World Cup wrap: Portugal stroll, Slovakia through
Portugal sealed a place in the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup finals by beating Malta 4-0 on Wednesday and completed a reversal in form that had threatened to see them miss out on the tournament.
Nani, Simao Sabrosa, Miguel Veloso and Edinho scored to leave Portugal second in Group One on 19 points, behind Denmark but one point ahead of Sweden, and facing the prospect of a relatively simple two-legged game against an unseeded side.
Sweden thrashed Albania 4-1 but missed out on a play-off place. Defender Olof Mellberg set things off and netted twice in the first half for the Swedes, who have qualified for the last five international championships, but eventually had to settle for third place in the group.
Group One winners Denmark lost for the first time, going down 1-0 at home to Hungary. Eliminated Hungary grabbed the only goal in the 35th minute when midfielder Akos Buzsaky beat goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen with a low shot.
Slovakia qualified for their first ever World Cup finals, clinching top spot in Group Three with a 1-0 win in Poland. Slovakia produced a lacklustre performance in horrific weather conditions but an own goal by Polish defender Seweryn Gancarczyk in the third minute sent them through.
Slovenia had to settle for a place in the play-offs despite a 3-0 win away to San Marino. Milivoje Novakovic gave Slovenia a 24th-minute lead and goals from Dalibor Stevanovic and Marko Suler in the second period wrapped up a comfortable if not especially emphatic victory.
Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington also had reasons to be cheerful as his side finished with a creditable 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic at the Synot Tip Stadium.
Three goals in as many minutes late on put some shine on Ukraine's performance as they hammered Andorra 6-0 to finish as runners-up to England in World Cup qualifying Group Six. Andriy Shevchenko, Oleg Gusev, an Ildefons Sola Lima own goal, Yaroslav Rakitsky, Yevgen Seleznov and Andriy Yarmolenko shared the goals in Andorra La Vella to earn Ukraine a place in the play-offs next month.
Croatia were left to count the cost of their two crushing defeats to England as they failed to qualify, despite beating Kazakstan 2-1. Ukraine's six-goal hammering of Andorra ended the faint hopes of Slaven Bilic's team. Tottenham winger Niko Kranjcar grabbed a late headed winner, after Ognjen Vukojevic's earlier goal had been cancelled out by Sergey Khizhnichenko's shock equaliser.
Peter Crouch declared his intention to be part of Fabio Capello's World Cup squad as England rounded off the group with a 3-0 victory over Belarus. It took Crouch less than four minutes to show why he should be on the plane to South Africa, the striker turning in Gabriel Agbonlahor's cross before adding another 15 minutes from the end, sandwiching a Shaun Wright-Phillips effort created by David Beckham.
Switzerland booked their place in the finals when they earned a 0-0 draw at home to Israel to finish top of qualifying Group Two. Israel were reduced to 10 men in the 59th minute and the Swiss hung on to reach the showpiece event.
Greece secured a place in the play-offs after comfortably seeing off Luxembourg 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. Vasilis Torosidis headed the Greeks in front on the half-hour mark and Theofanis Gekas, scorer of four goals in Saturday's 5-2 win over Latvia, added a second three minutes later.
Ben Payal was dismissed for the visitors in the 58th minute after being shown a second yellow card to complete both a miserable night and qualifying campaign for Guy Hellers' team, whose only consolation came in the last minute when Avraam Papadopoulos turned a cross past his own goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis.
Spain joined a select group of teams to record a perfect World Cup qualifying record, making it 10 wins out of 10 in Group Five with a crushing 5-2 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina in Zenica.
Vagif Javadov cancelled out Andrei Arshavin's early goal as a lacklustre Russia side rounded off their Group Four campaign with a 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan.
Russia were already resigned to second place following defeat to group winners Germany on Saturday, and coach Guus Hiddink, with six players on yellow cards and an eye on next month's play-offs, fielded an experimental side in Baku.
Germany needed a late goal by Lukas Podolski to snatch a 1-1 draw at home to Finland. Jonatan Johansson's goal in the 11th minute ended Germany's six-match run without conceding, dating back to Russia's goal just over a year ago. But Podolski's sixth goal of the qualification campaign finally rescued Germany, in the 90th minute of a match with no bearing on qualification.
Wales ended a disappointing campaign with a 2-0 victory over Liechtenstein in Vaduz. Midfielder David Vaughan stretched to convert Gareth Bale's low left-wing cross on 16 minutes for his first international goal. David Hasler should have levelled for the hosts before the break and they were punished in the second half when midfielder Aaron Ramsey scored a classy free-kick 10 minutes from time.
