Ten of the 32 spots at the 2014 soccer World Cup are now filled after Italy, the Netherlands, the U.S., Costa Rica and Argentina secured berths.
The Netherlands and Italy became the first European teams to book a place at the tournament in Brazil yesterday, when 33 qualifying matches were played. The U.S. and Costa Rica advanced when Honduras and Panama drew in a later game, and Argentina’s 5-2 win in Paraguay made it South America’s first qualifier.
“We all wanted to win to seal this qualification, we’ve worked hard in the past three years,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said in comments on the tournament’s website. “We’re not the strongest players individually but collectively we produce our best and this helps to raise everyone’s game.”
Also in Europe, Germany and Switzerland took five-point leads in their groups heading into the final two rounds of matches, while England and Russia secured one-point advantages atop their pools. The winners of each of the nine European groups advance, with the best eight runners-up going into a playoff for the remaining four slots.
Robin van Persie scored goals four minutes apart early in the second half as the Netherlands won 2-0 in Andorra to guarantee finishing atop Group D. Italy’s 2-1 home victory against the Czech Republic sealed first place in Group B.
Italy came from behind in Turin after Libor Kozak put the Czechs in front in the 19th minute before Giorgio Chiellini tied the score early in the second half. Mario Balotelli then gave Italy the lead with a penalty kick in the 54th minute.
Five Points Clear
Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller scored as Germany beat the Faroe Islands 3-0 to stay five points clear in Group C ahead of Sweden, which won 1-0 in Kazakhstan. Fabian Schaer got both goals in Switzerland’s 2-0 win against Norway that moved it to 18 points in Group E.
England’s scoreless draw in Kiev was enough to lift it atop Group H with 16 points, one more than Ukraine and Montenegro. England hosts Montenegro and Poland, which has 13 points, in its final two games on Oct. 11 and 15.
Franck Ribery scored two of France’s four second-half goals in its win against Belarus. The French ended a run of five straight games without a goal and tied world and European champion Spain, which has played one game fewer, with 14 points in Group I.
Russia beat Israel 3-1 in St. Petersburg to lead Portugal by a point in Group F. The Portuguese play their remaining two games at home, while Russia finishes its campaign on the road.
World player of the year Lionel Messi scored twice from the penalty spot against Paraguay to help Argentina secure its 11th straight berth at soccer’s four-yearly showpiece.
Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Maxi Rodriguez added goals in Asuncion as the two-time world champion moved to 29 points atop South America’s nine-team group. Second-place Colombia, which could have sealed a World Cup berth by avoiding defeat against Uruguay last night, lost 2-0 in Montevideo.
South America’s top four nations after 16 matches qualify, with the fifth-placed team playing off for another spot against Jordan, the winner of Asia’s qualifying playoff.
Jordan beat Uzbekistan 9-8 on penalty kicks in Tashkent yesterday after the teams drew 1-1 for the second straight week to send their two-game series into a shootout.
Jordan, seeking its first World Cup berth, will host South America’s No. 5 team on Nov. 13 or 14 in the intercontinental playoff opener, with the return game scheduled for Nov. 20.
The U.S. and Costa Rica became the first two teams from the North, Central America and Caribbean group to advance.
Goals by Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan gave the U.S. a 2-0 win against Mexico and a seventh straight World Cup spot. Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw against Jamaica also was enough to put it through when Honduras tied Panama 2-2.
“These guys put in a lot of hard work over the past two years and to have an opportunity in front of a crowd like this to qualify is pretty special,” Donovan said in an interview with ESPN after the victory in Columbus, Ohio.
The top three teams in the six-nation group advance, with the fourth-place finisher entering a two-game playoff against Oceania group winner New Zealand for another spot.
With two rounds of games remaining, the U.S. leads the standings with 16 points, one more than Costa Rica. Honduras is third with 11 points, followed by Panama and Mexico with eight each, and Jamaica, which has four points.
Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea had already qualified from Asia, while five-time champion Brazil has an automatic spot as host. Brazil beat Portugal 3-1 last night in an exhibition match at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.