The Netherlands and Italy celebrated becoming the first European teams to book places at next year’s World Cup in Brazil on Tuesday when the final pieces of the continent’s qualifying jigsaw began to fall into place.
The Dutch sealed their place after a Robin van Persie double gave them a 2-0 win in Andorra while Italy came from behind to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Turin with Mario Balotelli scoring the goal that sealed their berth from the penalty spot.
Later on Tuesday,Costa Rica and the United States both guaranteed places in the 32-team finals from the CONCACAF region,while Argentina became the first South American team to join hosts Brazil with a 5-2 thumping of Paraguay
Back in Europe,there was plenty for Germany,Switzerland,Russia,France,England and Bosnia to be happy about but there was gloom for Romania,Israel and Ireland plus the Czechs as their hopes either disappeared totally or became no longer feasible.
There is also some renewed belief in Iceland,who have never reached a major finals,after they beat Albania 2-1 in Reykjavik to move into second place behind Switzerland in Group E.
Bosnia,who have also yet to play in a finals,stayed top of Group G on goal difference after they won a rip-roaring game 2-1 in Slovakia and second-placed Greece beat Latvia 1-0 in Piraeus.
But the biggest cheers could be heard in Dutch and Italian towns and cities as they booked their places with two matches to spare.
The Dutch,World Cup runners up in 2010,had to wait until the 49th minute to take the lead against Andorra who have lost all eight games,scoring none and conceding 24.
Van Persie’s second after a goalkeeping error means the Netherlands will take part in their 10th World Cup next year.
Qualification represents something of a redemption for Dutch coach Louis van Gaal who failed to steer the country to the 2002 World Cup in his previous stint as coach.
“We have done the job. We could not have qualified quicker for the World Cup than the way we did. We are the first from Europe,” Van Gaal told reporters.
On the match itself,he added: “We did very well. We gave our all in the first half and we made the breakthrough after the interval. That’s just how we wanted it.”
Italy,one of only 13 teams who took part in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil,made sure they would be among the 32 nations at the finals next year with their comeback win in Turin.
Libor Kozak threatened to ruin Italy’s celebrations when he put the Czechs ahead after 19 minutes but second half goals from Giorgio Chiellini after 51 minutes and Balotelli from the spot three minutes later gave the Italians the points.
Germany’s 3-0 win in the Faroe Islands thanks to goals from Per Mertesacker,a Mesut Ozil penalty and Thomas Mueller,means they will qualify if they beat Ireland at …continued »
Only In The Express
Best of Express