Reigning champions Italy and fellow European heavyweights Germany made sure of their places at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with victories on Saturday. The celebrations were not confined to those two countries, however, with Denmark, Serbia, Côte d'Ivoire, Chile, USA and Mexico also securing qualification at the weekend.
The play-off picture in Europe also became clearer with Republic of Ireland, Russia, France and Bosnia-Herzegovina all clinching the runners-up spot in their respective sections.
Marcello Lippi's Italy snatched the point they needed to win Group 8 and advance thanks to a last-minute Alberto Gilardino equaliser in a 2-2 draw in Dublin. Republic of Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni looked to have secured a famous victory over his compatriots when Sean St Ledger headed the hosts in front for the second time with three minutes remaining. But the prospect of climbing within a point of the world champions vanished with substitute Gilardino's strike, leaving the Irish to settle for the play-off place they were already guaranteed before kick-off thanks to Bulgaria's defeat in Cyprus.
Miroslav Klose's 34th-minute strike earned Germany a 1-0 win in Moscow that guaranteed their presence in South Africa and consigned Russia to a second-placed finish in Group 4. In Group 1, Denmark defeated neighbours Sweden 1-0 through Jacob Poulsen's 79th-minute goal - his first in international football - to confirm their return to the world stage after missing out on Germany 2006.
Serbia secured qualification in style, with Nikola Zigic, Marko Pantelic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Milan Javanovic (2) on target in a 5-0 win over Romania in Group 7. Below them, France ensured their place in the play-offs with an identical home victory over Faroe Islands, Andre Pierre Gignac (2), William Gallas, Nicolas Anelka and Karim Benzema the names on the scoresheet for Les Bleus.
Bosnia-Herzegovina moved a step closer to their first FIFA World Cup appearance by booking their play-off berth with a 2-0 win in Estonia. German Bundesliga-based forwards Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic got the goals that left their coach Miroslav Blazevic contemplating a return to the world stage on which he achieved such great things with Croatia in 1998.
In Africa, Côte d'Ivoire earned their ticket to their second successive FIFA World Cup after fighting back to get the point they needed in a 1-1 draw with Malawi. Didier Drogba was the hero once again for the Elephants, his 67th-minute equaliser tying up first place in Group E.
Chile won 4-2 in Colombia to become the third South American side to qualify, while Mexico and USA beat El Salvador and Honduras respectively to join them.
The full list of qualifiers is;
Africa: Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, South Africa (as hosts).
Asia: Australia, Japan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic.
Europe: Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Serbia, Spain.
South America: Brazil, Paraguay.