So World Cup qualifying has ended for so many and there were some shocks and surprises. Here’s a comprehensive review with final standings where applicable (qualified teams in bold, play-off teams in bold and italics)…
EUROPEAN WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
The top two in Group A were stunned in their final qualifiers. Group winners Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Wales with a late goal from Aaron Ramsey stunning the Belgians. Second place Croatia were beaten once again by Scotland as goals from Steven Naismith and Robert Snodgrass condemned them to a 2-0 defeat at Hampden Park. The other game saw Macedonia finish bottom as they were battered 5-1 in Serbia with Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov getting on the scoresheet.
There was still a big question mark over who would finish in second place in Group B. Occupiers at the start of the night Bulgaria needed a win but could only stumble to a 1-0 defeat at home to the Czech Republic with Borek Dockal getting the goal. It proved fruitless for the Czechs as third placed Denmark thrashed bottom side Malta 6-0 in Copenhagen. Captain Daniel Agger scored twice from the spot as the Danes captured second but won’t make the play-offs due to being the worst runner up. The other game in the group saw Armenia grab an impressive draw in Naples against group winners Italy. The Armenians were ahead twice before Mario Balotelli made it 2-2 and the game finished that way.
3. Czech Republic
The top two in Group C may have been contesting a dead rubber in Solna but it certainly was not played like one. Group winners Germany came from behind to win 5-3 at second place Sweden. A second half hat trick from Chelsea star Andre Schürrle was the difference between the sides in the end. Third placed Austria consolidated their position with a 3-0 win at bottom side Faroe Islands including a goal from Bayern Munich full back David Alaba. The group’s other game saw Republic of Ireland finish their qualifying campaign on a high note with a 3-1 home win over Kazakhstan with defender John O’Shea scoring a rare goal.
4. Republic of Ireland
6. Faroe Islands
Another group with a tight race for second place, Group D was all change by the end of the night. Turkey began the night in second place but a 2-0 defeat at home to group winners Holland gave the other sides a chance. Romania took the chances with a 2-0 home win over Estonia clinching the play-offs for them. Hungary also ended their campaign with a 2-0 win with their win coming at home to Moldova with Nemanja Nikolic on the scoresheet.
Group E saw a straight shootout for second place between Iceland and Slovenia at the beginning of the night. Iceland could only draw 1-1 in Norway but that was irrelevant as Slovenia went down 1-0 to group winners Switzerland. Granit Xhaka scored the goal that sends Iceland to the play-offs and won the three points for Switzerland. The other game in the group saw the bottom two – Albania and Cyprus – play out a dull 0-0 draw in Nicosia.
Portugal and Russia headed into the final round of games still battling for top spot in Group F with the Russians in the ascension. The 1-1 draw Russia got in Azerbaijan made Portugal’s 3-0 home win over Luxembourg irrelevant and sent the Russians to Brazil while Portugal will have to battle it out in the play-offs for the second successive campaign. The other group game saw Nothern Ireland claim a respectable draw at third placed Israel with Steven Davis getting the equaliser.
5. Northern Ireland
Much like Group F, Group G was all about who would finish where in the top two. Leaders Bosnia-Herzegovina held the advantage over second placed Greece and knew they just had to match their result. Greece’s 2-0 win at home to bottom side Liechtenstein meant that only a Bosnia win in Lithuania would do. The Bosnians duly obliged with Vedad Ibisevic the hero as they won 1-0 in Kaunas to send them to their first ever World Cup as an independent nation. A late Renars Rode goal capped the Latvia comeback from two goals down as they drew 2-2 at home to third place Slovakia.
Another undecided group was Group H. Leaders England secured their place in Brazil thanks to a 2-0 home win over Poland. Wayne Rooney and captain Steven Gerrard got the crucial goals. It meant that Ukraine would have to settle for a play-off spot despite their completely unsurprising 8-0 thumping of bottom side San Marino. Third place Montenegro had an outside chance at a play-off spot but their hopes were crushed by a 5-2 hammering at home against Moldova.
6. San Marino
Perhaps the least surprising results of the night came in Group I. World and European champions Spain will defend their title in Brazil thanks to their 2-0 home win over Georgia. Juan Mata and Alvaro Negreo scored the all important goals for the Spanish. France will have to settle for the play-offs despite their 3-0 win at home against Finland with Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery on the scoresheet.
CONCACAF WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
Qualification was still up in the air for some of the teams in the CONCACAF section. Mexico and Panama were vying for the play-off spot while Honduras were still trying to confirm their place in Brazil while glancing over their shoulders at Mexico below them. Honduras are going to Brazil next summer after they picked up their required point in Jamaica. Carlo Costly and Maynor Figueroa got the crucial goals that sends Honduras to their second successive World Cup. Mexico also only needed a point to secure the play-off spot but were beaten in Costa Rica 2-1. Substitute Alvaro Saborio made the Mexicans sweat with his winner for the already qualified Costa Ricans. That left the door open for Panama to get the play-off spot but they were cruelly denied by group winners USA at home. Goals from Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson in second half stoppage time handed Panama a 3-2 defeat and their elimination.
2. Costa Rica
SOUTH AMERICAN WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
The top five may have already been decided in South America but it still wasn’t clear who would go straight to Brazil and who would go to a play-off with Jordan. Uruguay started the night in the play-off place and needed a win over group winners Argentina in Montevideo. Goals from Cristian Rodriguez, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani gave them a 3-2 victory that was needed. Uruguay’s position was dependent on the result in Santiago where a draw between Chile and Ecuador would condemn Uruguay to the play-off while a win for either team would send it to goal difference to decide. Uruguay were given hope as goals from Alexis Sánchez and Gary Medel gave Chile a 2-1 win. However, Ecuador’s better goal difference meant that they would go to Brazil while Uruguay would head into a fourth successive play-off. There was also a battle to avoid bottom spot. Paraguay – who have been disappointing throughout – needed a win to ensure they wouldn’t finish bottom but could only muster a 2-1 home defeat to already qualified Colombia. Veteran defender Mario Yepes scored the crucial goals for Colombia who also had Fredy Guarin sent off in the first half. That meant Bolivia needed just a draw in Peru to finish above Paraguay due to their better goal difference. Diego Bejarano’s goal secured the 1-1 draw Bolivia needed as they consigned Paraguay to bottom spot.
AFRICAN WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
Ghana have one foot on the plane to Brazil already following their 6-1 home win over Egypt in the first leg of their final round tie. Star striker Asamoah Gyan got two for the Black Stars as they dominated the poor Egyptians. There is a slither of hope for Egypt as Mohamed Aboutrika converted a penalty just before half time to give them an away goal but the odds of a Ghana side with the best defensive record in round three conceding five are slim at best.
World Cup host Brazil continued their preparations with a comfortable 2-0 victory over 2012 African champions Zambia in Beijing. Goals from Oscar and Dede secured another win for Luis Felipe Scolari’s side. Australia bounced back from consecutive 6-0 drubbings to defeat Canada 3-0 at Craven Cottage. The managerless Aussies won thanks to goals from Joshua Kennedy, Dario Vidosic and Matthew Leckie. This international break will not be looked back on fondly by Japan as they once again fell to defeat in Eastern Europe. This time they lost 1-0 in Belarus with Yan Tigorev getting the winner just before half time. South Korea bounced back from their defeat to Brazil with a 3-1 win over Mali in Cheonan. A Koo Ja-Cheol penalty and goals from Son Heung-Min and Kim Bo-Kyung cancelled out Modibo Maiga’s opener and gave the Koreans the win.