Italy, Dutch reach finals; France fight
Italy came from behind to beat the Czech Republic in Turin to qualify for the World Cup finals, while Netherlands also booked their place in Brazil, France fought back to keep themselves in the running and England secured a valuable draw in Ukraine.
Aston Villa striker Libor Kozak put the Czech Republic ahead in the 19th minute against Italy before Giorgio Chiellini equalised shortly after the re-start.
Mario Balotelli made it 2-1 after scoring from the penalty spot in the 54th minute after he was brought down by Gebre Selassie in the box. The Czechs ended the game down to 10 men after substitute Daniel Kolaf was sent off with one minute remaining for a double booking.
The victory leaves Italy unbeaten in Group B and seven points clear of nearest rivals Bulgaria, who made sure they remained in second place in 2014 World Cup qualification Group B with a 2-1 win against Malta.
Daniel Agger kept Denmark's hopes of qualification for the World Cup alive from the penalty spot as his side defeated 10-man Armenia 1-0 in their Group B match in Yerevan.
Agger did not miss from 12 yards after Varazdat Haroyan brought down Viktor Fischer in the 73rd minute, placing the ball into the bottom left corner to beat Armenia goalkeeper Gevorg Kasparov.
Haroyan was shown a red card for the challenge on Fischer after it earned him his second booking of the night - his first came in the second minute for a foul on Nicki Bille Nielsen. The result means Denmark have 12 points while Armenia remain on nine.
Malta goalkeeper Justin Haber inadvertently put the visitors ahead when he scored a 10th-minute own goal and Emil Gargorov scored for Bulgaria just before the hour mark. Edward Herrera pulled one back for Malta in the 77th minute but it was not enough to change the course of the match.
Robin Van Persie ensured Netherlands also qualified for the World Cup with a 2-0 Group D win over Andorra.
The Dutch striker scored a quick-fire brace in the second half as Louis van Gaal's side claimed a win that will take them to Brazil. The win means Netherlands finished the night on 22 points -- nine clear of both Romania and Turkey following the latter's 2-0 win in Bucharest and eight ahead of Hungary, who are in second place with 14.
Goals from Burak Yilmaz and Mevlut Erdinc kept Turkey's hopes of appearing at the World Cup alive with a 2-0 victory in Romania. Fatih Terim's team started this match three points behind their Group D opponents, but the win maintains their qualification hopes with two matches remaining.
Hungary moved into second place in Group D and pole position to reach the play-offs with a 5-1 home thrashing of Estonia.
An early Ragnar Klavan own goal set the hosts on their way to a one-sided win, with Tamas Hajnal, Daniel Bode, Krisztian Nemeth and Balazs Dzsudzsak also on target. Tarmo Kink replied for Estonia early in the second half.
France belatedly found their scoring touch as they twice came from behind to finally win 4-2 in Belarus.
Franck Ribery, passed fit after a buttock injury, equalised twice after first Egor Filipenko and then Timofey Kalachev had given Belarus the lead.
Goals in the final 20 minutes from Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba then sealed a hard-fought victory for Didier Deschamps' side, keeping alive their slim hopes of beating Spain to automatic qualification but more importantly keeping them five points ahead of Finland, who beat Georgia 1-0 in Tiblisi, in the race for second place in Group I.
England took a small step towards qualification after they scraped a 0-0 draw in Kiev thanks to Ukraine's profligacy.
Ukraine made the most of a booming atmosphere inside the Olympic Stadium, applying pressure to Roy Hodgson's shell-shocked team, but they could not get the killer goal that would have put them top of Group H with two games left.
Elsewhere in Group H, Piotr Zielinski scored twice as Poland breezed to a 5-1 win against San Marino, who had the consolation of breaking their goal duck in this qualifying campaign.
Alessandro Della Valle cancelled out Zielinski's opener but Jakub Blaszczykowski, Waldemar Sobota, Zielinski again and Adrian Mierzejewski restored order at the Stadio Olimpico. The result keeps Poland in the qualifying picture, although they lie fourth and trail group leaders England by three points.
Fabio Capello's Russia moved towards securing their place at next year's World Cup finals in Brazil after a strong second-half showing saw off Israel 3-1 in their Group F clash in St Petersburg.
Strikes from Vasili Berezutski, Alexander Kokorin and Denis Glushakov gave the hosts a victory that restored their single-point lead at the top of the group over key rivals Portugal.
