DCSIMG

World Cup qualifying: the complete round-up

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates heping his country to the 2014 World Cup finals. Picture: Reuters

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates heping his country to the 2014 World Cup finals. Picture: Reuters

  • by Craig Forbes
 

ITALY, the Netherlands, Argentina, United States and Costa Rica all booked places at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil as the final pieces of the qualifying jigsaw began to fall into place around the world last night.

The prospect of qualifying has long disappeared for Scotland, but Gordon Strachan’s men can be immensely proud of a 2-1 win in Macedonia. England edged closer to qualification with a 0-0 draw in Ukraine, but there dismal defeats for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, who lost to Austria and Luxembourg respectively.

Here is your complete group-by-group and zone-by-zone round-up of last night’s action from around the globe.

EUROPE

GROUP A

SCOTLAND hauled themselves off the bottom of Group A and into the almost dizzy heights of fourth with a 2-1 victory over Macedonia in Skopje. It was a dream first Scotland start for Watford wing-back Ikechi Anya, who capped an impressive performance with a wonderful left-foot finish to give Scotland the lead.

Macedonia looked like they had rescued a point when a flash of brilliance from their main man Goran Pandev set up Ivan Kostovski to control and poke the ball past Matt Gilks in the 83rd minute. However, Scotland who deserved all three points on the balance of play, refused to settle for a point and a perfect free-kick from Shaun Maloney secured victory in the 89th minute.

Anya turned in a man of the match performance, while Steven Naismith performed exceptionally well in the lone striker’s role. The Everton man had been a surprise selection to lead the line, given his lack of regular action recently, but he repaid Gordon Strachan’s faith and can be proud of his contribution on the night.

Wales, who had lost 2-1 to Macedonia in the same Phillip II Arena on Friday night, slumped to a second successive defeat as they went down 3-0 at home to Serbia - a result which sends them to the bottom of the six-team group. Serbia, who sit in third place on nine points, three clear of Scotland, secured a comfortable win in Cardiff thanks to goals from Filip Djordjevic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Lazar Markovic.

Perhaps the circus surrounding Gareth Bale’s world record transfer to Real Madrid unsettled the Welsh camp for this double-header as they lacked the fluency they had shown in previous group matches, notably their two wins over Scotland - both inspired by Bale. The £85 million man did get a cameo role in the defeat to Serbia, coming on in the 58th minute and almost grabbing a goal with a superb swerving, dipping free-kick.

Group leaders Belgium and second-placed Croatia were idle last night and they will clash on Friday, 11 October. The Croatians are at home, but they trail Belgium by five points, and even if they secure victory it is likely Belgium will book their place at the World Cup finals when they host Wales in their final fixture on Tuesday, 15 October. Scotland entertain Croatia at Hampden that same evening.

GROUP B

Italy qualified for next year’s World Cup with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in Turin. Giorgio Chiellini scored in the 51st minute and Mario Balotelli converted a penalty in the 54th, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made his 136th international appearance, matching Fabio Cannavaro’s Italian record.

The Azzurri, a four-time World Cup-winner, clinched first place in Group B and will be appearing in football’s top tournament for the 14th straight time. “Now we can celebrate everything. I’m even happier with my personal record after we’ve qualified,” Buffon said.

Libor Kozak had scored in the 19th minute for the Czechs. With little chance to qualify, while Czech coach Michal Bilek resigned after the game.

Balotelli turned in a typically enigmatic performance. He missed a host of easy chances and could easily have been sent off, although he did slot home the winning penalty. He now has a perfect penalty record of 25 out of 25.

Those misses and a rash challenge on Tomas Sivok capped a first half to forget, with some among the Juventus Stadium crowd whistling the forward in exasperation at his antics. “I was trying to get the ball and didn’t even see the player, so for me it wasn’t even a yellow,” Balotelli said. “I hit him but I didn’t do it on purpose.”

He even risked a second yellow after reacting to a foul in the second half, and it was only the measured actions of referee Jonas Eriksson that stopped him getting into another unnecessary confrontation. “At times you react because they go too far, at other times you manage to control yourself. You always try to control yourself, but it’s not easy when you’re out on the pitch,” added Balotelli, who had missed Italy’s nervy 1-0 win over Bulgaria on Friday after being sent off in the reverse fixture with the Czechs in June and has frequently been warned that he will be a target for provocation.

