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World Cup qualifying: England, Spain, Russia punch tickets to Brazil
England and defending champion Spain qualified for the World Cup on Tuesday night along with Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which earned its first berth as an independent nation.
Three more spots were at stake in late games in South and Central America, finalizing 21 of the 32 slots for the field in Brazil next June.
Wayne Rooney scored in the 41st minute and Steven Gerrard in the 88th to give England (6-0-4) a 2-0 win over Poland at London’s Wembley Stadium and first place in Group H by one point over Ukraine (6-1-3). The Three Lions qualified for their 14th World Cup and fifth in a row.
“We have a great togetherness, are there for each other and proved we can perform under pressure,” Gerrard said.
Spain (6-0-2) won Group I with a 2-0 victory over visiting Georgia on goals by Alvaro Negredo in the 26th minute and Juan Mata in the 61st. Iker Casillas returned to starting lineup for Spain after being replaced by Victor Valdes against Belarus last week. The Spanish, who have won three straight major tournaments, including the 2008 and 2012 European Championships, qualified for their 10th straight World Cup.
“It may look practically routine, but it’s important to remember how successful we’ve been at qualifying,” coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “This is not an easy competition.”
France (5-1-2) was second and will be in the playoffs despite defeating visiting Finland 3-0 on goals by Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema around Joona Toivio’s own goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Greece, Ukraine, Romania and Iceland also finished second in their groups, winding up in Monday’s draw for the eight-team European playoffs next month along with Sweden and Croatia. The four playoff winners also will earn berths.
With a population of just over 300,000, Iceland would be the smallest nation to qualify for a World Cup. Trinidad and Tobago, at about 1.3 million, was at the 2006 tournament in Germany.
The seedings for the playoffs will be determined by Thursday’s FIFA rankings. Denmark (4-2-4) had the poorest record among the nine second-place teams and missed out on a playoff berth.
Bosnia (8-1-1) won 1-0 at Lithuania on Vedad Ibisevic’s 68th-minute goal to win Group G on goal difference over Greece. Bosnia-Herzegovina gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Almost 10,000 fans jumped, cried and screamed ‘Vamos Bosnia’ — or ‘Go Bosnia’ — when Ibisevic scored in Kaunas.
Fans headed to the airport after the game to wait for their team to arrive in the middle of the night and join the party.
Greece (8-1-1) defeated visiting Liechtenstein 2-0 as Dimitris Salpingidis scored in the seventh minute and Giorgos Karagounis added a goal in the 81st.
Russia (7-2-1) won Group F with a 1-1 tie at Azerbaijan as Roman Shirokov scored in the 15th. Portugal (6-1-3) finished a point back after defeating visiting Luxembourg 3-0 on goals by Silvestre Varela, Nani and Helder Postiga.
Italy, which already had clinched, tied Armenia 2-2 at Naples. Former Real Salt Lake forward Yura Movsisyan scored in the fourth minute for the visitors. Alessandro Florenzi and Mario Balotelli scored for the Azzurri, and Giueseppe Rossi entered in the 73rd minute for his first international appearance since Oct. 7, 2011. A 26-year-old forward who was born and lives in New Jersey, Rossi had been sidelined until last May by a knee injury late that October, which required three operations.
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