Italy (Group B) and the Netherlands (Group D) became the first two European nations to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Tuesday.
Germany (Group C), Switzerland (Group E) and Russia (Group F) also picked up important victories, and while they have not mathematically qualified, they can certainly begin to arrange their travel plans.
The penultimate matchday in the European Zone will take place on 11 October.
The big match
Ukraine 0-0 England
Taking to the pitch without any real experience up front, England put in a measured performance in Kiev, relying on counter-attacks and long-range strikes from Steven Gerrard. The Ukrainians applied significant pressure on the English rearguard, often attacking down the channels but lacking finesse in their final touch. In fact, their best chance came from a set piece, when Yevhen Konoplyanka’s free-kick flew just wide. The stalemate sees the Three Lions maintain a precious one-point lead at the top of Group H, and they now have a month to welcome back a host of injured players before the visits of Montenegro and Poland.**
The other gamesGroup A
FYR Macedonia 1-2 Scotland
Wales 0-3 Serbia
With nothing at stake but pride, Serbia and Scotland recorded creditable away wins over Wales – for whom Gareth Bale appeared for an hour – and Macedonia respectively. The results have no effect on the leading pair, Belgium and Croatia, who do not play until October.
Armenia 0-1 Denmark
Italy 2-1 Czech Republic
Malta 1-2 Bulgaria
The Italians booked their berth at the FIFA World Cup for the 18th time, but made life hard for themselves versus the Czechs, who led for over half an hour in Turin. La Nazionale drew level through a Giorgio Chiellini header early in the second half, before turning the match on its head three minutes later via a penalty from Mario Balotelli, who thereby made up for a poor first-half display.
In the battle for second, Denmark secured a crucial success in Armenia, despite an energetic showing from the home side. Daniel Agger’s spot kick keeps the Danes in the hunt just behind Bulgaria, who ground out a 2-1 victory in Malta, Radoslav Dimitrov and Emil Gargorov grabbing the goals.
Kazakhstan 0-1 Sweden
Faroe Islands 0-3 Germany
Austria 1-0 Republic of Ireland
Germany continued their unbeaten run in Group C (seven wins, one draw) by disposing of the Faroes 3-0 in Torshavn, but will have to wait until October to officially book their passage to Brazil.
The reason? Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in the first minute of Sweden’s clash with Kazakhstan, which not only earned three points for the Scandinavians but also kept a five-point gap between them and the Germans, who they face at home on the final matchday.
Elsewhere, Austria emerged victorious from a tight encounter with Republic of Ireland courtesy of a goal from David Alaba, setting themselves up for a pivotal duel with Sweden on 11 October in the process.
Romania 0-2 Turkey
Andorra 0-2 Netherlands
Hungary 5-1 Estonia
Without ever setting their fans’ pulses racing, the Dutch advanced to Brazil by overcoming Andorra through a brace from the free-scoring Robin van Persie.
Further back, just one point separates the three teams vying for the play-off spot. Hungary comfortably saw off Estonia and now find themselves in second place, one point ahead of the Turks, who triumphed in Romania, in a match that featured another goal from the on-form Burak Yilmaz.
Norway 0-2 Switzerland
Iceland 2-1 Albania
Cyprus 0-2 Slovenia
The Swiss took a giant step towards Brazil 2014 by putting in a composed display to beat Norway in Oslo. La Nati have not yet mathematically qualified, but with a five-point lead and just two games to go, they look certain to achieve their aim.
Iceland, meanwhile, had Birkir Bjarnason and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson to thank for their 2-1 win over Albania, and move into second slot in the section. Slovenia pocketed three points in Cyprus to stay in with a chance of snatching a play-off berth, but Norway and Albania are not out of the race yet either.
Russia 3-1 Israel
Luxembourg 3-2 Northern Ireland
Goals from Vasili Berezutski, Alexander Kokorin and Denis Glushakov saw Russia overpower Israel and practically guarantee a spot at FIFA’s flagship tournament next summer. Fabio Capello’s men may only possess a one-point advance over Portugal, but their final two matches are against the group’s bottom two teams, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg, who belied their lowly status to defeat Northern Ireland 3-2.
Lithuania 2-0 Liechtenstein
Slovakia 1-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece 1-0 Latvia
Bosnian coach Safet Susic earned his wages at half-time of his country’s match with Slovakia, motivating his charges to overturn a 1-0 deficit after Marek Hamsik had netted a first-half opener for the home side. The Balkan team poured forward in the second period, and took their revenge for Slovakia’s away win on Friday, Ermin Bicakcic and Izet Hajrovic doing the damage in the final 20 minutes.
The comeback was an important one, as the Greeks did what was expected of them in the meantime, beating Latvia with a Dimitris Salpingidis strike. The top two sit on the same number of points, but the Bosnians’ remaining fixtures appear slightly more manageable.
San Marino 1-5 Poland
Poland kept their FIFA World Cup dream alive in San Marino, but now face two extremely testing trips to Ukraine and England.
Georgia 0-1 Finland
Belarus 2-4 France
Didier Deschamps had Franck Ribery to thank for extricating France from a tricky-looking situation in Belarus. Les Bleus, who notched four goals after previously failing to hit the net in five matches, twice found themselves behind in Gomel, and it was the Bayern star who rescued the team on both occasions. Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba later added to the tally to give the French a somewhat flattering scoreline. The result moves France level with Spain, who did not feature on Tuesday but will play their last two encounters at home.
Handed his international debut by Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld against Brazil on 13 August, Basel centre-back Fabian Schaer continued to impress on Tuesday night in Oslo. In his third appearance for the Helvetians, the 21-year-old twice hit the back of the net versus Norway to put his country in a seemingly insurmountable position in Group E. The imposing defender, who regularly goes up for set pieces, scored two almost identical headers, both of which came from Gokhan Inler free-kicks, taking his recent goal haul to three in three games.
Slovakia 1-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina (Izet Hajrovic *78) *
Vedad Ibisevic, loitering on the right flank, fed the ball inside for the onrushing Izet Hajrovic. The Grasshoppers midfielder, earning only his second cap on the night, let fly with an unstoppable long-range effort, leaving Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha with no chance.
The statIt was a record-breaking evening for some of European football’s elder statesmen. Anders Svensson became Sweden’s most capped player of all time with 144 caps, surpassing the iconic Thomas Ravelli (143). Elsewhere Gianluigi Buffon drew level with his former Italy team-mate Cannavaro on 136 caps, but is likely to add to that total in not too distant future. Last but not least, Frank Lampard entered the elite club of England players to have made 100 or more international appearances.
Have your say
Are England, Ukraine, Montenegro or Poland more likely to top Group H?