Bulgaria, who won 2-1 in Malta, and Denmark are now fighting it out for a play-off spot. Radoslav Dimitrov gave Bulgaria an early lead in Malta before Emil Gargorov doubled its advantage shortly after the break. Edward Herrera pulled one back for Malta 12 minutes from time.

Daniel Agger scored a 73rd-minute penalty to help Denmark to a 1-0 victory in Armenia. Varazdat Haroyan had brought down Viktor Fischer and the Armenian was sent off after he was shown a second yellow card.

GROUP C

Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure as Republic of Ireland manager appears to be drawing to a close with the Football Association of Ireland considering his position. Barely an hour after the 74-year-old Italian saw his side slip to a 1-0 defeat in Austria which effectively ended their hopes of World Cup qualification, the FAI cancelled a scheduled press conference in Dublin this afternoon.

A statement said: “The recent results against Sweden and Austria were very disappointing for everyone involved in Irish football, the manager, the players and supporters. Our aim of qualification, although mathematically possible, is now highly unlikely even though the team will always do everything within their power to keep that hope alive.

“The FAI Board of Management will now consider the current position over the coming period to discuss the recent results. The post-match press conference which was due to take place this afternoon in Dublin has been cancelled.”

Austria kept their own play-off hopes alive as David Alaba struck late to beat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 in Vienna.

Germany’s 3-0 win in the Faroe Islands thanks to goals from Per Mertesacker, a Mesut Ozil penalty and Thomas Mueller, means they will qualify if they beat Ireland at home in the first of their two remaining matches next month.

However, they cannot book their tickets just yet because Sweden’s 1-0 win in Kazakhstan means they could still pip the Germans to top spot in Group C. Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored after 27 seconds for their fastest goal in 101 years.

GROUP D

Robin van Persie scored twice as the Netherlands qualified for the finals in Brazil with a 2-0 away win over Andorra.

Van Persie’s stinging shot from outside the area in the 49th minute opened the scoring for the Dutch - the first team from Europe to book a place at next year’s finals - and four minutes later he scored with a tap-in after a defensive blunder.

The win in Andorra-la-Velle against a defensive home side put the Netherlands on 22 points and beyond the reach of their group rivals after Romania earlier lost 2-0 at home to Turkey.

It is the 10th time the Netherlands have qualified for the World Cup finals. They were runners-up in 1974, 1978 and at the last tournament in South Africa in 2010.

Turkey held on to beat Romania in a tense match on Tuesday to leapfrog their rivals in the close battle for the pla-yoff spot.

Netherlands top the standings with 22 points from eight matches, followed by Hungary on 14 after they hammered Estonia 5-1. Turkey and Romania have 13 points each.

Turkey took the lead when striker Burak Yilmaz headed his fourth goal of the qualifying campaign midway through the first half. Romania threatened to find an equaliser but Bogdan Stancu had a goal ruled out for offside 12 minutes after the break and substitute Adrian Popa hit the post midway through the second half. Substitute Mevlut Erdinc then doubled Turkey’s advantage in the fifth minute of stoppage time with a delightful curling shot that gave the hosts keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu no chance.

It was Turkey’s second consecutive win since Fatih Terim began his third spell as coach last month, following their 5-0 thrashing of Andorra 5-0 in Kayseri on Friday.

Romania visit Andorra on 11 October in their next qualifier and Turkey are away to Estonia.

Hungary thrashed Estonia 5-1 to climb into second and revive their hopes of reaching the finals via the play-offs. Hungary put aside last Friday’s disappointing defeat by Romania in Bucharest as they produced a commanding performance from the outset against Estonia.

GROUP E

Defender Fabian Schaer scored two headers as Switzerland took a huge step towards booking a spot at next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Norway.

Norway defender Espen Ruud had an evening to forget in Oslo, conceding a free kick and then seeing Schaer rise above him to nod it home to give Switzerland the lead after 12 minutes. Early in the second half Schaer beat Ruud to a dead ball for a second time, this time heading home through keeper Rune Jarstein’s legs to double Switzerland’s advantage.

Hapless Ruud shouldered much of the blame for his team’s third defeat in eight qualifiers. “It’s two set pieces, which we’re supposed to be good at. We have a poor line and my marking is loose,” he told reporters. “I should be marking the man that scores, and what happens should be avoided. “He’s too smart for me, he makes a run on the inside and I fall behind. It’s my man that scores.”

