Switzerland and Slovakia became the last two European sides to book automatic places at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after clinching top spot in groups 2 and 3 respectively on the final day of qualifiers.
The four remaining tickets to the global showcase from the European Zone will be decided on 18 November after home-and-away play-off ties between the eight best second-placed teams. The biggest names from the Old Continent to miss out altogether are Sweden, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia, Bulgaria and Scotland. Only Spain, with ten wins, and the Netherlands, with eight, managed to pick up maximum points along the way.
The qualified teams
FIFA World Cup: Denmark (Gr 1), Switzerland (Gr 2), Slovakia (Gr 3), Germany (Gr 4), Spain (Gr 5), England (Gr 6), Serbia (Gr 7), Italy (Gr 8), Netherlands (Gr 9)
Play-offs: Portugal (Gr 1), Greece (Gr 2), Slovenia (Gr 3), Russia (Gr 4), Bosnia-Herzegovina (Gr 5), Ukraine (Gr 6), France (Gr 7), Republic of Ireland (Gr 8)
The big game
Poland 0-1 Slovakia
Goal: Seweryn Gancarczyk 3 og (Slovakia)
Slovakia's entire campaign boiled down to 90 minutes on a snow-covered pitch in the midst of a blizzard, but nothing - especially not the conditions - was about to deny the determined visitors. The pressure was mostly applied by Poland during the game, but on an early Slovakian sortie the unfortunate Gancarczyk deflected the ball into his own net to hand Vladimir Weiss's charges a breakthrough. After that, they held off both their opponents and the weather to protect the three points required to secure a trip to South Africa next summer. As for Poland, they gave everything despite having nothing to play for, with poor finishing ultimately letting them down.
The other games
Portugal completed their remarkable comeback by putting together a dominant 4-0 victory over Malta that earned them the play-off berth from Group 1. Nani, Simao, Miguel and Adinho grabbed the goals in the absence of injured forward Cristiano Ronaldo. Elsewhere, Sweden's healthy 4-1 win over Albania counted for nothing in the wake of Saturday's damaging loss to Denmark, while the section winners themselves followed up sealing qualification in that match by succumbing at home to Hungary.
Switzerland demonstrated impressive calm to complete their task in Group 2 as they collected the point they needed to sew up top spot by drawing 0-0 with Israel. In second, Greece saw off Luxembourg 2-1 to confirm their passage to the play-offs.
The leading duo in Group 4 both suffered taxing evenings, although any lingering tension in the section had been resolved at the weekend. Still, Germany had to wait until the final minute to preserve their unbeaten record as Lukas Podolski earned them a 1-1 stalemate with an enterprising Finland side, who also held them 3-3 earlier in the campaign and were the sole team to deny them points. Runners-up Russia had Andrei Arshavin to thank for their 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan, meanwhile.
Despite fielding an unfamiliar line-up, Spain put in a scintillating performance away against play-off hopefuls Bosnia-Herzegovina to mastermind a 5-2 triumph in Group 5, having led 5-0 until the 89th minute. The European champions proved their back-up players have the talent to match the starters, with Sevilla marksman Alvaro Negredo helping himself to two strikes and an assist as Spain ended qualifying with a record of 30 points, 28 goals for and just five against. For their part, Turkey emerged 2-0 winners in their historic meeting with Armenia, with the game itself mattering more than the result.
Ukraine held on to the play-off place in Group 6 as six different players found the back of the net in their 6-0 victory over Andorra. Croatia's Niko Kranjcar hit a stoppage-time winner in their 2-1 success in Kazakhstan, but it was not enough to lift them up into second. Top dogs England bounced back from their surprise setback in Ukraine to see off Belarus 3-0 thanks to a Peter Crouch double.
In Group 7, already-qualified Serbia suffered their second defeat of the campaign, 2-1 in Lithuania, while France boosted their morale ahead of the play-offs by dispatching Austria 3-1.
Trailing Cyprus 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play, Marcello Lippi's slightly experimental Italy side turned their situation around on home soil thanks to a late hat-trick from Alberto Gilardino. That allowed the world champions to sign off without having suffered a single defeat in Group 8, something play-off aspirants the Republic of Ireland can also boast after they recorded a goalless draw at home to Montenegro. Bulgaria made up for the disappointment of missing out by inflicting a 6-2 defeat on Georgia, Dimitar Berbatov scoring three times.
The stat 43 - Ukraine veteran Andriy Shevchenko has now struck 43 goals in 92 outings for his country, with 23 of those efforts coming in FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The 33-year-old grabbed his latest from the penalty spot on Wednesday as he got his team rolling towards the win they needed to stay in the play-off equation.
* Goal of the day*
Germany 1-1 Finland (Jonatan Johansson 11)
Johansson dispossessed Heiko Westermann in the area and buried the ball with ease past Rene Adler. His may not have been the most spectacular effort of the evening but it was without doubt the 34-year-old striker's most important as he celebrated his 100th cap in perfect fashion, before going on to harry the German defence for the next 80 minutes as well.
The draw for the play-offs will be held at the Home of FIFA in Zurich at 14:00 on 19 October, with live video of the event accessible via FIFA.com. The four seeded teams will be chosen according to the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which will be published on 16 October at 10:00. After the first legs are held on 14 November, the ties will be completed four days later.
Have Your Say
Which of Europe's qualified teams do you think can go all the way in South Africa?