PARIS (AFP) – Iceland qualified for the World Cup for the first time after beating Kosovo 2-0 on Monday, while Serbia clinched a spot at next year’s finals with a 1-0 win over Georgia.
Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Gudmundsson scored in Reykjavik as Iceland, with a population of just 330,000, became the smallest country to advance to the World Cup finals.
It is the tiny northern European island nation’s second successive appearance at a major tournament after their shock win over England in a surprise run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.
Iceland needed all three points to secure top spot in European qualifying Group I as Croatia, who sacked coach Ante Cacic last week, downed Ukraine 2-0 in Kiev in the fight to claim second place.
Andrej Kramatic struck twice in the second half to send Croatia into next month’s play-offs as Zlatko Dalic took charge of his first match following the 1-1 draw with Finland that prompted the dismissal of Cacic.
Aleksandar Prijovic scored after coming on as a second-half substitute to cement Serbia’s place in Russia, ending an eight-year major finals absence.
Prijovic struck the winner on 74 minutes in Belgrade as Serbia finished top of Group D, with the Republic of Ireland heading to the play-offs after a 1-0 victory over Wales in Cardiff.
James McClean broke Welsh hearts with a thunderous 57th-minute strike to keep Irish dreams alive as they leapfrogged their opponents, without the injured Gareth Bale, into second place.
Ireland remain on course for a first World Cup finals appearance since 2002, as surprise Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales saw their dream of a first trip to the tournament since 1958 turn to dust.
“The players were magnificent playing away from home at a very good Welsh side. To win on their territory was a great result for us,” Ireland manager Martin O’Neill told Sky Sports.
“We are in the play-offs. Whenever the draw is made we will take our chance.”
Asier Illarramendi netted the only goal in Jerusalem as Spain completed their successful qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win over Israel, while Antonio Candreva grabbed a second-half winner for Italy in a 1-0 victory away to Albania in Group G.
Italy will be the top seeds for the November play-offs, the draw for which is made in Zurich on October 17.