Final four win through in Europe
© AFP

The last remaining tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ from the European Zone were handed out on Wednesday as France, Portugal, Slovenia and Greece won their play-off ties against Republic of Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia and Ukraine respectively.

Those four teams will join up with nine more sides from the Old Continent next summer, in the shape of qualifying group winners Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy and the Netherlands.

Ukraine 0-1 Greece (first leg 0-0)
Goal: Dimitrios Salpingidis 31 (Greece)

The story of the game
'King Otto' struck again thanks to a 4-5-1 formation which featured a forward on either flank behind lone striker Angelos Charisteas. Otto Rehhagel’s men went ahead just beyond the half-hour and held on to stun their hosts, who focused all their efforts around feeding Andriy Shevchenko and lacked the imagination to truly trouble Greece’s solid rearguard. The visitors' performance recalled their opportunistic displays on the road to UEFA EURO 2004 glory as they booked a spot in only their second-ever FIFA World Cup finals.

The key moment
Greece broke quickly from the back with just over 30 minutes played and as they looked to get forward at pace, Georgios Samaras picked out Dimitrios Salpingidis on the edge of the area with a fine through pass. The Panathinaikos striker, who finished top scorer in the Greek league in 2006, was then able to tap a left-footed effort past Andriy Pyatov and inside the far post.

The man of the match
Now 32, Georgios Karagounis remains as sprightly as ever. The Greece captain reigned supreme in midfield, ordering his defenders into position, orchestrating counter-attacks with his trademark vision and tackling with determination. This may have been his 90th cap since 1999, but Karagounis played with the hunger of a player ten years younger.

Slovenia 1-0 Russia (first leg 1-2)
Goal: Zlatko Dedic 44 (Slovenia)

The story of the game
Slovenia went through the entire group phase without suffering a loss or even conceding a goal in Maribor and they continued in the same vein in what was an intense physical duel. Russia finished with nine players and were never able to impose their will on the match, falling into the trap of failing to keep their cool while also wasting their chances. In contrast, Matjaz Kek’s men enjoyed fewer opportunities but proved more efficient to qualify on away goals for the second FIFA World Cup of their young history. As for Guus Hiddink, he narrowly missed out on qualifying for a fourth consecutive final tournament at the helm of a different team.

The key moment
Moments before half-time, Valter Birsa swung in a probing pass from the right towards two of his team-mates and a pair of Russian defenders. Making space for himself between both markers, Zlatko Dedic connected with the ball to poke it beyond Igor Afinkeev.

The man of the match
West Bromwich Albion midfielder Robert Koren worked exceedingly hard for the full 90 minutes as he set the tempo for the whole team. Winning his 43rd cap, the 29-year-old can never have put in a more complete performance.

Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-1 Portugal (first leg 0-1)
Goal: Raul Meireles 56 (Portugal)

The story of the game
Facing a highly motivated Bosnia-Herzegovina side, Portugal showed real maturity to come out on top. Never letting themselves be ruffled, they rode out the early storm and slowly began to make their superior technique tell against their physically powerful opponents. As time ticked away, Miroslav Blazevic's troops increasingly lost their focus and they finished the match a man down after Sejad Salihovic saw red on 77 minutes. Portugal can now look forward to contesting their fifth FIFA World Cup finals and their third in a row.

The key moment
With almost an hour gone, Nani did well to take himself away from two defenders before sliding a ball across to the unmarked Raul Meireles. The Porto player needed no further prompting and confidently fired his team ahead with a shot into the corner.

The man of the match
Portugal’s most dangerous initiatives all seemed to come from Nani, the Manchester United winger setting up his side's goal as well as unleashing a number of shots that troubled goalkeeper Kenan Hasagic. His excellent technique on the ball also allowed him to hold on to possession and slowly extinguish the Bosnians' ardour.

France 1-1 Republic of Ireland (first leg 1-0)
Goals: William Gallas 103 (France); Robbie Keane 32 (Republic of Ireland)

The story of the game
Hosts France were kept completely quiet in the first half by an Ireland team burning with passion, conviction and the desire to battle for every ball. Robbie Keane’s strike not long after the half-hour was just reward for the efforts the visitors had put in and it took heroics from France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to limit the damage to one goal. Les Bleus came into the contest after the break but remained vulnerable to Irish attacks, meaning the tie had to be resolved in extra time, when William Gallas equalised to send his team through to their fourth consecutive finals.

The key moment
After 180 hard-fought minutes, the fate of both teams was decided by a moment of drama in extra time when Gallas bundled the ball home to win the match for Les Bleus after being set up by Thierry Henry, who later admitted that he had handled in the build-up.

Yet, depsite the goal, the outcome remained in the balance until the very last second, and when the final whistle was blown the disappointed Irish could hold their heads up high.

The man of the match
France have long been looking for a successor to Fabien Barthez and they have found the perfect candidate in Hugo Lloris. In this game, as in the opening leg, the Lyon No1 bolstered his burgeoning reputation with a string of top-class saves.