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Defending champion Spain qualifies for World Cup

October 16, 2013

Defending champion Spain and England qualified for the World Cup on Tuesday along with Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which earned its first berth as an independent nation.

Chile and Ecuador earned the last two automatic spots from South America while Honduras qualified from the North and Central American and Caribbean region, forcing regional power Mexico into a further playoff.

Spain won Group I with a 2-0 victory over visiting Georgia. Alvaro Negredo scored in the 26th minute and Juan Mata doubled the lead 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, will be aiming for a fourth at Brazil next year; 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 was second in the group and will be in the playoffs despite defeating visiting Finland 3-0 with goals by Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema around Joona Toivio’s own goal.

Wayne Rooney scored in the 41st minute and Steven Gerrard in the 88th to give England a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium and first place in Group H by one point over Ukraine. The English 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.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Greece, Ukraine, Romania and Iceland placed 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 had the worst record among the nine second-place teams and missed out on a playoff berth.

Bosnia 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 defeated visiting Liechtenstein 2-0 as Dimitris Salpingidis scored in the seventh minute and Giorgos Karagounis added a goal in the 81st.

Russia won Group F with a 1-1 draw at Azerbaijan as Roman Shirokov scored in the 15th. Portugal finished a point back after defeating visiting Luxembourg 3-0 on goals by Silvestre Varela, Nani and Helder Postiga.

Italy, which already had clinched its place at Brazil 2014, had a 2-2 draw with Armenia at Naples. Alessandro Florenzi and Mario Balotelli scored for the Azzurri.

After securing top spot in its group last week, Germany rallied for a 5-3 win at Sweden with Andre Schuerrle’s second-half hat trick following goals by Mesut Ozil and Mario Goetze.

A 2-1 win by Chile over visiting Ecuador earned both nations berths. Alexis Sanchez scored for Chile in the 35th minute and Gary Medel added another three minutes later, while Felipe Caicedo scored for Ecuador in the 66th.

Uruguay was fifth on goal difference after a 3-2 win at home over already qualified Argentina and will play a home-and-away playoff against Jordan, the fifth-place team in Asia. Cristian Rodriguez and Edison Cavani scored around a Luis Suarez penalty kick for the hosts, and Maxi Rodriguez had two goals for the visitors.

Honduras began the day three points ahead of Mexico in the fight for the last automatic qualifying berth from CONCACAF, and a 2-2 draw at Jamaica was enough to reach Brazil.

Mexico will face a two-legged playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand, with the winner qualifying for Brazil.

In the African playoffs, Ghana thrashed Bob Bradley’s Egypt national team 6-1 in the first leg of the home-and-away series. The second leg is scheduled for Nov. 18 in Cairo.

Bradley was hired by Egypt in September 2011, 15 months after Ghana beat Bradley’s U.S. team 2-1 in the second round of the World Cup. Egypt, ranked 50th, haa not qualified for the World Cup since 1990.

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