Croatia and Turkey took the final automatic qualifying spots for Euro 2016 as the Netherlands, semi-finalists at last year’s World Cup, were eliminated.
The Dutch needed to beat the already-qualified Czech Republic in Amsterdam and hope Turkey lost at home to already-qualified Iceland in Konya to salvage third place in Group A and a spot in next month’s play-offs.
But in the end neither happened, with the 1988 European champions going down 3-2 to the Czechs, their third loss in four qualifiers under Danny Blind, while Turkey beat Iceland 1-0.
Pavel Kaderabek of Hoffenheim put the Czechs ahead and Josef Sural doubled their lead, before the away side had Marek Suchy sent off for chopping down Memphis Depay as he raced through on goal two minutes prior to half-time.
However, Robin van Persie, who had come off the bench in the first half to win his 101st cap, inexplicably headed into his own net in the 66th minute to make it 3-0.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Van Persie scored at the other end to reduce the deficit but by that point the damage had been done and the Dutch will miss a major tournament finals for the first time since the 2002 World Cup.
They have not failed to qualify for a European Championship since 1984, when the finals were also played in France.
“I have no intention to step down. I’m going to carry on with my work because I’m under contract until 2018 and I believe in this team,” Blind, who replaced Guus Hiddink in July, said afterwards.
“Am I the one to blame? I now have to analyse that,” he continued. “The results weren’t good. I won only one match (out of four since taking over).”
Turkey, meanwhile, had Gokhan Tore sent off 12 minutes from time against Iceland but had third place in the bag thanks to events in Amsterdam.
They went one better, though, as Selcuk Inan’s brilliant free-kick on 89 minutes saw them win their game. And that, coupled with a 1-0 win for Kazakhstan in Latvia — secured by an Islambek Kuat goal — allowed Fatih Terim’s side to progress automatically as the best third-placed side.
It made for agonising viewing for Hungary, who had been poised to progress as the best third-placed side. Now they must come through the play-offs — the draw is on Sunday — next month if they are to reach a first major finals since the 1986 World Cup.
Elsewhere, Croatia clinched qualification from Group H as a 1-0 win in Malta allowed them to snatch second place in the section behind Italy at the expense of Norway.
Norway had started the day two points clear of Croatia but were beaten 2-1 by already-qualified Italy in Rome, despite Alexander Tettey of Norwich City putting the visitors ahead.
Alessandro Florenzi equalised for Italy before Southampton’s Graziano Pelle struck the late winner, while Croatia beat Malta thanks to a solitary Ivan Perisic goal, leaving Norway to settle for a play-off place.
The other game in Group H saw Bulgaria end a disappointing campaign with a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in Sofia, with Mihail Alexandrov and Dimitar Rangelov on target.
Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina secured third place and a play-off spot in Group B with a dramatic 3-2 victory in Cyprus.
Haris Medunjanin had put the Bosnians ahead but captain Constantinos Charalambides equalised for the hosts in Nicosia and Nestor Mytidis put them ahead.
Nevertheless, Medunjanin made it 2-2 just before the break and Milan Djuric got the winner for the Bosnians midway through the second half.
Belgium secured top spot in the group, and with it move to the top of the FIFA world rankings, after beating Israel 3-1 in Brussels.
Dries Mertens, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were all on target for Marc Wilmots’ side before Tomer Hemed got one back towards the end.
And Wales celebrated securing their historic first qualification for a major tournament since 1958 by easing past Andorra 2-0 in Cardiff with star duo Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale getting their goals.