Iceland also took a huge step towards a first World Cup finals when they came from behind to beat Albania 2-1 in Reykjavik to jump up into second in Group E with two games to play.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s second half winner lifted Iceland to 13 points, five behind Group E leaders Switzerland and one ahead of Slovenia, who beat Cyprus 2-0 away.

Tottenham’s Gylfi Sigurdsson had already gone close for the hosts when Albania took the lead after nine minutes. Forward Valdet Rama received the ball on the left before he cut inside his marker and fired a low shot into the far corner.

Birkir Bjarnason levelled for Iceland just five minutes later, however, when he slammed the ball into the roof of the net after Albania’s defence failed to diffuse a low cross. Sigthorsson then made the most of his second chance in front of goal as he put Iceland ahead early in the second half by deftly steering home Birkir Saevarsson’s cross from the right.

Both sides created further opportunities but Iceland held on for a victory that saw them move into a play-off spot.

Iceland host Cyprus on 11 October before travelling to Norway on 15 October to complete their Group E fixtures. Albania will face Switzerland in their next game before finishing up against the Cypriots in Tirana.

GROUP F

Manager Michael O’Neill apologised to Northern Ireland’s fans after his side turned in a “pathetic” performance in a 3-2 defeat against lowly Luxembourg.

Northern Ireland had raised expectations with encouraging performances in each of their last two World Cup qualifiers - a 1-0 win over Russia and a near miss against Portugal last week - but saw any optimism evaporate at the Stade Josy Barthel.

Luxembourg, coming in with just three World Cup qualifying wins in their history and none since 1972, were well worth three points but had to wait until the 87th minute to secure them. That was when Mathias Janisch prodded home in a packed box to render Martin Paterson’s opener and Gareth McAuley’s 82nd-minute equaliser irrelevant.

An impressive travelling contingent of 1,200 fans were on hand to witness the embarrassment and they were at the forefront of O’Neill’s mind as he picked the bones from a woeful showing.

“I feel for the people who have travelled to watch that. It’s not acceptable and not the level of performance I would expect from my team,” said the former Dundee United and Hibs midfielder. “The players are pretty clear on my feelings. As a manager and a group of players we owe the fans an apology. Our supporters deserve a hell of a lot better than they got back.”

Russia look on course for Brazil after a 3-1 win over Israel put them top of Group F, a point clear of Portugal and means they still have their fate in their hands with visits to the bottom two teams, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, to come.

GROUP G

Celtic striker Georgios Samaras talked up the chances of Greece qualifying for the finals after a 1-0 win in Latvia. “We have to think about ourselves and not Bosnia. We have two qualifying games to play and two games to win,” he said. “We are creating chances and that’s what’s important.”

Samaras was the provider as Dimitris Salpingidis found the net as the Greeks retained a share of the lead in Group G, level with Bosnia who won 2-1 in Slovakia.

In the other group match last night, Lithuania won 2-0 at home against Liechtenstein on first-half goals from Deivydas Matulevicius and Tadas Kijanskas.

Greece and Bosnia both have 19 points from eight matches, but the Bosnians are in pole position after Ermin Bicakcic levelled in the 70th minute at Zilina, and Izet Hajrovic came off the bench to find the winner eight minutes later with a powerful 25-yard effort.

Slovakia inflicted the first qualifying defeat for Bosnia last week and raised hopes in Athens on Tuesday after taking the lead with Marek Hamsik in the 42nd minute as the hosts dominated the half. But Bosnia pushed back after the break for the late win.

“It was a match full of chances ... a high quality duel. We beat an excellent opponent,” Bosnia coach Safet Susic said.

The Bosnians now have the easier task to reach their first World Cup in Brazil next year, with Liechtenstein and Lithuania as opponents in their last two matches.

GROUP H

Unadventurous England defended stoutly to contain Ukraine and edge closer to next year’s finals after a scrappy 0-0 draw on Tuesday left the Group H leaders in pole position to secure a ticket to Brazil.

A point from an untidy match which featured few goalscoring chances after a hectic opening 10 minutes moved England on to 16 points with two matches to play, one ahead of Ukraine and Montenegro with Poland two points further back.

Unmarked Ukraine defender Artem Fedetskiy wasted his side’s best opening after 73 minutes when from six metres out he headed straight at keeper Joe Hart from a corner. Frank Lampard then almost capped his 100th England appearance with the winner when his stooping header crept past a post in stoppage time.

“It was probably a fair result. I think we had clear control of the game in the second half,” said England manager Roy Hodgson.” We gained the result without riding our luck.”

