FIFA World Cup 2014 Qualifying Wrap
Friday saw no less than 31 international matches take place around the globe as nations stepped up their preparations and hopes to qualify for next year's FIFA World Cup to take place in Brazil.
Four of the FIFA qualifying zones saw action, with plenty of the big-name teams needing positive results to continue their challenge of making it to the finals.
Here is a complete roundup of every qualifying match which took place on Friday, by qualifying zone.
UEFA Qualifying Zone
The big game of the day was the clash between Croatia and Serbia, both former nations of the Yugoslav Republic. Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic ensured that it was Croatia who emerged victorious, by way of a 2-0 scoreline.
Belgium also continued their excellent qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win in Macedonia, and in the Great Britain derby, Wales came from behind to beat Scotland, 2-1. Both sides had a man sent off.
Those results leave Belgium and Croatia level on 13 points at the top, with a seven-point gap to Wales in third.
Bulgaria closed the gap at the top to just one point, though they have played a game more than Italy, with a comprehensive 6-0 crushing of Malta, with Aleksandar Tonev hitting a hat trick. In the only other game in the group, Denmark scored three second-half goals to pick up a fine 3-0 win in the Czech Republic.
That result moves Denmark above Czech Rep. into third, though they are four points behind Bulgaria with a game in hand.
Group 3 remains tight after Friday's series of results, which saw leaders Germany pick up a 3-0 win in Kazakhstan. Sweden were held, 0-0, at home by the Republic of Ireland, who remain one point behind the Swedes.
Austria were the biggest winners of the day in the group, routing the Faroe Islands by a 6-0 scoreline, with Philipp Hosiner scoring twice.
Germany remain top on 13 points, but they have played a game more than all three teams chasing them—with Sweden, Austria and Ireland on eight, seven and seven points, respectively.
Netherlands are looking good for qualification for the 2014 World Cup after completing a routine 3-0 win over Estonia, leaving them with five wins from five so far.
The two teams chasing the Dutch, Hungary and Romania, fought out a 2-2 draw after Romania snatched a last-minute equaliser through Alexandru Chipciu. Turkey also played against Andorra and won, 2-0.
Hungary and Romania remain second and third, respectively, tied on 10 points and pushing hard for that playoff place behind Netherlands.
This group continues to progress intriguingly, with the unlikely challenges for group glory coming from Albania and Iceland.
With group-leaders Switzerland not in competitive action this time, it was a chance for both sides to close the gap at the top. Both nations did so in style, Albania winning, 1-0, in Norway and Iceland victorious away to Slovenia, by 2-1 thanks to a Gylfi Sigurdsson brace.
Both winning nations move to nine points, one behind Switzerland, who have a game in hand. Norway are down to fourth, on seven points.
Portugal have struggled to assert their authority and quality in Group 6 and it proved a similar story this time around as they drew, 3-3, against Israel, needing two late goals to come from behind and win a point.
Luxembourg and Azerbaijan missed out on the chance to secure a rare competitive win as they fought out a 0-0 draw. They remain the bottom two clubs in the group, with Israel second, ahead of Portugal on goal difference. Russia top the group by four points with one game in hand.
Six teams in action in Group 7 but only one winner, as Bosnia-Herzegovina beat Greece, 3-1, to move top of the group by three points. Edin Dzeko scored twice for Bosnia.
Liechtenstein and Latvia drew, 1-1, while Slovakia and Lithuania fought out the same scoreline. Greece remain second in the group, with Slovakia third place on eight points—two behind Greece.
England were the biggest winners of the match-day in Europe, trouncing San Marino by an 8-0 scoreline. Seven different England players got on the scoresheet, as well as an own goal. Jermain Defoe was the only player to score twice.
Elsewhere, Montenegro went down to 10 men but secured a 1-0 win away to Moldova thanks to a 79th-minute Mirko Vucinic goal. Ukraine also picked up their first win by beating Poland, 3-1.
