The final matchday of the European qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ saw group winners Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Russia and Spain join already-qualified Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland on the plane to Brazil.
The last four available places from the European Zone will be allocated to the teams that emerge victorious from play-offs between the eight runners-up with the best records, namely Croatia, France, Greece, Iceland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Ukraine.
As the second-placed team with the ninth-best record, Denmark miss out altogether.
Seeding for the play-offs will be determined by teams’ placings in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, which will be unveiled in Zurich on Thursday at 10 am (CET).
The big match
England 2-0 Poland
*Goals: Wayne Rooney 41, Steven Gerrard 88 *
Welcomed by the derogatory whistles of around 20,000 Polish supporters present in Wembley Stadium, England took control of the match early on, but had to remain wary against a lively visiting team with nothing to lose.
Steven Gerrard and his team-mates created numerous chances, but struggled to find a way past an on-song Wojciech Szczesny. The Three Lions dominated possession, but continually left themselves open to threatening counter-attacks that tested the handling skills of Joe Hart.
It was Wayne Rooney who finally made the difference, burying a powerful header just before the break. There was no let-up in the intensity of the encounter in the second half, as England recorded no fewer than 27 shots on goal, but they had to wait until the 88th minute to seal the points, Gerrard setting a captain’s example by racing through and poking the ball into the net.
The other games
Belgium 1-1 Wales
Scotland 2-0 Croatia
Serbia 5-1 FYR Macedonia
Having already secured their ticket for next year’s festivities, Belgium appeared to take their foot off the pedal somewhat against Wales, but nevertheless ensured that their unbeaten record remained intact. **
Les Diables Rouges top the final standings by nine points, following Croatia’s disappointing defeat versus a rejuvenated Scotland.
The Croatians, who put in a listless performance on the night, were slightly fortunate to make the play-offs in the end, finishing just one point better off than the worst-placed runner-up, Denmark.
Italy 2-2 Armenia
Bulgaria 0-1 Czech Republic
Denmark 6-0 Malta
The Italians will be pleased to have remained unbeaten, but they were made to work hard by a surprisingly resilient Armenian side, who twice led before succumbing to a Mario Balotelli leveller 15 minutes from time.
Elsewhere, Denmark claimed second place in this closely contested pool, courtesy of a resounding victory over Malta. But once their two wins against the group’s weakest team – Malta – were discounted, the Danes were left with just ten points, which was not enough to book them a place in the play-offs.
Sweden 3-5 Germany
Faroe Islands 0-3 Austria
Republic of Ireland 3-1 Kazakhstan
Despite the top two places having already been decided in this section, the teams in question put in an impressive show on Tuesday. Following on from their spectacular 4-4 draw earlier in the campaign, Sweden, minus Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Germany produced another eight-goal thriller for the enthralled crowd in Solna.
Trailing 2-0 after 42 minutes, the Germans came back into the match through Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, before stretching ahead via an Andre Schurrle hat-trick. Consequently, Germany finish eight points ahead of the Swedes, who will now have to contend with the play-off round.
Group DTurkey 0-2 Netherlands
Hungary 2-0 Andorra
Romania 2-0 Estonia
The Netherlands, who were the first team to earn their ticket for Brazil 2014, registered their ninth success in Turkey, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder doing the damage. During their campaign, the Dutch scored an average of 3.4 goals per match, for only 0.5 conceded.
The Turks’ loss allowed Romania, who overcame Estonia with a Ciprian Marica brace, to slip in and snatch the play-off slot with a total of 13 points, once their two defeats of Andorra were removed from the equation.
Switzerland 1-0 Slovenia
Norway 1-1 Iceland
Cyprus 0-0 Albania
With seven triumphs, three draws and a seven-point cushion over their nearest challengers, Switzerland can be proud of the way in which they cruised through Group E. Despite having nothing to play for against Slovenia, the Helvetians chalked up another win courtesy of a goal from Granit Xhaka.
Iceland, arguably the revelation of the entire qualifying campaign, picked up the point they required in Norway and guaranteed themselves a historic play-off spot in the process.
Azerbaijan 1-1 Russia
Portugal 3-0 Luxembourg
Israel 1-1 Northern Ireland
Russia qualified for Brazil, but made their supporters bite their nails in the dying seconds of their match with Azerbaijan. Following a first-half opener from Roman Shirokov, the Russians pressed without managing to build on their lead, before reducing their efforts as the final whistle approached.
Vagif Javadov had not read the script, however, and headed a Mahir Shukurov cross into the net in the last minute for an unlikely Azerbaijani equaliser, much to Fabio Capello’s displeasure.
Second-placed Portugal, meanwhile, shrugged off the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo to see off Luxembourg 3-0, Silvestre Varela, Nani and Helder Postiga getting the goals.
Lithuania 0-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece 2-0 Liechtenstein
Latvia 2-2 Slovakia
For around an hour, the Greeks were mathematically qualified, Dimitrios Salpingidis’ early goal having placed severe pressure on the shoulders of the Bosnians, who were having great trouble breaking down Lithuania’s stubborn defence.
Finally, halfway through the second period, Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic combined to open the scoring and instantly provide relief to the long-suffering fans watching back home.
The Bosnians and Greeks finished on the same number of points, but as the former’s goal difference was three times better than that of their rivals, it is the Balkan side who advance to the World Cup for the first time in their history. Greece will now have to find their way there via the play-offs.
Group H* *
San Marino 0-8 Ukraine
Montenegro 2-5 Moldova
Ukraine acquired the result they needed in San Marino, but England's win at Wembley consigns them to the play-offs.
Spain 2-0 Georgia
France 3-0 Finland
France continued their fine run by beating Finland comfortably in Paris, but will still have to negotiate the play-offs if they wish to perform on South American soil next summer.
World Champions Spain did what was required of them, winning the group and conserving their unbeaten record by defeating Georgia via goals from Alvaro Negredo and Juan Mata.
Wayne Rooney has a useful tendency to come to the fore when the need is greatest. His crucial goal on Tuesday against Poland was his seventh in Group H, two fewer than he notched in qualifying for South Africa 2010.
The Manchester United forward thereby becomes the first player to finish top scorer for England in two successive World Cup qualifying campaigns.
France 1-0 Finland (Franck Ribery 8)
Fed by Mathieu Valbuena on the left-hand edge of the box, Franck Ribery drove back towards the middle, escaping the attentions of Kari Arkivuo. He then proceeded to unleash a powerful curling shot which flew in off the crossbar. Much like the excellent displays the Frenchman has put in thus far this season, the goal was simple and effective.
103– The number of caps now amassed by German captain Philipp Lahm, who draws level with legendary defender Franz Beckenbauer in sixth place in his country’s all-time appearances chart, and is now just two caps behind Jurgen Kohler. However, the Bayern Munich full-back still has some way to go before he gets within touching distance of record-holder Lothar Matthaus (150 caps).
Have your say
Which team has surprised you the most during the European qualifiers?