Italy Joins Netherlands in Qualifying for Soccer World Cup

The Netherlands and Italy became the first European teams to qualify for soccer’s 2014 World Cup, while Germany and Switzerland moved closer to berths.

The Netherlands won 2-0 last night in Andorra to guarantee finishing as the top team in qualifying Group D, while Italy’s come-from-behind 2-1 home win over the Czech Republic secured first place in Group B.

The winners of each of the nine European groups qualify for next year’s 32-team tournament in Brazil, with the best eight runners-up going into a playoff for the remaining four slots. There are two rounds of qualifying games left.

Germany and Switzerland are both five points ahead in their groups after winning, England’s 0-0 draw in Ukraine gave it a one-point lead and France beat Belarus 4-2 to pull even on points with world and European champion Spain.

The Netherlands booked its place in Brazil as Robin van Persie scored four minutes apart early in the second half to down Andorra. The win moves the Dutch an unassailable eight points ahead of Hungary, which took over second place by routing Estonia 5-1. Turkey beat Romania 2-0 leaving both one point behind the Hungarians.

Italy came from behind in Turin to secure its 18th World Cup appearance with two games to spare. 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 after being taken down by Theodor Gebre Selassie. Italy has 20 points, seven more than Bulgaria, which won 2-1 at Malta. Denmark is a point further back in third place after a 1-0 win against Armenia.

Five-Point Leads

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. Austria remained three points behind the Swedes with a 1-0 home win against Ireland.

In Group E, Fabian Schaer scored both goals as Switzerland beat Norway 2-0 to move to 18 points. Iceland climbed into second place with 13 points with a 2-1 win over Albania, while Slovenia jumped up to third on 12 points after winning 2-0 in Cyprus.

England’s scoreless draw in Ukraine was enough to move it to the head of Group H with 16 points, one more than Montenegro and Ukraine. Poland has 13 points after a 5-1 win in San Marino.

Franck Ribery scored two of France’s four second-half goals in its win against Belarus in Gomel. The French ended a run of five straight games without a goal and pulled even with Spain, which has played one fewer game in Group I. Finland beat Georgia 1-0 in the group’s other match.

Russia Takes Lead

Russia defeated Israel 3-1 in St. Petersburg to take the lead in Group F. Russia has 18 points, one more than Portugal, with two matches remaining. Luxembourg beat Northern Ireland 3-2 for its first World Cup qualifying win in five years.

Bosnia-Herzegovina scored twice in the final 20 minutes to win 2-1 at Slovakia and remain tied in Group G with Greece, which beat Latvia 1-0, on 19 points. Bosnia tops the standings on goal difference. Lithuania beat Liechtenstein 2-0.

Scotland won 2-1 in Macedonia and Serbia beat Wales 3-0 in a pair of games featuring eliminated teams in Group A.