France produced a stunning performance to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit and qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil, beating Ukraine 3-0 on Wednesday morning (AEDT) in Paris.
In front of a raucous crowd at the Stade de France, Les Bleus took the lead midway through the first half through Mamadou Sakho and levelled the tie on aggregate when Karim Benzema netted from an offside position after 34 minutes.
That strike came shortly after the Real Madrid man had had a perfectly good goal disallowed, and the controversy continued as Ukraine defender Yevhen Kacheridi was sent off early in the second period.
France made their one-man advantage count as an Oleg Gusev own-goal put them ahead in the tie for the first time in the 72nd minute and Didier Deschamps’ side won 3-2 on aggregate.
Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant hat-trick as Portugal survived a second-half scare in their 3-2 playoff second-leg win against Sweden to qualify for the World Cup.
The Real Madrid superstar, who scored the only goal in last week’s first leg, overcame an equally brilliant display from Swedish captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a classic encounter in Solna.
Ibrahimovic scored both goals for Sweden in vain as the match featured five goals in 29 minutes of second-half madness.
Portugal advance 4-2 on aggregate.
Ronaldo also became Portugal’s all-time leading scorer taking his tally to 50 and three ahead of retired forward Pedro Pauleta.
Croatia also advanced to the finals, with a 2-0 win over Iceland in Zagreb giving them a 2-1 aggregate win, while Greece secured their place with a 1-1 draw against Romania in Bucharest bringing up a 4-2 win on aggregate.
Meanwhile, Algeria and Ghana completed the five African qualifiers for next year’s World Cup, joining Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, who all qualified at the weekend.
Algeria did just enough to book a ticket to their fourth World Cup by beating Burkina Faso 1-0 to go through on the away goals’ rule after the first game ended 3-2 in favour of the west Africans.
It needed a scrambled effort in the 49th minute by skipper Madjid Bougherra for Algeria against Burkina Faso – beaten finalists at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations – who were resolute in defence, but offered very little going forward.
Despite losing 2-1 against Egypt, in Cairo, Ghana qualified for a third successive World Cup, 7-3 on aggregate.
Egypt could not overcome the 6-1 humiliation they suffered at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi last month.
The Pharaohs, who last appeared at the World Cup in 1990, scored through Amr Zaki and Mohamed Gedo in either half, before substitute Kevin-Prince Boateng pulled a goal back for Ghana late on.
It was a huge disappointment for the seven-time African champions, whose American coach Bob Bradley is now expected to quit.