2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

Ten pivotal moments in European qualifying


With the nine automatic 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualification spots sealed in Europe, plus the eight contenders in the upcoming play-offs known, for many it is hard not to think how different it all could have been.

The group stage is now well and truly set in stone, with the tables a footnote to the history that will unfold in South America. But across all the 260 games that have taken place since 7 September 2012, where were the moments that really made the difference?  FIFA.com looks back at the games that decided the pathways of some of the 17 sides that are either buying their tickets to Brazil, or still in with a chance of being there next year.

Snodgrass scuppers Croatian hopes
Croatia 0-1 Scotland
7 June 2013
Group A had looked too close to call as Croatia, fourth on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, were locked on 16 points with a flowing Belgium side. When Scotland arrived in Zagreb, then bottom of the standings and without a win under new manager Gordon Strachan, almost all expected Igor Stimac's side to earn their sixth win from seven. However, Robert Snodgrass' first-half goal was enough as Scotland withstood an onslaught to inflict Croatia's first competitve home defeat since England's 4-1 win in 2008.

Defiant Italy defeat Denmark
Italy 3-1 Denmark
16 October 2012
Having had a shaky start to qualification, Italy were looking to rediscover the form that had taken them to the final of UEFA EURO 2012 against Denmark. A quick-fire double from Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi saw them pull clear until two incidents either side of half-time threatened to derail them. First, William Kvist halved the deficit before Pablo Osvaldo was sent off eight seconds into the second period. However, rather than crumble, Cesare Prandelli's side dug deep and Mario Balotelli even got a third as they held out for a morale-boosting victory.

*Record-equalling Svensson sinks Irish *Republic of Ireland 1-2 Sweden
6 September 2013

As a near-unbleamished Germany cruised towards qualifcation, the battle for the play-offs took the focus in Group C. September was where it really took shape as Sweden, Austria and Republic of Ireland were all tied on 11 points. The Irish looked to be taking control of the three-way tussle as Robbie Keane gave them a lead in the Aviva Stadium until Johan Elmander levelled before the break. Then up stepped Anders Svensson, on the night he matched Thomas Ravelli's national cap record of 147, to make it advantage Sweden in the race for second.

*Chipciu salvages pivotal point *Hungary 2-2 Romania
22 March 2013

With another coasting heavyweight in the shape of the Netherlands, the race for second was the most realistic target for Group D's remaining sides. Arguably the biggest moment came in Budapest, when Alexandru Chipciu struck deep in injury time to earn Romania a vital draw – and more importantly take two points away from Hungary. The hosts led for 73 minutes of the game, but Chipciu pounced on a loose ball to equalise in the 92nd minute. Without that goal, the Magyars would have finished second, a point ahead of Victor Piturca's side.

*Gudmundsson hat-trick seals stunning comeback *Switzerland 4-4 Iceland
6 September 2013

Having taken the lead in Berne through Johann Gudmundsson, Iceland probably were not expecting to be three goals down having just returned for the second period. No sooner had the scoreboard showed 4-1 the pendulum began to swing back, as two minutes later Kolbeinn Sigthorsson pounced on a defensive mistake to pull one back. Gudmundsson hammered a fine finish into the top left corner 12 minutes later, and in stoppage-time the forward found the same corner with a sublime curling equaliser he will never forget.

Israel shape Portuguese future Israel 3-3 Portugal/Portugal 1-1 Israel*
22 March 2013/11 October 2013
*Portugal's clashes with Russia may have been the pre-billed highlights of Group F, but in hindsight it is their meetings with Israel that were the most enthralling, and ultimately steered the Iberians into the play-offs rather than straight to Brazil. Both games featured late equalisers for the visitors, and while Fabio Coentrao's maybe dented Israel's hopes of finishing second, Eden Ben Basat's strike in Lisbon certainly left Portugal looking set to be a name in the play-off draw rather than on a plane ticket.

*Dzeko the difference between top two *Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 Greece
22 March 2013

The battle to top Group G was the closest in European World Cup qualifying and having already drawn 0-0 in Piraeus, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece's meeting in Zenica was potentially going to be the difference between the sides. Edin Dzeko scored either side of Vedad Ibisevic's strike, while Theofanis Gekas scored a late consolation. With the pair ending the table locked on points, the game played a huge part in Safet Susic's side reaching their first finals.

*Lampard leveller crucial in the end *England 1-1 Ukraine
11 September 2012

A stunning Yevhen Konoplyanka goal came close to dealing what could have been a terminal blow to England's hopes of topping Group H in just their second game of qualifying. Ukraine, fresh from defeat to the Three Lions on home soil at EURO 2012, had a point to prove and they looked like doing it against Roy Hodgson's men, but for an 88th minute lifeline for the hosts. Yevhen Khacheridi blocked a Danny Welbeck flick with his arm and Frank Lampard converted the resulting penalty, which has seen Mikhail Fomenko's side finish a point behind the leaders and have to try their luck in the play-offs.

*Pedro splits champions in Paris *France 0-1 Spain
26 March 2013

Being the only qualification group, barring South America's all-inclusive affair, to feature two former World Cup winners, Group I always looked set to pivot on the pair of games between France and Spain. Coming off the back of a 1-1 draw with Finland, the thought of Vicente Del Bosque's side potentially needing the play-offs to try to defend their title was being mooted. However, when Pedro bundled in Nacho Monreal's cross four days later to send Spain back to the top of the standings, it laid out a status quo that France could never quite revert.

Have your say?What game do you think played the biggest part in deciding the path of the 53 teams in European qualifying?

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