Capello's men now need to take maximum points from their last two games away to group minnows Luxembourg and Azerbaijan next month in order to seal automatic qualification.
Elsewhere in Group F, Northern Ireland were humbled 3-2 by lowly Luxembourg as Mathias Janisch grabbed a late but deserved winner at the Stade Josy Barthel. Luxembourg had won just three World Cup qualifiers in their history before this match, the last of them at home in 1972, but were full value for three points as the visitors turned in a turgid display.
Germany moved to within a win of securing their place at next summer's World Cup thanks to a workmanlike 3-0 win over Faroe Islands.
Per Mertesacker gave Joachim Low's men the lead midway through the first half, but Germany had to wait until midway through the second half before a penalty from Arsenal's Mesut Ozil doubled their advantage from after Atli Gregersen was sent off. Thomas Muller, who had earned the penalty, then rounded off the win in the 84th minute as Germany maintained a five-point lead over Sweden at the top of Group C.
Giovanni Trapattoni's reign as Republic of Ireland manager effectively came to an end in Austria as David Alaba snatched a dramatic 1-0 victory. Alaba, the man whose last-gasp strike in Dublin denied Ireland a win in March, repeated the dose 84 minutes into an encounter neither side could afford to lose to leave Austria clinging grimly to their hopes of claiming the runners-up spot in the group.
A quickfire goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was enough to secure victory for Sweden in Kazakhstan as the Scandinavians strengthened their position as runners-up elect of Group C with a 1-0 win.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward struck after just 27 seconds at the Astana Arena to ensure Erik Hamren's men followed up Friday's win over the Republic of Ireland with three more points.
With the runners-up spot within reach, Sweden were eager to get the goals in Astana which would put further pressure on chasing Austria.
But even they could not have envisaged the start given to them by Ibrahimovic, who benefited from a swift attack by carving his way through the home defence before slotting the ball into the bottom right corner to beat the previous quickest goal for Sweden, scored by Marcus Allback after 35 seconds against Latvia in 2007.
Two goals from Fabian Schar helped Switzerland move ever closer to a place at the World Cup as they beat Norway 2-0 in qualifying Group E.
The Basel defender scored early in each half to pull the Swiss even further clear at the top of the standings and leave the Scandinavians battling to finish as runners-up after a third defeat in the competition.
Iceland took a significant step towards their first ever major tournament following a 2-1 comeback win over Albania in Reykjavik. Valdet Rama fired the visitors ahead on nine minutes but Iceland's recovery took just four minutes to begin.
Birkir Bjarnason stabbed in a low cross at the back post four minutes later, fighting off Eidur Gudjohnsen to do so, before another close-range finish from Kolbeinn Sigthorsson just after half-time settled the match.
Victory moves Iceland into second place in Group E, five points behind leaders Switzerland but, more importantly, two points ahead of Norway and one point clear of nearest rivals Slovenia, who kept their hopes alive as they beat Cyprus 2-0 in Nicosia. and two better off than Norway with two games to play.
Greece kept pace with Bosnia-Herzegovina at the top of Group G as Dimitris Salpingidis' goal gave them a vital 1-0 win over Latvia in Piraeus as both sides ended the game with 10 men.
The win, which had shades of their previous laborious victory over Liechtenstein about it, meant Greece stayed level with Bosnia assuring them of second place at the very least.
Bosnia came from a goal down to claim a crucial 2-1 victory over Slovakia that maintains their place at the head of their World Cup qualifying group on goal difference from Greece.
Four days after a home defeat against the same opposition in Zenica saw their three-point lead at the head of Group G wiped out, Bosnia were on the ropes again when Slovakia took the lead through Marek Hamsik after 42 minutes.
A second defeat at Slovakian hands would have seen Greece move three points clear at the summit, but Bosnia kept themselves in pole position for automatic qualification for Brazil thanks to goals by Ermin Bicakcic and Izet Hajrovic inside the final 20 minutes.
Elswhere in the group, first-half goals from Deivydas Matulevicius and Tadas Kijanskas gave hosts Lithuania their second win of the qualifying campaign, 2-0 over Liechtenstein in Marijampole.
Group A's top two Belgium and Croatia were not in competitive action, and in their absence it was left to Scotland to climb off the foot of the section with a 2-1 win in Macedonia. Wales moved bottom -- despite the presence of €100 million winger Gareth Bale off the bench -- as they were thumped 3-0 by Serbia in Cardiff.