Italy and 2010 runners-up the Netherlands are the first European countries to book their places at next summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil, with Germany and Switzerland on the verge of joining them after victories of their own on Tuesday.
Runners-up in 2010, the Netherlands qualified courtesy of their seventh win in eight Group D games, a 2-0 triumph in Andorra. Romania, who would have kept their marginal hopes of topping the section alive with three points, lost 2-0 at home to Turkey. Hungary moved into second place following a 5-1 defeat of visitors Estonia.
Italy sewed up Group B the hard way, coming from behind to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Turin, a result that led to visiting coach Michal Bílek resigning. Bulgaria tightened their grip on second after winning 3-0 in Malta, though they have Denmark breathing down their necks after the Nordic side avenged June's 4-0 home defeat by Armenia with a 1-0 success in Yerevan.
Switzerland can almost start planning for Brazil. The Nati shook off the disappointment of their 4-4 Group E draw with Iceland on Friday – when they surrendered a three-goal lead – by prevailing 2-0 in Norway thanks to two carbon-copy Fabian Schär goals. However, Iceland's 2-1 win against Albania, which lifted them into second, kept the champagne on ice for Ottmar Hitzfeld's men.
Sweden consolidated second spot behind Germany in Group C by virtue of a 1-0 victory in Kazakhstan, Zlatan Ibrahimović’s first-minute strike proving decisive. That result meant Germany, 3-0 winners away to the Faroe Islands, must wait until the visit of the Republic of Ireland on 11 October to seal qualification.
With Portugal not in action, Russia went top of Group F by beating Israel 3-1 at home in their game in hand. In the other fixture, Luxembourg registered their first home World Cup qualifying triumph in 44 outings, scoring late on to inflict a 3-2 loss on Northern Ireland.
Greece are assured of at least a runners-up finish in Group G after edging out Latvia 1-0. The 2004 European champions are level on points with leaders Bosnia and Herzegovina, who, beaten at home by Slovakia last week, won the reverse fixture 2-1.
Ukraine drew 0-0 with England in Kyiv, meaning the latter still lead Group H by a point, while Poland made up ground by putting five past San Marino. France, without a goal in five games, scored four times in beating Belarus in Group I. Scotland recorded their second Group A win, 2-1 in Skopje against FYROM, and Serbia eased to a 3-0 triumph in Wales.
The nine section winners qualify directly for the finals in Brazil. The eight runners-up with the best records against the teams finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their pool go into November's play-offs. The play-off draw will be in Zurich on 21 October.
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