England’s Steven Gerrard (centre) runs through the Polish defence to score the second goal during the World Cup 2014 Group H match at Wembley Stadium in north London on Tuesday. England won the game 2-0.
Paris: Holders Spain joined, England in grabbing Europe’s remaining automatic spots for the 2014 World Cup finals on Tuesday night as the last round of group matches ended in joy, despair and shattered nerves.
Big European names like France, Portugal and Greece were consigned to the playoffs.
There was heartbreak for Denmark, who pummelled Malta 6-0 to finish second behind Italy in Group B but were the unlucky team to miss out on the playoff spots available for the eight best runners-up from the nine European groups.
Iceland kept alive their hopes of reaching their first finals when a 1-1 draw in Norway ensured they finished second behind Group E winners Switzerland to put them in the hat for Monday’s draw for November’s two-legged ties.
The other countries who also get another chance to snap up a ticket to Brazil are Romania, Ukraine, Sweden and Croatia.
World and European champions Spain secured top spot in Group I with a 2-0 win at home to Georgia thanks to goals from Alvaro Negredo and Juan Mata, finishing three points ahead of the French who beat Finland 3-0.
The victory in Albacete meant the Spanish finished with 20 points from eight matches and, like six other group winners, ended their campaign unbeaten as they seek to become only the third nation to successfully defend the world title.
Negredo, who had scored in their penultimate qualifier last week, shone again for Spain while the man who set up his 26th-minute opener, Andres Iniesta, was delighted to have helped put them through in a city close to where he comes from.
“To seal qualification here, what better place could there be,” Iniesta, who scored the winner that secured Spain’s first World Cup in South Africa in 2010, said in a pitchside interview with Spanish television broadcaster Telecinco.
“Playing here on my home patch they treat me with a special affection. It was a nice day and a nice match to get to Brazil and I am just really happy.”
Substitute Mata pounced on a loose ball and cracked home from close range in the 61st minute to make sure of the victory that extended their unbeaten run at home to 30 matches.
That result meant France’s win in Paris, inspired by Franck Ribery who scored one goal and created another, was academic as the 1998 world champions had to make do with a playoff spot.
The French look unlikely to be seeded for the draw because of their world ranking which means they could face a tricky clash with another big footballing nation.
England breathed a sigh of relief when Steven Gerrard scored in the 88th minute against Poland to seal a 2-0 win after his side had held a slender lead from Wayne Rooney’s opener.
Group H rivals Ukraine racked up eight goals against San Marino in the forlorn hope of any slip-up at Wembley.
Five European teams had already cracked open the bubbly to celebrate their places at the World Cup finals before this last round of matches but it did not stop some of them adding a few more goals for good measure.
Group C winners Germany fought back from two goals down to beat runners-up Sweden 5-3 thanks to a hat-trick from Andre Schuerrle on an evening when midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger earned his 100th cap.
There was also another victory for Group D winners and 2010 World Cup runners-up Netherlands, who overcame Turkey 2-0 away to deny their hosts a place in the playoffs as Romania overtook them in the standings with a 2-0 win at home to Estonia.
Already-qualified Italy and Belgium ended their campaigns on more modest notes with 2-2 and 1-1 draws against Armenia and Wales respectively, while Switzerland beat Slovenia 1-0 to deny the visitors a chance of the Group E runners-up spot that went to Iceland.
Croatia, who had already secured second place behind Belgium in Group A, suffered a surprise 2-0 defeat in Scotland but had done just enough earlier in the campaign to ensure the loss did not cost them a playoff spot.
It may, however, spell the end of Croatia coach Igor Stimac’s tenure as he offered his resignation following the defeat with his side having taken one point from their last four group matches.