So, another round of thrilling World Cup qualifying matches means that a number of nations have determined their fate for next year—some for the good and others for the bad.
Many fans will have woken up a little worse for wear this morning after learning that their nation had qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, whilst other fans may have woken up in the same manner—though theirs would have been from drowning their sorrows, knowing that their team won't be competing for the Jules Rimet trophy.
This weekend's round of fixtures has seen records tumble, new stars arrive on the scene and, of course, some hugely disappointing performances and results.
Here are the pick of the bunch of the World Cup qualifying winners and losers.
Winner: Robin van Persie
The Netherlands had already reached the World Cup finals after another stellar qualifying campaign, but they show no signs of taking their foot off the gas. Friday's 8-1 drubbing of Hungary saw Louis van Gaal's men rack up their eighth win in nine outings—the other result a draw with Estonia in Tallinn—but the result pails into insignificance due to Van Persie's achievement.
The Manchester United striker's hat-trick saw him surpass Patrick Kluivert as the Netherlands' all-time top goalscorer. Van Persie opened the scoring with a 15th-minute header, soon equalling Kluivert's previous record of 40 international goals as the Dutch took a 4-0 lead into the break. The former Feyenoord man took just seven second-half minutes to bag his treble and break the record, of which he duly celebrated with the former record holder and Van Gaal's assistant on the touchline.
Van Persie was substituted shortly after and was given a deserved standing ovation from the adoring fans in the Amsterdam Arena.
Losers: Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland suffered a second embarrassing defeat in as many matches, losing 2-0 to Group F minnows Azerbaijan.
Michael O'Neill's side were humiliated in Luxembourg back in September, losing 3-2, and they showed no signs of improvement during their clash in Baku. Martin Paterson struck the post early on, but that was about as good as it got for the Irish. Rufat Dadasov opened the scoring before Jonny Evans saw red for a deliberate foul—Mahir Shukurov expertly dispatching the set-piece.
O'Neill's men currently sit level on points with Luxembourg at the foot of the table and will face further embarrassment should they fail to get anything out of Tuesday's clash with Israel.
Winner: Andros Townsend
The young Tottenham midfielder was given a surprise England debut for their match against Montenegro and repaid Roy Hodgson's faith with a scintillating display and a very well-taken goal. Townsend helped England to a comfortable 4-1 victory at Wembley, which leaves the Three Lions one win away from a place in next year's finals.
The 22-year-old's incisive run helped set up England's opener, before Branko Boskovic put through his own net. Dejan Damjanovic pulled one back for the visitors to set up a tense finale, though Townsend's goal—the pick of the bunch—from outside of the penalty area on his weaker right foot calmed England fans' nerves. Daniel Sturridge later converted a penalty to ensure the victory.
Such a performance should warrant Townsend another start in England's must-win clash against Poland on Tuesday. And if he can repeat the display then his seat on England's plane to Brazil should be all-but secure.
Poland's narrow 1-0 loss to Ukraine in Karkhiv ended the Euro 2012 joint-hosts' chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup. A victory would have seen Waldemar Fornalik's men leapfrog opponents Ukraine into second place. That, in turn, will have seen Poland qualify for Brazil should they secure three points against England at Wembley.
All that's left to play for now is pride, and one thing is for certain; they'll feel pretty proud should they beat Hodgson's men on Tuesday.
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