Europe World Cup playoff roundup: Greece, Croatia complete UEFA’s field for Brazil 2014

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Bogdan Stancu’s goal last week in Piraeus had the potential to be decisive, but only if Romania could hold out at home. If the Romanians were going to return to the World Cup for the first time since 1998, a clean sheet was almost a must, with 3-1 deficit giving Victor Piturca’s team no margin for error.

But within 23 minutes in Bucharest, hope was lost, with a disorganized Romanian defense paving the way for Greece’s tension-lifting goal. Finishing his one-on-one with Ciprian Tatarusanu, Konstantinos Mitroglou scored this third goal of the tie, the only goal his team would need to get a result in Bucarest. After Tuesday’s 1-1 draw, Greece had a 4-2 aggregate win and a spot in the 2014 World Cup.

Greece’s generosity pulled their hosts within two, Roma defender Vasilis Torosidis credited with an own goal in the 55th minute, but the visitors were never truly threaten. In a match that started with Romania chasing two goals, the home team only put three shots on target, the game’s final 20 minutes seeing only two attempts go in the direction of Orestis Karnezis’s goal. After being handled last Friday in Piraeus, Romania proved no obstacle to Greece’s third World Cup.

Their finals record is not an illustrious one. In their 1994 debut, Greece finished 24th. In South Africa, their final ranking was 25th. In six World Cup games, Greece has won once, outscored 15-2 over the course of two group stages.

That’s a problem for another time, that time being seven months for now. For now, the former European champions are back in the World Cup. And if their performance against Romania is any indication, it could be their most successful yet.

Here are the day’s other UEFA playoff results:

CROATIA 2, ICELAND 0
Croatia advances on aggregate, 2-0
Goals: 27′ Mario Mandzukic, 47′ Darijo Srna

Three days after Iceland played down a man for 40 minutes, Croatia returned the favor, with Mario Mandzukic earning a red card in the 27th minute. But the Bayern Munich star had already put his team in front, converting a 38th minute corner before putting his boot into Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s thigh.

Down a man, Croatia still controlled the match, outshooting Iceland 19-7 with a 8-1 edge n shots on target. In the 47th minute, Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Thór Halldórsson did his part to make those edges count, misjudging Darjo Srna’s bouncing shot while conceding Croatia’s insurance goal.

SWEDEN 2, PORTUGAL 3
Portugal advances on aggregate, 4-2
Goals: 50′ Cristian Ronaldo, 68′ Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 72′ Ibrahimovic, 77′ Ronaldo, 79′ Ronaldo

From our recap:

For as tedious as the pre-match hype was — everybody trying to portray Portugal against Sweden as Cristiano Ronaldo versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic — that’s exactly what we got. It too three halves to surface, but by the end of Portugal and Sweden’s playoff, it was all about the two icons, stars trying to eclipse each other in front of a full house in Solna. After two legs and 180 minutes, two of the world’s top three players had combined for six goals.

But thanks to a Swedish defense that was beaten badly three times, four of those goals went to Ronaldo, whose Tuesday hat trick sent his hosts crashing. Despite a second half brace from Ibrahimovic, Sweden will miss their second straight World Cup, today’s 3-2 loss allowing Portugal to advance to Brazil 2014 (4-2, aggregate).

[MORE: Ronaldo topples Zlatan: Real Madrid star’s hat trick sends Portugal past Sweden, into the 2014 World Cup]

FRANCE 3, UKRAINE 0
France advances on aggregate, 3-2
Goals: 22′ Mamadou Sakho, 34′ Karim Benzema, 72′ Sakho

From our recap:

With first half goals from Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema, Les Bleus had climbed out of their hole, and when the Liverpool defender completing his unlikely double in Tuesday’s second half, France’ re-wrote European qualifying history. Becoming the first team to overturn a two-goal, first leg deficit, France is into their fifth consecutive World Cup, sending Ukraine home after today’s 3-0 result in Paris …

Along the way, Les Bleus made history, becoming the first team to overcome that 0-2 opening leg deficit. They also grabbed something that’s been absent over the past four years: Some real positive momentum.

Though a run of good results under Laurent Blanc had allowed them to move on from their disaster at South Africa 2010, France still proved relatively meek at Euro 2012. Now, having faced this worst-case scenario and prevailed, a young, talented generation of club-level stars may be set to transfer their potential onto the international stage.

At a minimum, they have something positive, unifying to build on. It’s not every playoff that ends with this type of accomplishment.

[MORE: Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil]