Italy and Netherlands advance to finals after Balotelli and Van Persie strikes
Mario Balotelli of Italy (left): winner capped an eventful night for the striker. Photograph: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Italy clinched a place in the 2014 finals in Brazil after coming from a goal down to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 and win Group B on Tuesday.
A Giorgio Chiellini header and Mario Balotelli penalty early in the second half cancelled out Libor Kozak’s 19th minute opener for the visitors and moved the Italians on to 20 points, seven ahead of second-placed Bulgaria with two games to play.
Balotelli’s 54th minute winner capped an eventful night for the striker, who missed three first-half chances and was lucky to only be booked for a foul on Tomas Sivok.
Michal Bilek’s spirited Czech Republic side were unlucky not to get at least a point against Cesare Prandelli’s unconvincing Italy as their night ended on a sour note when Daniel Kolar was sent off in the last minute. The result means the Czechs remain on nine points and face elimination.
Elsewhere Robin van Persie scored twice as the Netherlands became the first European team to qualify for the finals after a 2-0 away win over Andorra in Group D yesterday.
His 38 goals in 79 appearances took him past Denis Bergkamp in the Dutch scoring standings and just behind Patrick Kluivert on 40.
France secured at least a play-off spot when they came from behind to beat Belarus 4-2 away in a qualifying match.
Franck Ribery cancelled out Egor Filipenko and Timofei Kalachev‘s goals with two second-half strikes before substitute Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba found the back of the net.
France are level with Spain on 14 points but the champions are likely to finish top as they have a game in hand and superior goal difference.