England, who have yet to register a group win so far against any team other than Moldova and San Marino, welcome Montenegro to Wembley on 11 October, the same night Ukraine host Poland. In the concluding fixtures four days later, England host the Poles with Ukraine away at San Marino and Montenegro playing Moldova.

In the other group game last night, Poland kept their play-off hopes alive when they thrashed San Marino 5-1 away. But at least the minnows scored their first goal of the campaign when Alessandro Della Valle’s header sailed past former Celtic keeper Artur Boruc in the 23rd minute.

However Piotr Zielinski’s double, as well as Jakub Blaszczykowski, Pawel Brozek and Adrian Mierzejewski’s goals, gave Poland an easy win on the picturesque Serravalle ground in the shadow of the imposing San Marino mountainside.

GROUP I

France secured at least a World Cup play-off spot and maintained their slim hopes of automatic qualification when they came from behind to beat

bottom side Belarus 4-2 away .

Franck Ribery twice cancelled out Egor Filipenko and Timofei Kalachev’s goals early in the second half before substitute Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba found the back of the net to end the team’s five-game scoreless streak in style.

France are level with group leaders Spain on 14 points but the world champions are likely to finish top as they have a game in hand, a superior goal difference and home games against Belarus and Georgia to come.

France finish off at home to Finland, who are third on nine points but out of the running. The French are now assured of being one of the best eight runners-up as the second-placed teams from all the other eight groups containing six teams lose the points gained against the bottom team when their records are compared.

“Mission accomplished tonight,” coach Didier Deschamps told French TV channel TF1.

Ribery added: “We knew that with Spain in the group we would finish second. It’s done.”

Mixu Paatelainen’s Finland beat Georgia 1-0 in the group’s other match to stay third on nine points. Roman Eremenko scored the winning goal in the 74th with a penalty.

SOUTH AMERICA

Argentina booked their World Cup ticket with a 5-2 rout of Paraguay, leaving five other countries jockeying for three automatic South American places and one play-off berth.

Colombia, in second place in the nine-nation group, needed a mere point on Tuesday but it eluded them in a 2-0 defeat by Uruguay, who visit Ecuador next month for what looks like being a straight clash for the fourth automatic berth.

Chile, who had a bye and drew 2-2 with World Cup holders Spain in a friendly, are in third place two points ahead of Ecuador and Uruguay with outsiders Venezuela hovering in sixth and hoping for a slip up from their rivals.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who scored two penalties in the win over Paraguay, said it was good for his country to have qualified but there was still a lot of work to do if they wanted to win the World Cup next year.

“There are seven matches (to win) a World Cup and you’ve got to be 100 percent, you can’t make a mistake or you’ll remain out of it,” he told reporters.

“We have passed tough tests, beating some top teams but there’s a long way to go to becoming world champions, we still lack some things,” added Messi, whose goals in Asuncion made him joint top scorer in the nine-nation group with Uruguay’s Luis Suarez on 10.

Striker Gonzalo Higuain, who has nine goals, was suspended but Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez also got on the scoresheet for coach Alejandro Sabella’s team.

Suarez, having scored twice in Friday’s 2-1 win in Peru, failed to find the net on Tuesday at the Centenario, where fellow striker Edinson Cavani - with his second goal in three qualifiers - and Cristian Stuani were the scorers.

Coach Oscar Tabarez’s substitutions, bringing on Stuani and midfielder Gaston Ramirez, helped unlock the Colombia defence in

the final quarter of an hour.

“We were looking to give the team the means to better control Colombia and try to create problems for them,” Tabarez told the post-match news conference.

“If Colombia had gone ahead, then it would have been tough because of their good ball control. I think the (first) goal practically ended their hopes.”

Colombia coach Jose Pekerman said he thought Uruguay would make it through to Brazil and again be a strong challenger, as they were when they finished fourth at the last World Cup.

“Uruguay will again have the level they had in South Africa and in the (2011) Copa America,” the Argentine told reporters.

“They have that category of great players but also a spirit and fortitude they always put to the test.”

The Atahualpa, at 2,800 metres above sea level in Quito, will be a tough venue for Uruguay to try and secure a direct passage to the finals but they have won there in the past when facing possible elimination.

Ecuador could have been far more comfortable but dropped two points in a 1-1 draw against eliminated Bolivia in La Paz.

Both Ecuador and Uruguay are three points ahead of Venezuela, who have only one match left at home to Paraguay on 11 October.

