Bosnia-Herzegovina qualified for the World Cup for the first time as an independent nation and Russia also won their group yesterday to seal a place in next year’s finals in Brazil.
That meant Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Greece, the European champions in 2004, were forced into the play-offs on the final night of the qualifying group stage.
After losing out in the play-offs in qualifying for the last two major tournaments, Bosnia finally got it right by beating Lithuania 1-0 thanks to Vedad Ibisevic’s 68th-minute goal to top Group G on goal difference ahead of Greece, who defeated Liechtenstein 2-0.
Qualification is sure to spark jubilant scenes of celebration in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was granted independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. For many Bosnians, football success has been a rare cause for joy since the country descended into nearly four years of war two decades ago, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving a legacy of poverty, high unemployment and never-ending political strife.
Elsewhere in Scotland’s group, Serbia crushed Macedonia 5-1 to seal third place in Group A.
Russia only needed a point to guarantee first place in Group F, and drew 1-1 in Azerbaijan, meaning Portugal’s 3-0 win over Luxembourg was in vain. The suspended Cristiano Ronaldo’s side finish a point behind, and must go through the play-offs to reach a major tournament for the third straight time. It was still a nervy finish for Russia, who opened the scoring through Roman Shirokov in the 15th minute. However, the hosts equalised when Vagif Javadov headed home in the 90th, but Russia held on for the point to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 2002.
Silvestre Varela, Nani and Helder Postiga were the goalscorers for Portugal, who were without Ronaldo owing to the Real Madrid forward’s booking in the costly 1-1 home draw with Israel on Friday.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia join Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Swizerland and Germany, who romped to a 5-3 victory in Stockholm as opponents Sweden are forced to settle for the play-offs.
Switzerland boosted their chances of being a top seed at the World Cup by beating Slovenia 1-0 in their final qualifying match, helping Iceland seal second place in Group E and advance to the play-offs.
Their 1-1 draw in Norway kept alive their hopes of being the smallest nation ever to play at the World Cup. Despite a population of just 315,000, Iceland advanced to the play-offs by finishing two points ahead of Slovenia.
Romania beat Estonia 2-0 to seal a berth in next month’s play-offs for as the already-qualified Netherlands beat Turkey by the same score.
Armenia pulled off a shock as they managed a creditable 2-2 draw away to Italy and Republic of Ireland ended their campaign on a postive note with a 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan in Dublin.