The Netherlands beat Iceland 2-1 to become the first European side to clinch their place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
England look all set to join the Dutch after notching their sixth straight win in Group 6. Fabio Capello's side won 4-0 in Kazakhstan to open up a seven-point lead over Croatia in second.
Group 1 leaders Denmark are also strongly placed after they defeated neighbours Sweden 1-0 to move seven and ten points ahead of group favourites Portugal and the Swedes respectively.
FIFA.com has these stories and more from the latest round of games in the European Zone qualifying competition.
The big match
Croatia 2-2 Ukraine
Goals: Mladen Petric 2, Luka Modric 68 (Croatia); Andriy Shevchenko 13, Olexiy Gay 54 (Ukraine)
The Croatians were indebted to Modric, also known as the Cruyff of the Balkans, for a draw against an ambitious Ukraine side expertly led up front by the ever-alert Shevchenko. The hosts relaxed after Petric had given them an early lead and were left to lament more dropped points in what now seems to be an unattainable bid to overhaul England.
Sweden 0-1 Denmark
Goal: Thomas Kahlenberg 22
The Swedes made a fast start, but were deflated when Kim Kallstrom missed a 12th-minute penalty. The well-organised visitors made their mark just ten minutes later when Wolfsburg playmaker Thomas Kahlenberg gave them a lead they would not relinquish, maintaining their unbeaten record in Group 1.
In other Group 1 action, Portugal survived a testing evening in Albania when Bruno Alves headed home in the final seconds of injury time to give them a potentially crucial 2-1 win. Hugo Almeida latched on to a Deco assist to put the Portuguese ahead after 27 minutes only for Erion Bogdani to restore parity almost immediately. Portugal's narrow escape keeps their chances of claiming at least a play-off spot alive.
Meanwhile in Group 3, Slovakia showed no mercy to San Marino, scoring seven goals without reply to leapfrog Northern Ireland at the top and enhance their goal difference. The Slovakians are now two points clear of the Irish with a game in hand.
Finland maintained their slender hopes of snatching a play-off place in Group 4 when they laboured to a 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein, while Wales salvaged a bit of pride by winning 1-0 in Azerbaijan.
England stretched their advantage at the summit of Group 6 to seven points when they capitalised on some generous Kazakh defending to prevail 4-0 in Almaty. The English have won all six of their games in the section, scoring 20 goals in the process, and with Croatia only drawing at home to Ukraine, they are virtually assured top spot in the group. Belarus nudged the Ukrainians out of third place after easing to a 5-1 defeat of Andorra.
Serbia squeezed past Austria 1-0 in an ill-tempered Group 7 match in which eight players were booked. The result heaps even more pressure on second-placed France, who now lie five points behind the Balkan tabletoppers. Romania put some gloss on their disappointing campaign with a creditable 1-0 triumph in Lithuania.
Italy's hopes of winning Group 8 received a boost when closest challengers Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria played out a 1-1 draw in Sofia. The Bulgarians' chances of reaching South Africa now look distant, while Giovanni Trapattoni's side, who had to make do without several first-choice players, remain on course for a play-off spot at worst. In the other game in the pool, Cyprus and Montenegro played out a 2-2 draw.
Lastly, the Netherlands made sure of first place in Group 9 as goals from Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel in the opening quarter of an hour were enough to give them three points against Iceland. Superior team play and deadly finishing have been the keys to the success of Bert van Marwijk's side, who lie an unassailable 11 points clear of second-placed Scotland.
8 - The number of FIFA World Cup qualifying wins that England have now strung together after their 4-0 defeat of Kazakhstan. The first two of those victories came in the qualification campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and have been followed by six further wins that have put Fabio Capello's charges within touching distance of South Africa 2010. Should England defeat Andorra on 10 June, they will equal their record of nine straight wins, achieved between 1949 and 1957.
Albania 1-2 Portugal (Bruno Alves 90)
Tiago's long ball into the Albanian penalty area in the final minute of stoppage time was met by Bruno Alves, who shrugged off the challenge of two defenders to get to the ball first and power an unstoppable header into the back of the net.
What they said
"We made the most of our excellent start to the game and although we didn't play that well in the second half, it doesn't really matter. We did what we came here to do and we're very happy to be going to South Africa next year." Netherlands midfielder Rafael van der Vaart
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