Venezuela have to hope one of Uruguay and Ecuador fail to pick up any more points if they are to sneak into a play-off against Asian qualifiers Jordan for a shot at their first trip to the finals.

CONCACAF

The United States and Costa Rica celebrated qualification to next year’s finals in Brazil while Mexico fell further into disarray after a dramatic night of action in the CONCACAF region.

Second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan gave Juergen Klinsmann’s United States a 2-0 win over Mexico to move them to top of the standings on 16 points.

Costa Rica drew 1-1 in Kingston against Jamaica, taking them to 15 points, and with Honduras drawing 2-2 at home to Panama, none of the other four teams in the group can push the leading duo out of the top three automatic qualifying spots.

Mexico, next to bottom in the six-team standings, have eight points, as do a Panama team that has never qualified for the sport’s biggest tournament.

Honduras currently occupy third place on 11 points but with two rounds of games to come in October, the battle for the final automatic spot and fourth-place, which offers a playoff against

Oceania winners New Zealand, is set to go down to the wire. Both the Americans and Costa Rica had to wait an hour after their games finished to be certain that their positions were unassailable, as both needed Honduras to get at least a point at home to Panama.

Costa Rica’s mood was soured by the concession of an injury time equaliser - Jermaine Anderson scoring for Jamaica to cancel out Randall Brenes’ 75th minute opener.

Then there was some tension after Panama equalised through Gabriel Torres’ second goal in the final seconds of the game but the point for Honduras set off the party.

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto broke down sobbing during an interview with local radio station Columbia.

“I’ve worked all my life, so hard, to make it to the World Cup, all my life... this is sheer happiness,” he said before the tears overwhelmed him. Klinsmann, a World Cup winner with West Germany as a player in 1990, was a little more restrained in his reaction but still delighted to be making a second trip to the finals as a coach following his run to the last four with Germany in 2006.

“It’s a huge milestone whenever you make it to the World Cup, the biggest competition in this sport, especially hosted in Brazil, one of the biggest soccer nations,” he said.

“It means a lot to all of us. To our fans and to this country as well”.

Mexico face a must-win match with Panama on 10 October and they will need to somehow pick themselves up from an abject second half display in Columbus.

“I don’t know what to tell you, we’re in debt with the people and very ashamed,” midfielder Christian Gimenez told Mexico’s TV Azteca.

AFRICA

Egypt ensured they finished the group phase of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers as the only team with a 100 percent winning record as they came from a goal down to beat Guinea 4-2 in El Gouna.

Their Group G triumph was followed by a 1-0 home victory for Algeria over Mali as they confirmed their dominance in Group H.

Both Algeria and Egypt had already secured their progression to the final phase of African qualifiers and now await Monday’s draw for the playoff matches featuring 10 teams.

A 51st minute strike from El Arabi Soudani ensured victory for Algeria in Blida and 15 points out of a possible 18 in their group.

But their efforts were bettered by the Egyptians despite a comical own goal in the opening four minutes when English-born defender Adam El Abd, on his competitive debut, miscued a clearance and the back spin beat his own goalkeeper.

Captain Hossam Ghaly ensured the early mistake would not set the tone for Egypt’s performance as he steered home an equaliser in the 38th minute after Guinea failed to clear a free kick from Mohamed Aboutrika.

Guinea were reduced to 10 men early in the second half when defender Kamil Zayatte was sent off and Aboutrika converted from the penalty spot.

Guinea, who finished second in Group G and were already out of World Cup contention before Tuesday’s match, were not done, however, and equalised just before the hour mark through Seydouba Soumah. The teams were level heading into the final 10 minutes but goals from Mohamed Salah and Amr Zaki as the clocked ticked down were enough for Egypt to secure a sixth group win.

Egypt and Algeria join Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal in the decisive round of matches over the next two months to decide Africa’s representatives in Brazil.

ASIA

Jordan won a dramatic penalty shootout against Uzbekistan in their Asia zone play-off to inch closer to a maiden World Cup finals appearance in Brazil next year.

Uzbekistan’s Anzur Ismailov missed the decisive spot kick as Jordan won the shootout 9-8 after the second leg tie had ended 1-1 and 2-2 on aggregate at Tashkent’s Pakhtakor Stadium.

Extra-time was marred by a floodlight malfunction that led to 15 minutes of stoppage time being played.

Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea have already booked the four automatic berths from Asia for the 2014 finals.

 

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