France, Portugal secure tickets to Brazil
France put on a heroic performance against Ukraine by turning back a 2-0 aggregate to 3-2.
LONDON - France produced one of soccer's most famous comebacks on Tuesday to scrape into next year's World Cup finals via the playoffs while Portugal blazed through after Cristiano Ronaldo conjured up a sensational hat-trick.
The two European heavyweights will be joined in next June's finals by Croatia, Greece, Ghana and Algeria after they prevailed in their second leg playoffs.
France had to overturn a 2-0 deficit at home to Ukraine and did so with aplomb, Mamadou Sakho, an offside Karim Benzema and an Oleg Gusev own goal after 72 minutes sent the Stade de France wild as the fans celebrated a 3-2 aggregate triumph.
Coach Didier Deschamps brought Benzema back into the team and although the striker's goal looked well offside, he had an earlier effort wrongly ruled out by a linesman's flag.
"It was a great, great game. It was important for French football to be in Brazil next year when we've got all the ingredients, we can do great things," Deschamps told TF1 TV.
RONALDO SHINES FOR PORTUGAL
Ronaldo's stunning treble took Portugal to the finals after three breakaway goals in a 3-2 win in Sweden completed a 4-2 aggregate success as rival Zlatan Ibrahimovic came to life with his own second-half double for the hosts.
Both forwards have been accused of not stepping up when it really mattered on the biggest stage, but Ronaldo shot down any doubters with a dazzling display, using his rampant pace to net three goals that rival Lionel Messi would have been proud of.
Croatia won 2-0 on aggregate and on the night despite playing most of their home leg against tiny Iceland with 10 men after Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring midway through the first half only to be sent off for a studs up tackle soon after.
Kostas Mitroglou again shone to help Greece, European champions in 2004, reach soccer's greatest showpiece after his composed early finish in a 1-1 draw in Romania set up a 4-2 aggregate victory following his two goals in the first leg.
Ghana, who had a five-goal lead going into their second leg, secured a third straight World Cup finals appearance despite a 2-1 defeat by Egypt in an African playoff in strife-torn Cairo.
The Ghanaians went through 7-3 on aggregate after strikes by Egypt forwards Amr Zaki and Gedo were followed up by a late reply from Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Egypt have now failed to reach the World Cup since their last appearance in 1990 despite winning an unmatched four African Nations Cup titles during that time.
Algeria beat Burkina Faso on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw and 1-0 home win in the second leg.
In friendlies among 2014 finalists, Germany beat England 1-0 at Wembley, the Netherlands drew 0-0 with Colombia and much-hyped Belgium went down 3-2 at home to Japan.
Striker Sergio Aguero scored twice to give Argentina a 2-0 win over Bosnia at the Busch baseball stadium in St Louis, Missouri on Monday, when Italy drew 2-2 with Nigeria in another neutral venue - London.
The two remaining spots in Brazil will be decided on Wednesday when Mexico visit New Zealand with a 5-1 advantage from the first leg of their intercontinental playoff and Uruguay host Jordan 5-0 up from the Amman encounter.