervezee making hundreds and Eric Szwarczynski and Bas Zuiderent showing admirable consistency.

It's the bowling which raises the questions, but Edgar Schiferli has proved an outstanding spearhead with 12 wickets so far, and with Mudassar Bukhari and Pieter Seelaar performing better in the last couple of games, Darron Reekers chipping in with some wonderfully controlled spells, and Peter Borren due to return after injury, they will be hoping to be more than a match for their opponents in this area.

The probable departure of Ten Doeschate before the Ireland and Canada games is, of course, a blow, especially since the match against Canada could be a contest for a World Cup place, or even a spot in the tournament final. His absence will affect the balance of the side, but the squad has enough strength in depth to raise hopes that they will be able to repeat their victory over Canada in a warm-up game.

The Canadians have performed very well so far, with centuries for John Davison, Geoff Barnett and Sunil Dhaniram, and solid contributions from Ash Bagai and the rest of the batsmen. The injury to Davison which has ruled him out for the rest of the tournament is, however, a massive blow.

Their new-ball attack of Umar Bhatti and Henry Osinde is one of the best and most experienced in the competition, and in Khurram Chauhan they have a first-change seamer who is among the leading wicket-takers.

Their first Super Eight game, against Kenya in Benoni, is massively important, and whoever wins it will have taken a big step towards qualifying for the World Cup.

The Kenyans bounced back strongly from an opening-day loss to The Netherlands, demolishing the UAE and going on to win all their remaining games.

The return of Alex Obanda has greatly strengthened the batting, and with Kennedy Otieno, Maurice Ouma and Steve Tikolo all in the runs they have as powerful a top order as anybody.

Their four-man seam attack of Thomas Odoyo, Peter Ongondo, Lameck Onyango and Nehemiah Odhiambo is also an enviable resource, and in Hiren Varaiya and Jimmy Kamande they have a pair of very effective spinners.

They are, in short, an outstandingly well-balanced side, and despite that loss to the Dutch perhaps represent the main threat to Ireland for the title.

The Irish have so far carried all before them, never losing more than four wickets in going through the group phase unbeaten.

Their top order of William Porterfield, Gary Wilson, Eoin Morgan, and Niall and Kevin O' Brien has been in awesome form, although Wilson's consecutive ducks against Canada and Namibia, lasting a total of five balls, will be a slight cause for concern.

Greater concern will come from their mounting injury problems, with André Botha now officially out of the tournament and replaced by Phil Eaglestone, Kyle McCallan also on the injured list, and Trent Johnston struggling for fitness.

But with seamers Boyd Rankin and Peter Connell and spinner Regan West all taking wickets, their attack remains a menacing one, capable of causing problems for any opponent.

They start their Super Eight campaign with games against Afghanistan in Krugersdorp on Saturday and then the UAE, however, and wins in these two matches would clinch their World Cup place.

That's unlikely to be enough, however, for an Irish outfit looking to prove that they are top dogs in all forms of the Associate game.