All that means first and second place in the group go head-to-head during the week, as England visit Montenegro, with two points between them and Montenegro leading.
There was a shock result in Group 9 as Finland held reigning world and European champions Spain at home, 1-1. The only other game in the group saw France easily beat Georgia, 3-1.
Those results see France move to the top of the group ahead of their game against Spain on Tuesday, with the Spaniards in second place. Both teams remain unbeaten so far.
CONMEBOL Qualifying Zone
Colombia 5-0 Bolivia
Colombia continued to roll back the years to blast Bolivia into oblivion, racking up a 5-0 scoreline to move up into second place in the South American qualifying league.
Macnelly Torres scored the only goal of the first half, before the home side took control after the break. Carlos Valdez and Teofilo Gutierrez made the points safe, with Radamel Falcao and Pablo Armero scoring late on.
Bolivia had to replace their goalkeeper, Carlos Arias, at halftime, and following this defeat they are eighth in the table, five points off the coveted fourth spot.
Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay
Paraguay have struggled continuously throughout this World Cup qualifying campaign, scoring only six times in their first nine matches, and they offered little threat for much of this game too.
After pushing and puffing and trying every route to goal, Uruguay must have thought they'd won the points late on after Luis Suarez rifled an amazing volley into the corner with just nine minutes left to play—only for Edgar Benitez to race down the other end and secure a point just three minutes later.
Uruguay move into fourth on 13 points, Paraguay stay rooted to the bottom on eight.
Argentina 3-0 Venezuela
Argentina remain top of the South American qualifying group after a relatively routine 3-0 win over Venezuela. Argentina were in control from early on and put in an accomplished first-half performance, with goals coming from Gonzalo Higuain and Leo Messi (penalty).
Higuain added a second for himself and a third for his team before the hour mark, leaving coach Sabella free to make a few change over the remainder of the game.
Argentina now have a four-point lead at the top. Venezuela stay in fifth, one point behind Uruguay.
Peru 1-0 Chile
Chile missed out on the chance to move into the top four as they succumbed to a defeat in Peru, losing 1-0 thanks to a late winner from Jefferson Farfan, who netted three minutes from time.
Chile therefore remain stuck on 12 points, with just two points separating fourth from seventh.
Peru, winning only their third match in the qualifying table, are one point and one place behind Chile.
CONCACAF Qualifying Zone
Honduras 2-2 Mexico
Into North and Central America and the Caribbean, and the CONCACAF section has reached its final group stage.
Mexico hoped for three points after taking a two-goal lead courtesy of a Javier Hernandez brace—only for Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson to turn matters around in the space of three minutes at around 10 minutes from the end of the game.
Mexico have now drawn their opening two fixtures, while Honduras have taken four points from theirs.
Jamaica 1-1 Panama
Both sides ended the game with a point, replicating their performances from the first round of matches. Marvin Elliott gave Jamaica the lead, but Luis Henriquez ensured Panama took their second consecutive draw after halftime.
Two points from two games for both Jamaica and Panama, then, keeping the group extremely tight. Panama are third on goals scored, with Jamaica fifth by the same criteria.
USA 1-0 Costa Rica
Captain Clint Dempsey scored the vital goal of the game inside the first quarter of an hour, giving the USMNT their first win of the campaign in wintry conditions.
Costa Rica become only the second team, after USA in the first game, to have lost a match in this qualifying stage. They remain bottom of the table on just one point.
Oceania Qualifying Zone
New Zealand continued their expected progression toward the Oceania/CONCACAF playoff match with a 2-1 win over New Caledonia.
It was not the usual and expected routine win, though, as they were made to wait for a last-ditch winner from Tommy Smith, who scored four minutes into injury time to preserve the All Whites' 100 percent record.
New Zealand have won five of five and are six points clear of New Caledonia, thereby securing their top-spot status for the region with a game to spare.
As the Oceania region does not hold an automatic spot to qualify for the 2012 World Cup, New Zealand will go to play the team which finishes fourth in the final CONCACAF group table.