Iceland sealed a place in Russia with a 2-0 victory against Kosovo in Reykjavik, becoming the smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup finals.
Heimir Hallgrimsson’s team knew a win against Group I’s bottom side would guarantee top spot and an automatic qualifying place, and Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson settled their nerves with a superbly taken goal five minutes before half-time.
Sigurdsson also set up the second for Johann Berg Gudmundsson midway through the second half as Iceland completed the campaign by winning their final three games, proving their run to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 was no fluke.
With their next attack, Iceland went ahead. Sigurdsson collected the ball on the edge of the area, wriggled his way past Amir Rrahmani and fired beyond Ujkani for his fourth goal of the qualifiers. The hosts were happy to sit back on their lead until Sigurdsson again got past Rrahmani and crossed for Gudmundsson to make sure of victory in the 68th minute.
Hallgrimsson, a part-time dentist who became sole manager after Euro 2016, when Lars Lagerback left to take the Norway manager’s job, was lost for words at the final whistle.
“This is really odd, I don’t know what to say. I mean … Pelé, Maradona, Aron Einar Gunnarsson,” Hallgrimsson said, referencing the Cardiff midfielder at the heart of his side.
Qualification for their first World Cup is a remarkable achievement for Iceland, a country with a population of approximately 335,000. The previous smallest country to have reached the finals was Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 (1.3m people) followed by Northern Ireland (1.85m), Slovenia (2.08m), Jamaica (2.89m) and Wales (3.1m).
Prijovic strike secures Serbia’s passage
Serbia’s substitute Aleksandar Prijovic struck in the 74th minute to ease nerves in Belgrade, securing a 1-0 win against Georgia that confirmed their first participation in a major tournament since 2010.
The Republic of Ireland’s win in Wales meant that even a goalless draw would have seen Serbia through, but Prijovic’s fine finish from Aleksandar Mitrovic’s cross made certain of qualification, allowing home fans to celebrate in Red Star’s Rajko Mitic Stadium.
Croatia defeated Ukraine 2-0 in Kyiv to secure second place in Group I and a play‑off place. Andrej Kramaric’s second‑half double earned the victory after the hosts had looked the better side in the first half. Kramaric’s header from Luka Modric’s cross from the right broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute, before the Hoffenheim striker converted Ivan Rakitic’s through ball at the far post eight minutes later.
Asier Illarramendi scored a long-range winner for Spain in Israel, ensuring the Group G winners finished their campaign with nine wins from 10 games. Italy, already assured of a play‑off place, won 1-0 in Albania through Antonio Candreva’s second-half goal.
In matches between already eliminated sides, Macedonia beat Liechtenstein 4-0, Finland drew 2-2 with Turkey and Austria won 1-0 in Moldova.