Before Tuesday’s games in Europe, fans faced the fact one of the world’s great stars would not appear at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil next year.
Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, but not both. At least they were treated to a sumptuous display of the beautiful game.
Ronaldo scored three times, outpacing his international rival’s two-goal effort, to propel Portugal to a 3-2 victory against Sweden in Stockholm.
"I know Portugal needed me in these matches, and I showed I am here," he said after the game, Reuters reported. "I just did my work as I have been doing lately."
After a scoreless first half, the teams exploded for five goals in 29 minutes at Friends Stadium. Portugal wins 4-2 in the two-game total goal qualifier.
The field for World Cup 2014 in Brazil is now nearly filled after a raft of qualifying games across the globe on Tuesday.
Booking their places after positive results were Ghana, Algeria, Greece, Croatia, Portugal and France.
Two places remained after Tuesday's early games, and they are to be decided later in New Zealand and Uruguay.
The most dramatic games were in France and Sweden where four powerhouse teams clashed for only two invitations to Brazil.
France 3, Ukraine 0
All France needed was the right motivation, some home cooking and a big dose of Mamadou Sakho.
France’s Sakho had never scored for his country before netting one, and almost another, against stalwart Ukraine in a stunning 3-0 victory. Les Bleus came into the game trailing Ukraine 2-0 after last week’s result.
The return leg in Paris was filled with drama after the referee’s assistant disallowed one good goal, and then allowed a goal that appeared to be offside by Karim Benzema. Sakho appeared to have scored his second of the night pushing forward from his defensive position, but the referee said it was an own goal from Oleg Gusev despite the replays.
"It's the magic of football. Four days ago we were bad, very bad," France coach Didier Deschamps told TF1 TV. "It was a great, great game. It was important for French football to be in Brazil next year – when we've got all the ingredients we can do great things."
Striker Olivier Giroud stole the public address announcer's microphone after the game to sing 'La Marseillaise' with the delighted crowd.
"We showed we are a great team. If we play like this we can go far," Benzema said.
Greece 1, Romania 1
Greece went into the return leg after a comfortable 3-1 victory, and established themselves early Tuesday when Konstaninos Mitroglou struck in the 23rd minute.
Romania pulled one back 10 minutes after the restart via one of the best own goals you’ll see from Vasilis Torosidis, but Greece held on to book their passage to Brazil. The 2004 European champions will be appearing at their third world Cup after 1994 and 2010.
Greece won 4-2 on aggregate.
Croatia 2, Iceland 0
The Croatians finally disposed of those pesky Icelanders, robbing everyone of what could have been the best Cinderella story ever.
Croatia secured a place in the second leg of their European playoff on Tuesday following a goalless draw in the first leg. Iceland, with just 325,000 people, was vying to become the smallest nation to ever qualify for a World Cup.
"My respect to players who left their souls and hearts on the pitch, they all made me proud," Croatian coach Niko Kovac said, Agence France-Presse reported.
Algeria 1, Burkina Faso 0
Algeria needed a large slice of good fortune and an away goal to advance.
The Algerians struck early in the second half through Madjid Bougherra, the ball deflecting in after Bakary Kone’s attempted clearance struck him on the head, as the tie finished 3-3 on aggregate. Burkina Faso, bidding to qualify for the first time, went agonizingly close late on when they hit the post.
Algeria joins Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria as Africa’s World Cup representatives.
Egypt 2, Ghana 1
Despite losing in Cairo, the Black Stars of 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 week. 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.
It was a huge disappointment for the seven-time African champions, whose American coach Bob Bradley is now expected to quit his post. Ghana became only the third African team to reach the last eight of a World Cup four years ago, and they will again be fancied to do well in Brazil with the return of several of their top stars like Michael Essien, Boateng and the Ayew brothers, Andre and Jordan.
In late games, Mexico took a seemingly insurmountable lead into New Zealand after a 5-1 win last week at home.
Uruguay had an even better scenario, leading tiny Jordan 5-0 and getting to host the return engagement for the right to play in the World Cup next year.
How the teams shape up for Brazil is to be decided on Dec. 6 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time in North America with the World Cup draw.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report.