Ireland, Portugal, Croatia, Czechs reach Euro 2012
No cruel hand of fate was going to deny the Irish this time.
Knocked out of World Cup qualifying two years ago by France with the help of Thierry Henry's hand ball, Ireland clinched a berth in next year's European Championship on Tuesday night, the first major tournament for the Irish in a decade.
Ireland's 1-1 tie against visiting Estonia won the home-and-home playoff on 5-1 aggregate.
''We missed out two years ago in terrible circumstances. So to get to a major championship now is an amazing feeling. It's big celebration time,'' Irish winger Aiden McGeady said after Ireland earned a berth along with Portugal, Croatia and the Czech Republic to complete the 16-nation field.
A capacity crowd of about 51,000 roared approval as coach Giovanni Trapattoni's squad did a victory lap around Dublin's year-old Aviva Stadium. Many sang rounds of ''Ole! Ole!'' the theme song from Ireland's first foray into a top soccer tournament, the 1988 European Championship.
''This has been a long time in coming,'' Irish goalkeeper Shay Given said as he blew kisses to the crowd, still wearing his bulky goalkeepers' gloves.
Stephen Ward scored in the 31st minute for the Irish, who were eliminated in their 2009 World Cup playoff against the French when Henry batted the ball to William Gallas for an overtime goal, and referee Martin Hansson missed the infraction.
''We deserved also to qualify in Paris,'' Trapattoni said. ''But in this second tournament, this time, we showed the Irish people that we have built a very fantastic team.''
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to lead Portugal to a 6-2 victory at home over Bosnia-Herzegovina following a 0-0 first leg. Helder Postiga also had two goals, and Nani and Miguel Veloso scored for Portugal, which broke away with three goals in the final 20 minutes.
Croatia thwarted Turkey's comeback hopes with a 0-0 draw in Zagreb that secured a 3-0 aggregate win, and the Czech Republic won 1-0 at Montenegro on Petr Jiracek's 81st-minute goal for a 3-0 aggregate win.
The four playoffs winners joined the co-hosts Poland and Ukraine in next year's tournament along with Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Sweden. The draw is Dec. 2.
In South American qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Argentina rallied in the second half for a 2-1 win at Colombia as Lionel Messi scored his 18th goal in 65 international appearances and substitute Sergio Aguero broke an 85th-minute tie. Edison Mendez and Cristian Benitez scored in the second half to lift Ecuador over visiting Peru.
Oswaldo Vizcarrondo's goal in the 26th minute lifted Venezuela to a 1-0 victory over Bolivia in Caracas, and Pablo Contreras and Matias Campos Toro scored for host Chile in a 2-0 victory against Paraguay.
The United States won in Europe for the first time since March 2008, a 3-2 exhibition victory at Slovenia. Edson Buddle, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore scored first-half goals to give the Americans their second win in seven games under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
In another exhibition, Miroslav Klose scored his 63rd international goal in the 26th minute and also set up goals by Thomas Mueller (15th) and Mesut Oezil (66th) to lead Germany over the visiting Netherlands 3-0.
England defeated Sweden 1-0 at Wembley to finish its first unbeaten year since 1994 at 6-0-3. Gareth Barry was initially credited with scoring England's landmark goal in the 22nd minute, but replays showed the midfielder's header from Stewart Downing's cross skimmed off Swedish defender Daniel Majstorovic's head before crossing the line. England had not beaten the Swedes in 43 years.
World and European champion Spain rallied for a 2-2 tie at Costa Rica as goalkeeper Iker Casillas made his 127th international appearance, breaking a tie with Andoni Zubizarreta for most by a Spanish player. Coming off a 1-0 loss at England last weekend, Spain rallied on goals by David Silva in the 83rd minute and David Villas in injury time, Villa's 51st international goal. Randall Brenes and Joel Campbell scored in the first half for Costa Rica.
Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 in Rome as Sebastian Fernandez scored in the third minute, and Belgium played to a 0-0 draw at France.
Australia, Iran and Iraq joined Japan, Jordan and Uzbekistan in next year's 10-nation Asian finals, clinching berths with a game to spare. China was eliminated despite a 4-0 win at Singapore and will miss its third straight World Cup. Lebanon upset South Korea 2-1 to move into a strong position to advance.
Togo advanced to the second round of African qualifying on 2-1 aggregate as Emmanuel Adebayor returned to the national team for the first time in 1 1/2 years and Serge Gakpe scored in the second minute of a 1-0 win over Guinea-Bissau.