It’s finally done- 210 teams entered and 872 games later we’re down to the last 32 and some. shock names fell at the final hurdle.
Italy 0-1 Sweden (aggregate)
The biggest shock of qualifying came on Monday night at the San Siro as 4 time World Champions Italy failed to qualify for the first time since 1958.
Italy paid the price for a poor performance in the away leg and couldn’t find a way through an organised Swedish back line, their best chance falling to El Shaawary late in the game, bringing to an end the international careers of Buffon, Chiellini, Barzagli and De Rossi. For the Swedes it’s a remarkable achievement having come through a group with France & Holland.
Greece 1-4 Croatia
4 goals in the opening 49 minutes had this tie done and dusted in the first leg as Greece couldn’t live with Croatia’s fluent attacking play orchestrated as ever by Luka Modric. The second leg was a none event with Croatia cruising to Russia with Ivan Perisic going close and the Greeks rarely threatening.
Ireland 1-5 Denmark
Ireland held Denmark to a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen and started brightly in Dublin thanks to Shane Duffy’s header and had early chances to take control. But an own goal brought Denmark level before Christian Eriksen took over. The Spurs forward hit a stunning hat trick and a late Nicklas Bendtner penalty condemned Ireland to a 5-1 drubbing.
Switzerland 1-0 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland really needed to win the first leg and take a lead to defend to Zurich. But an appalling handball decision handed the Swiss a penalty and a 1-0 win in Belfast. In the return leg the Swiss dominated but couldn’t add to their lead so the tie was ultimately decided by that controversial penalty- where’s VAR when you need it?! But that shouldn’t be taken to mean Switzerland didn’t merit the win- they dominated both legs and would have won comfortably were it not for their profligate finishing.
Australia 3-1 Honduras
After a dour 0-0 draw in San Pedro the Hondurans arrived in Australia and made bizarre claims of espionage ahead of the return match. Australia dominated in Sydney and won through via a bizarre Miles Jedinak hat trick- 2 penalties and forcing an own goal, before Honduras netted a late consolation.
Peru 2-0 New Zealand
A 0-0 draw in Wellington always looked like it wouldn’t be enough for New Zealand. In Lima last night Peru hooked the final slot in the finals with a comfortable 2-0 win after star man Jefferson Farfan broke the deadlock, giving Peru their first World Cup berth since 1982.
Africa Groups Conclude
With Nigeria & Egypt already qualified 3 groups were decided this week;
Congratulations to Tunisia who qualified for their first World Cup since 2002 after a nervy scoreless draw with Libya.
Whilst Italy were the highest profile casualty of the final qualifying round but traditional African superpower Ivory Coast have also missed out. They needed a home win against Morocco to secure qualification but two goals in 5 minutes saw Morocco secure a 2-0 win and their own passage to Russia.
Senegal secured a home win over South Africa to secure their World Cup place making their controversially replayed leg in South Africa a dead rubber.
So there it is, the 32 finalists have been confirmed, next stop The Kremlin on December 1st for the draw.
Europe: Germany, Belgium, England, Spain, France, Serbia, Portugal, Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Croatia
Africa: Nigeria, Egypt, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco
South America: Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina, Peru
Asia: Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Australia
Concaaf: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
Significant absentees: Italy, Holland, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Ghana, USA, Chile,
Missing The World Cup XI: Buffon (Italy), Aurier (Ivory Coast), Valencia (Ecuador), Van Dijk (Holland), Chiellini (Italy), Alba (Austria), Mhikitaryan (Armenia), Vidal (Chile), Bale (Wales), Robben (Holland), Aubameyang (Gabon)