Iceland, Serbia qualify for World Cup as Croatia and Ireland reach playoffs
Iceland and Serbia secured their places in the 2018 World Cup with victories on Monday, while Republic of Ireland and Croatia reached the playoffs, ending the hopes of Wales and Ukraine in the process.
Aleksandar Prijovic scored in the 74th minute as Serbia topped Group D with a 1-0 win over Georgia to secure their third World Cup appearance in the past four tournaments after they missed out in 2014.
Aleksandar Mitrovic sent a low cross through the box and Prijovic got his foot to it, sending it back across goal and in off the inside of the far post.
But the biggest drama was in the fight for second place as James McClean's goal gave Ireland a spot in the playoffs with a 1-0 win over Wales, whose qualification dreams came to an end.
Before the goal came, Wales -- playing without injured talisman Gareth Bale -- were on pace to just barely get into the playoffs with a draw as Croatia were also being held goalless, but the picture changed when Ireland scored in the 57th minute.
Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey rolled the ball out to Ashley Williams, who was quickly dispossessed by Jeff Hendrick, who did well to keep the ball from crossing the sideline before sending in a low cross. Harry Arter dummied the ball in the box and it fell to McClean to slam it home from 12 yards.
Ireland will be unseeded in next month's playoffs, so they could be drawn against the likes of Italy or Croatia, and possibly Portugal if Cristiano Ronaldo and company can't beat Switzerland on Tuesday.
With a population of only 334,000, Iceland became the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup finals with a 2-0 victory over Kosovo in Reykjavik to top Group I.
And it was star man Gylfi Sigurdsson, who set the Euro 2016 darlings on the path to Russia in the 40th minute -- the Everton midfielder out-foxing a defender at the top of the box before slotting his shot past Samir Ujkani in the Kosovo goal.
Johann Gudmundsson then added an insurance strike shortly after the hour mark, steering home Sigurdsson's low cross from close range after fine work down the left from the former Swansea star.
Iceland broke the previous record for a smallest qualified nation, topping the 1.3 million people of Trinidad and Tobago in 2006.
The result puts a satisfying bow on an impressive qualifying campaign for Heimir Hallgrimsson's men, giving them a two-point advantage over second-placed Croatia, who ensured themselves a seeded playoff spot with a 2-0 victory over Ukraine in Kiev.
Andrej Kramaric put the visitors in front on 62 minutes, when the Hoffenheim striker expertly angled his leaping header down and past Andriy Pyatov after an inch-perfect cross from Luka Modric.
And the former Leicester man sealed Croatia's passage eight minutes later -- Ivan Rakitic's first-time cross from a wonderful long ball finding Kramaric at the back post for an easy tap-in.
Urkaine could have advanced with a win but were eliminated, while the victories by Ireland and Croatia ensured that Bosnia and Herzegovina can not reach the playoffs from Group H, while Slovakia are all but guaranteed to miss out on the playoffs as the worst runner-up despite finishing second in Group F on Sunday.
Slovakia's only hope will be if Greece fails to beat tiny Gibraltar -- who have not earned a point all campaign -- on Tuesday, and Bosnia win in Estonia to finish above Greece in second place in Group H.
It was all settled in Group G before the start of the day as Spain completed an unbeaten campaign by winning 1-0 in Israel.
Asier Illarramendi got the only goal in the 76th minute by sending in a shot from 20 yards following a corner.
Italy are headed to the playoffs after a 1-0 win in Albania, Antonio Candreva scoring the lone goal into the roof of the net in the 73rd minute after a cross fell to his feet at the far post.
Macedonia concluded their Group G campaign with a 4-0 win over Liechtenstein, who failed to earn a single point with just one goal in 10 games.
Visar Musliu and Aleksandar Trajkovski scored in a three-minute span in the first half for Macedonia, and Enis Bardhi and Arijan Ademi did the same in the second half.
In the final game in Group D, Austria took advantage of 10-man Moldova to win 1-0 through Louis Schaub's 69th-minute goal, but both teams had already been eliminated.
In Group I's other match, Turkey and Finland played to a 2-2 draw. Cenk Tosun scored a brace while Paulus Arajuuri and Joel Pohjanpalo struck for the hosts in a match between already-eliminated sides.
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