Spain, England, and Russia sealed spots in next year’s World Cup finals Tuesday as Bosnia-Herzegovina delivered the feel-good story of European qualifying by also topping its group to reach a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation.
After a nervy final night of group-stage play across the continent, France and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were consigned to next month’s playoffs — just like in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup — but the rest of Europe’s leading teams are guaranteed to be in Brazil next summer. With a population of just over 300,000, Iceland is the surprise name in the two-legged playoffs that will also feature Greece, Ukraine, Romania, and Croatia. Sweden had already advanced to Monday’s draw, but Denmark had the worst record of the nine group runners-up and missed out.
Spain will defend its world title after securing top spot in Group 1 ahead of France by beating Georgia, 2-0, with Alvaro Negredo and Juan Mata scoring either side of halftime. The French overcame Finland, 3-0, but needed Georgia to pull off a shock in Albacete to climb above the Spanish.
‘‘It may look practically routine but it’s important to remember how successful we’ve been at qualifying,’’ said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, whose team was one of seven to go through qualifying unbeaten. England was another, although expectations won’t be so high in Brazil.
Wayne Rooney’s first-half header and Steven Gerrard’s late solo goal earned England a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium, allowing it to stay ahead of Ukraine in Group H and reach a fifth straight finals.
‘‘It is a great feeling to be in Brazil and hopefully we can go in with a little less pressure on ourselves and surprise a few,’’ said Gerrard, who calmed the nerves of England fans with his 88th-minute strike that wrapped up victory.
That meant Ukraine’s 8-0 win in San Marino proved immaterial. The wins for Spain and England were overshadowed by events in Kaunas, where Bosnia-Herzegovina sparked scenes of delirium back in its capital city of Sarajevo by beating Lithuania, 1-0, to reach its first World Cup since being granted independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.
For many Bosnians, soccer has been a rare cause for joy since the country descended into nearly four years of war two decades ago, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving a legacy of poverty, high unemployment, and political strife.
The national team had missed out on the last two major tournaments by losing in the playoffs to Portugal both times, but this time Bosnia-Herzegovina got it right.
Almost 10,000 Bosnians jumped, cried, and screamed in the central square in Sarajevo when Vedad Ibisevic scored in the 68th minute for what proved to be the winner.
‘‘What an excellent night,’’ Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said. ‘‘The players believed they could do it, I believed in them, and we made it.’’