Three European powerhouses added their names to make it a "lucky 13" headed to Brazil and the 2014 FIFA World Cup after matches on Friday.
Belgium, Germany and Switzerland each won comfortably during Friday qualifiers to put their names alongside Japan, Australia, South Korea, Iran and hosts Brazil, the first to reserve placings at next summer's finals. The Netherlands and Italy went through last month alongside the United States, Costa Rica and Argentina.
Belgium was first to add its name to the roster with a 2-1 win over Croatia in Zagreb on Friday.
It was a thorough victory in hostile territory against a formidable foe; yet Romelu Lukaku was undaunted and scored twice in the impressive result. While young and relatively inexperienced, the Belgians breezed through qualifying atop Group A, winning eight and tying just once (a draw with the same Croatians last year).
Lukaku, who plays club football for Everton on loan from Chelsea, used his speed and size to torment the Croatian defense. Croatia, meanwhile, is steadfastly in second and will advance to the European playoff for a spot in Brazil.
If there’s a team matching Belgium’s dominance in Europe, it is Germany. The club allowed just seven goals in nine games, and guaranteed a World Cup placing by defeating the Republic of Ireland 3-0 in Cologne. Sami Khedira, Mesut Oezil and Andre Schuerrle also scored for the Germans.
Switzerland was next, taking advantage of perhaps the easiest path of Friday’s matches.
While the away game against Albania remained scoreless through the first half, Granit Xhaka in the 49th minute and Michael Lang a half-hour later sealed Switzerland’s destiny. The score flattered the overmatched host Albanians, who only scored from an 89th-minute penalty by Hamdi Salihi.
Russia, Honduras, Columbia, Chile and Uruguay all had chances to advance in Friday’s later matches.
The Russians appear all-but guaranteed a place in Brazil thanks to a stunning turn in Lisbon. Russia and Portugal lead Group F, and both faced beatable foes on Friday.
Russia upheld its end of the bargain by defeating Luxembourg 4-0 earlier today. Portugal needed a win against Israel to remain neck-and-neck with the group-leaders.
The Portuguese led 1-0 most of the game; however, Ben Basat scored in the 85th minute to capture an unlikely tie for third-place Israel.
The group will now be decided on Tuesday when Russia travels to struggling Azerbaijan. Portugal needs to defeat Luxembourg and hope the Azerbaijanis have a miracle up their sleeves.
Across the oceans, Honduras also took a giant step forward by defeating Costa Rica 1-0. Should Panama draw Mexico later tonight, the Hondurans celebrate.