On the road to Rio: Germany celebrate their participation at next summer's World Cup
Friday saw another pulsating round of 2014 World Cup qualifiers ahead of next summer’s much-anticipated tournament in Brazil, with the likes of Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Colombia all now safely on the road to Rio next June.
However, who were the real heroes and who were the real villains on the night ...?
England head coach Roy Hodgson admitted after the Three Lions’ crucial 4-1 win over Montenegro that he had agonised for ages with his backroom staff over whether or not to select Spurs wide man Andros Townsend for his debut at Wembley, but I bet he’s glad he did now after the 22-year-old’s man-of-the-match performance on Friday night.
Townsend, who was born in the same hospital in Leytonstone as a certain David Beckham, continued his eye-catching form that he has been displaying for his club in the Premier League so far this season by creating the home side’s opener, before then capping off his fine night by driving home the team's third goal from distance in what was one of the most impressive debuts ever seen by an England international.
Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo was once again in the headlines following his country’s costly 1-1 draw with Israel in Group F, but for all the wrong reasons on this occasion.
The Portuguese were seemingly heading towards what looked like a crucial win thanks to Ricardo Costa's first-half goal, only for Eden Ben Basat's last-gasp equaliser to all but condemn Ronaldo and Co. to second place in the group behind Russia.
However, with Tuesday’s final qualifier against Luxembourg a certain formality, the Real Madrid skipper cleverly picked up a late booking for protesting too much to the referee, meaning Ronaldo will now definitely be available for their two-legged playoff in November.
The giant 20-year-old grabbed fine strikes in each half, the first when he showed an impressive burst of pace to sprint past the Croatian defence and open the scoring early on, before he then poked home his second just after the break following a fine run from the halfway line.
And despite Niko Kranjcar’s late strike, it proved just a consolation as Belgium were the team celebrating come the full-time whistle, and all thanks to that man Lukaku.
Bulgaria threw away a precious point in Group B after going down 2-1 to Armenia, a result that has now opened up the race for second spot in the standings with one qualifier left to play, and they only had themselves to blame after having two players dismissed.
The visitors first saw Nikolay Bodurov sent off just before halftime, before Svetoslav Dyakov then joined him in the bath with half an hour remaining as the contest was turned on its head thanks to Yura Movsisyan’s late winner for the home side.
And that last-gasp strike now means Bulgaria are level on 13 points with third-placed Denmark after their impressive 2-2 draw with group winners Italy with Tuesday’s decisive fixtures left to play.
Manchester United forward Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick in Netherlands’ emphatic 8-1 win against Hungary in Group D as the 30-year-old became the Oranje’s all-time leading goalscorer.
The Dutchman netted twice before the interval, before grabbing his third just after the break to overtake Patrick Kluivert with 41 international goals. The already qualified Dutch then went goal crazy with further strikes from the likes of Kevin Strootman, Jeremain Lens, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben.
Colombia qualified for their first World Cup finals since France 98 on Friday, however, they needed to display impressive resilience and reserves of energy as they fought back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 against 10-man Chile.
And the Colombian’s goalscoring hero on the night was, of course, none other than prolific front man Radamel Falcao, with the AS Monaco marksman’s two spot kicks after half-time helping Nestor Pekerman's side grab the point they needed to seal their place at next summer’s global show-piece in Brazil.