Iceland and Serbia secured their spots 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.
Wales, playing without injured talisman Gareth Bale, were on pace to just barely get into the playoffs with a draw, 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.
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.
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 Liechtinstein, 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.