Belgium, Germany and Switzerland became the latest nations to book their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Friday, securing top spot in their respective groups with one qualifying fixture left to play. Also likely to join the trio next week are Russia and Spain, barring a huge shock in their final matches.
With Italy and the Netherlands having already qualified from the European Zone, the four remaining automatic places will be determined on Tuesday 15 October. Four more slots will subsequently be allocated to the winners of play-offs between the eight second-placed sides with the best records.
The big matchEngland 4-1 Montenegro
Goals: Wayne Rooney 49, Branko Boskovic 62 (OG), Andros Townsend 77, Daniel Sturridge 90+3 (England); Dejan Damjanovic 71 (Montenegro)
At half-time this match looked like it could still go either way, despite the English having dominated possession and accumulated several corners.
Having failed to seriously test the Montenegrin rearguard in the first period, Wayne Rooney again came to the rescue in the second, knocking in a rebound – his sixth goal of the Three Lions’ qualifying campaign – after Daniel Sturridge’s effort had been parried by visiting goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic.
England found themselves in the driving seat on the hour mark, when Montenegro defender Branko Boskovic inadvertently turned a harmless cross into his own net. But a lack of concentration in the English defence saw Dejan Damjanovic, who deftly deflected a wayward Fatos Beciraj shot past Joe Hart, bring the Balkan side back into the match.
The home team would eventually seal the points in the 77th minute, however, international debutant Andros Townsend firing home a long-range right-footed shot in off the post. Daniel Sturridge put the icing on the cake from the spot in stoppage time.
The other games Group A*
*Croatia 1-2 Belgium
Wales 1-0 FYR Macedonia
Demonstrating composure, opportunism and no little talent, Belgium qualified for the World Cup on Friday evening for the 12th time, and for the first time in 12 years. Marc Wilmots’ men took the lead in 38 minutes through the outstanding Romelu Lukaku, who was played through by Steven Defour. The powerful 20-year-old’s second came from a speedy counter-attack led by Marouane Fellaini.
Despite a strong push from Croatia in the second half, which culminated in a fine goal from Nico Kranjcar, the Belgians’ superior technique proved crucial to picking up their eighth win of the campaign. The Croatians, who still have to take on a rejuvenated Scotland, are nevertheless almost certain of advancing to the play-off round.
*Armenia 2-1 Bulgaria
Malta 1-4 Czech Republic
Denmark 2-2 Italy
By claiming victory over nine-man Bulgaria three minutes from time through a Yura Movsisyan strike, Armenia brought themselves right back into contention for second place, in a group where four teams are separated by one point.
The Czech Republic, who disposed of Malta 4-1, and a Nicklas Bendtner-inspired Denmark, who were held at home by an understrength Italy XI, can still entertain hopes of making the play-offs.
*Faroe Islands 1-1 Kazakhstan
Germany 3-0 Republic of Ireland
Sweden 2-1 Austria
There was no surprise in Cologne, where Germany saw off Ireland to guarantee their qualification for Brazil 2014. Sami Khedira, Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil got the goals, with Toni Kroos providing two assists.
Elsewhere, Austria made Sweden sweat in Solna, scoring a first-half opener via Stuttgart’s Martin Harnik, before succumbing to the skills of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the second period.
First, his delightful cross enabled Martin Olsson to equalise with a diving header. And then, four minutes from the final whistle, the PSG forward ran on to Kim Kallstrom’s long ball and finished with aplomb, ensuring Sweden’s presence in the play-offs.
*Netherlands 8-1 Hungary
Andorra 0-4 Romania
Estonia 0-2 Turkey
Far behind the Netherlands, who put on a masterclass against Hungary in a match that featured a hat-trick from Robin van Persie, Romania and Turkey held firm to emerge victorious from important away encounters.
The two teams, who lie nine points off the pace set by the Dutch, now find themselves neck-and-neck with one game to play. The Romanians, who host Estonia, will be favourites to clinch the play-off place, given that the Turks must beat the Oranje *in Istanbul *to be in with a chance.
*Iceland 2-0 Cyprus
Albania 1-2 Switzerland
Slovenia 3-0 Norway
Switzerland just needed a point, but they ended up pocketing all three in Albania to book their slot at FIFA’s flagship event. Xherdan Shaqiri and Michael Lang did the damage for the Helvetians.
In the section’s other matches, Slovenia effectively eliminated Norway courtesy of a Milivoje Novakovic hat-trick. The Scandinavians could still fulfil the role of kingmakers, as they welcome a revelatory Iceland to Oslo, while Slovenia, who are a point behind in third, will likely need to pick up a win in Switzerland.
*Luxembourg 0-4 Russia
Portugal 1-1 Israel
Azerbaijan 2-0 Northern Ireland
Portugal, who appeared to be heading towards a closely contested home win over Israel, cracked five minutes from the end to virtually throw away their chances of automatic qualification. Cristiano Ronaldo and Co went ahead after half an hour, Ricardo Costa getting on the end of Pepe’s clever ball.
But, as the encounter wore on, the Israelis began to see more of the ball, and eventually levelled through Eden Ben Basat , who was gifted the ball by Portuguese ’keeper Rui Patricio.
As the Russians did what was expected of them in Luxembourg, a draw in Azerbaijan on Tuesday will be sufficient for Fabio Capello’s charges to begin arranging their travel plans.
*Lithuania 2-0 Latvia
Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-1 Liechtenstein
Greece 1-0 Slovakia
The fearsome Bosnian attack showed its teeth again versus Liechtenstein, with Edin Dzeko, who bagged a brace, in particularly clinical form. But in order to secure a maiden World Cup qualification, Safet Susic’s players will need to scoop three points in Lithuania next week.
The reason? Greece’s triumph at home to Slovakia, which keeps them level on points with the Bosnians. A Martin Skrtel own goal decided the contest, after Slovakian No1 Jan Mucha let the ball slip under his foot.
*Moldova 3-0 San Marino
Ukraine 1-0 Poland
The Ukrainians kept themselves in the hunt by defeating Poland, safe in the knowledge that a victory over San Marino on the final matchday will guarantee them second place at worst.
All eyes will be on England’s game with Poland at Wembley, where a slip-up by the home side could see Ukraine steal top spot.
*Spain 2-1 Belarus
Deprived of numerous starters through injury, world champions Spain ground out three points against Belarus, captain Xavi and on-song Alvaro Negredo grabbing the goals. Boasting a three-point lead and a superior goal difference, it would take a turnaround of cataclysmic proportions for *La Roja not to qualify automatically.
*The player *Lauded as the next big thing for some time now, the imposing figure of Romelu Lukaku once again showed what he is capable of in Zagreb, scoring a clinical brace and exhibiting pace and power throughout, especially when chasing down his second goal.
The young Belgian, who already has 23 caps to his name, was loaned out to Everton from Chelsea at the start of the season, and has scored four goals in four games so far for the Toffees.
The goal *Albania 0-1 Switzerland (Xherdan Shaqiri 48)
*The Bayern Munich midfielder, demonstrating a cool head, controlled the ball just inside the area, prior to slotting it past Etrit Berisha in the Albanian goal. His strike set the tone for the Swiss, who went on to qualify courtesy of a 2-1 success.
The stat 18 – The number of times that Germany has now qualified for the final stages of a World Cup, an achievement that draws them level with Italy. It is Brazil who hold the record, advancing to the finals via a qualifying phase on a remarkable 20 occasions.
In addition, Germany’s defeat of the Irish sees them extend their unbeaten run in qualifying to 22 matches. The last team to beat them was England (5-1) in September 2001.
Have your sayWill Romania or Turkey finish second in Group D?