France warmed up for their World Cup play-off by beating Austria 3-1 in their final Group Seven qualifier. Forward Karim Benzema opened the scoring with a diving header from Florent Malouda's cross on 17 minutes and captain Thierry Henry doubled the advantage from the penalty spot after defender Rod Fanni was blocked in the box.
Serbia's World Cup qualifying campaign ended on a disappointing note with a 2-1 defeat to Lithuania in Marijampole. Four days after securing their place in South Africa as Group Seven winners, the Serbians were beaten by penalties from Mindaugas Kalonas and Marius Stankevicius. Zoran Tosic netted the visitors' reply, but it was not enough to prevent a second defeat in their pool.
Romania ended a disappointing with a 3-1 win against the Faroe Islands. With neither side having anything left to play for, the hosts dominated throughout the match and took the lead in the 15th minute through Iulian Apostol's first goal for his country.
Goals from Halil Altintop and Servet Cetin earned Turkey a 2-0 victory against Armenia, although it was small consolation after they failed to qualify for next year's finals. The game was of little footballing significance, however, it had great diplomatic significance after the two countries signed a peace accord at the weekend aimed at ending a century of animosity between them.
Alberto Gilardino scored a hat-trick to steer champions Italy to a stunning 3-2 comeback victory over Cyprus in their final World Cup Group Eight qualifier.
The Fiorentina forward glanced in a Mauro Camoranesi cross in the 78th minute, tapped in from close range three minutes later and then got the last touch to a deflected Fabio Quagliarella shot in injury time.
Paul McShane upstaged centurion Shay Given as the Republic of Ireland ended their campaign unbeaten. In a 0-0 draw, the defender unwittingly blocked Montenegro midfielder Simon Vukcevic's goal-bound 66th-minute shot with his arm, but Slovakian referee Vladimir Hrinak missed the incident - and Ireland survived.
A first-half hat-trick from striker Dimitar Berbatov helped Bulgaria end their campaign with an emphatic 6-2 win over 10-man Georgia. Martin Petrov scored twice and gritty midfielder Stanislav Angelov added another, his second international goal.
The draw for play-off matches, which will be played next month, will be conducted by FIFA next Monday (October 19) in Zurich.
Diego Maradona's Argentina booked their place in next year's World Cup finals with a late 1-0 victory over Uruguay on Wednesday.
The victory, clinched with an 85th minute Mario Bolatti goal, ensured Argentina fourth position in the South American standings, behind fellow qualifiers Brazil, Paraguay and Chile. Uruguay took the play-off spot and will face Costa Rica.
Ecuador's hopes of qualifying for a third successive World Cup were killed off on Wednesday when they lost their final game 1-0 away to Chile to finish in sixth.
Striker Humberto Suazo scored early in the second half for Chile, who had already secured their place at the World Cup finals for the first time since 1998.
Ten-man Brazil preserved their unbeaten home record in their World Cup qualifying campaign as they held Venezuela to a goalless stalemate in Campo Grande.
The hosts went a man down after 56 minutes when Miranda was given his marching orders for an apparent elbow on Giancarlo Maldonado, but the Vinotinto failed to make their numerical advantage count as the hosts dug in for a point at Estadio Morenao.
In the battle of the bottom two in South America, Peru defeated Bolivia 1-0 at home in a match of little consequence. Johan Javier Fano gave Peru the lead on 53 mintues but was sent off just two minutes later. Bolivia had already been reduced to ten men when Rosauro Rivera was dismissed.
Another dead rubber saw Colombia beat Paraguay thanks to goals from Gustavo Ramos and Hugo Rodallega.
In the most dramatic of conclusions to CONCACAF qualifying, a 95th-minute equaliser for the United States in a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica sent Honduras through to the finals in South America.
Two goals from Bryan Ruiz seemed to have put Costa Rica in control during a game in which emotions were running high following the serious accident suffered by Charlie Davies. But Michael Bradley pulled one back and Jonathan Bornstein struck with 20 seconds remaining to break Costa Rica's hearts and condemn the visitors to a play-off against Uruguay.
Honduras secured the victory they needed when Carlos Pavon struck after 63 minutes of their game against El Salvador.
In Wednesday's other game, Mexico twice responded to goals from Kerry Baptiste to draw 2-2 with Trinidad and Tobago. Alejandro Esqueda and Carlos Salcido were on target for the visitors.