- World Cup qualifiers
Spain and Russia head to BrazilESPN staff October 15, 2013 « Rose takes two-shot lead in Bermuda | Ronaldo cleared over yellow card »
Spain and Russia sealed spots in next year's World Cup finals in Brazil on Tuesday while Bosnia-Herzegovina also topped their group to reach a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation.
Defending champions Spain secured their place by beating Georgia 2-0 to automatically advance as winner of Group I in European qualifying. Andres Iniesta fed Alvaro Negredo for Spain's first-half opener, and substitute Juan Mata doubled Spain's advantage after the break.
Spain's win ensured France will have to negotiate the play-offs to reach the World Cup, despite finishing their qualification campaign with a 3-0 win over Finland.
Franck Ribery opened the scoring in the eighth minute before a Joona Toivio own goal and Karim Benzema's late strike earned Les Bleus victory. It was the second consecutive match in which Real Madrid striker Benzema has scored after a nightmare spell in front of goal.
Russia secured their place and condemned Portugal to the play-offs despite conceding a last-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan.
Fabio Capello's men began the day three points clear of second-placed Portugal and needing a draw in Baku to ensure they would be on the plane to Brazil. Roman Shirokov set Russia on their way after 16 minutes and a win looked even more likely when Maksim Medvedev was sent off for the home side after 73 minutes, but Vagif Javadov's last-minute strike set nerves fluttering, although the visitors held on for the result they needed.
Portugal secured second place and a play-off spot after they beat ten-man Luxembourg 3-0 on Tuesday. Silvestre Varela put Portugal ahead on the half-hour mark, two minutes after Aurelien Joachim had been sent off for the visitors. Nani added the second in the 36th minute before Helder Postiga seal the win, but Portugal's place in next year's tournament in Brazil is now dependent on them winning a two-legged play-off against another second-placed team.
Eighteen years after playing their maiden international match, Bosnia-Herzegovina qualified for the World Cup by beating Lithuania 1-0. Vedad Ibisevic was their hero, the Stuttgart striker scoring midway through the second half after 67 minutes of agony, and they held on for the three points they required to finish top.
Greece needed to better Bosnia's result, and their 2-0 victory at home to Liechtenstein proved to be in vain. Greece claimed a comfortable win thanks to a goal early in the first half from Dimitris Salpingidis and late in the second from Giorgos Karagounis.
Sweden and Germany were involved in another goal-fest to add to their previous 4-4 draw in World Cup qualifying, Joachim Low's side rounding off their Group C campaign with a 5-3 victory in Solna.
Group runners-up Sweden opened up a 2-0 lead with goals from Tobias Hysen and Alexander Kacaniklic, but Mesut Ozil replied for Germany just before half-time. Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle turned the game around in the space of four second-half minutes before Schurrle added a fourth for the visitors. Hysen pulled a goal back again, but Schurrle completed his hat-trick to seal the German win.
Andreas Ivanschitz, Sebastien Prodl and David Alaba were the scorers as Austria beat Faroe Islands 3-0.
Substitute Mario Balotelli struck a late equaliser as Group B winners Italy ended their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-2 draw against Armenia in Naples. Yura Movsisyan put Armenia ahead in the fourth minute before Alessandro Florenzi pulled the hosts, who booked their place in Brazil last month, level midway through the first half. Henrikh Mkhitaryan put the visitors back in front in the 70th minute but Balotelli came to the rescue six minutes later to earn Italy a deserved point. However, failing to win means Italy could miss out on being a top seed in the World Cup draw.
Denmark were the side to miss out on the play-offs, finishing second in Group B with a 6-0 rout of Malta courtesy of goals from Morten Rasmussen (two), Daniel Agger (two), Andreas Bjelland and Bille Nielsen. The Danes pipped the Czech Republic to second spot, although Borek Dockal's strike ensured the Czechs completed their campaign with a 1-0 win at home to Bulgaria.
Ukraine had to settle for second spot in Group H behind England despite an 8-0 demolition of San Marino. Marko Devic grabbed a hat-trick for the visitors with Yevhen Seleznyov (two), Andriy Yarmolenko, Roman Bezus and Vitaliy Mandzyuk also on the scoresheet. Moldova rounded off their campaign with a 5-2 success in Montenegro. Alexandr Antoniuc scored twice for the visitors with Igor Armas, Eugen Sidorenco and Artur Ionita also on target. Stevan Jovetic grabbed both of Montenegro's goals.
Iceland will also have another shot at reaching Brazil 2014 as they claimed second place in Group E with a 1-1 draw in Norway. The visitors led through Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's 13th-minute strike and although Daniel Braaten levelled things up on the half hour, the point was enough to see Iceland through ahead of Slovenia, who lost 1-0 in Switzerland. Granit Xhaka scored the only goal in that match after 74 minutes for a Swiss side who had already won the group.
Cyprus and Albania's World Cup qualification campaigns ended with a whimper as they played out a listless goalless draw in Tuesday's Group E match in Nicosia.
Romania's 2-0 victory over Estonia, courtesy of two goals from Ciprian Marica, saw the Romanians finish two points clear of Hungary, who were also 2-0 winners over Andorra, thanks to Nermanja Nikolic's header and an Ildefons Lima own goal.
Turkey's hopes of finishing runners-up were ended with a 2-0 loss to Netherlands, for whom Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were the scorers.
A last-minute goal from Renars Rode saw Latvia snatch a 2-2 draw at home to Slovakia in their final Group G qualifier. The visitors were two goals ahead after 16 minutes thanks to Martin Jakubko and Kornel Salata, but Valerijs Sabala pulled one back early in the second half before Rode's late heroics.
Serbia were emphatic 5-1 winners over Macedonia, with goals from Stefan Ristovski (own goal), Dusan Basta, Aleksandr Kolarov, Dusan Tadic and Stefan Scepovic. Macedonia's consolation came from the boot of Adis Jahovic.
The final four European spots will be decided by a series of two-legged play-offs in November. The teams in the play-offs are France, Portugal, Iceland, Greece, Ukraine, Romania, Sweden, and Croatia. Denmark had the worst record of the nine group runners-up and missed out.
The draw for the play-offs is set for Monday.
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