(Q) WORLD CUP 2018 QUALIFIERS (Q)
Russia, Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Germany, England, Spain, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Poland, Egypt, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Panama
UNBEATEN but totally underwhelming. Gareth Southgate's England are one of the 23 nations which have now confirmed their place at the World Cup finals in Russia.
Nevertheless, expectations in the national team next summer remain at a low ebb following the latest pair of qualifiers against Slovenia at home and Lithuania away.
Both games finished 1-0 to the Three Lions with Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane as the only scorer.
And, as if to sum up the complete lack of excitement over the 180 minutes, Kane scrambled his goal against Slovenia in stoppage time - while his goal in Vilnius came from the penalty spot.
At least England have qualified - and without the need of a playoff.
Scotland looked set to finish runners-up in the same group as England - but blew their chance by closing their campaign with a 2-2 draw in Slovenia.
Head coach Gordon Strachan lamented an apparent genetic deficiency following this latest failure which made it 20 years and counting since the Scots qualified for a major tournament.
But the 60-year-old's reasoning about a lack of "height and strength" makes little sense considering the success of the likes of Spain in recent times.
Also, it does not take into account that Scotland actually played some decent stuff at times in this campaign. They paid dearly, though, for a terrible start in which they took only four points from the opening four games.
Strachan - who will meet Scottish Football Association chiefs tomorrow - must take responsibility for that, especially as players such as Leigh Griffiths, Stuart Armstrong and Matt Ritchie did not always start, even when fit.
Elsewhere among the home nations, Wales missed out, meaning their wait for a World Cup finals appearance will extend beyond 60 years.
Injured Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale could only look on as the Euro 2016 semi finalists fell to their first competitive defeat home in four years against Ireland on Monday.
It was not that match - but, rather, too many draws early on in the group which had left Wales playing catch up - and, in the end, even a draw would have eliminated Chris Coleman's men as the weakest runners-up.
Coleman has been quiet about his future for the moment - but there is a feeling that, after five years in the role, he may be looking for a different challenge.
Of course, for Ireland, Monday night's match in Cardiff was a totally different story as defensive fortitude and James McClean's superb volley ensured they joined Northern Ireland in the playoffs.
The Northern Irish had a fine campaign, winning an unprecedented five qualifiers in a row at one stage.
Indeed, prior to a final day defeat to Norway - when their place in the playoffs had already been assured by other results - Michael O'Neill's men had only lost to world champions Germany.
And, certainly, none of the four seeds - Switzerland, Italy, Croatia or Denmark - will fancy a trip to Belfast - or to Dublin, for that matter.
In the rest of Europe, most of the usual powerhouses made it to the finals without too much sweat - but the Netherlands missed out for a second successive major tournament, finishing behind Sweden and group winners France.
European champions Portugal only just made it through on the final day, beating the slightly unlucky Swiss on goal difference, despite Switzerland having won their nine other games.
But the big story in Europe for football romantics was Iceland - again. Yes, the Icelanders' Euro 2016 jaunt meant that no one could be totally shocked by their success, least of all the English.
Nevertheless, by beating Kosovo last night, Iceland became by far the smallest country by population to reach a World Cup finals ever.
Overnight, in the Americas, the story appeared to be in Quito where Argentina, facing Ecuador away in high altitude, looked as if they might miss out on a first finals appearance since 1970.
It looked even worse for La Albiceleste when Romario Ibarra gave the Ecuadorians a lead inside 38 seconds.
As if a script had been written, though, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi saved the day with his first ever hat-trick in a World Cup qualifier.
Argentina thus qualified behind the only World Cup ever-presents Brazil - who had made it back in March - and Uruguay who rubber-stamped their place with a win last night against Bolivia.
Colombia and Peru played out a 1-1 draw in Lima, a result which sends the Colombians to a second successive World Cup and the Peruvians into a playoff against Oceania champions New Zealand.
Surprise package Peru - looking to make a first World Cup finals since 1982 - will nonetheless go into next month's tie as favourites against the All Whites.
But their presence in the playoff means that there is no room at the World Cup for Paraguay, beaten at home to Venezuela, or two-time South American champions Chile.
The biggest surprise, though, actually came in the North and Central America region.
United States had not missed a World Cup since 1986 but a woeful defeat away to Trinidad & Tobago opened the door - and Panama walked right on through.
A national holiday has been declared in the small Central American nation, most famous for its canal which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.
Now, Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres has written his name in Panamanian folklore by scoring a late winner against already-qualified group runners-up Costa Rica.
For good measure, Honduras beat group winners Mexico 3-2 at home to take fourth place and a playoff - and leave the Americans stranded and out of the running in fifth.
The Hondurans will face Australia in their two-legged playoff next month after the Socceroos ended Syria's remarkable World Cup journey.
A 1-1 draw in neutral Malaysia looked as if it was going to be followed yesterday by another 1-1 draw between the sides in Sydney as the match went into extra time.
But up popped the ever-green former Everton man Tim Cahill to fire the Aussies ahead and give them a chance of joining the automatic qualifiers from the Asian region - group winners Iran and Japan, and runners-up South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
There are still issues to be decided in Africa with only two of the five places taken at present - by Nigeria and Egypt, the latter making their first finals appearance since 1990.
In the other groups, Tunisia will qualify with just a point next month against Libya, Morocco travel to Ivory Coast in a winner-takes-all contest, while Senegal need just one win from their two games against South Africa.
Only nine World Cup finals places are yet to be decided - four will come from the winners of the European playoffs, three from Africa, and two from the inter-continental playoffs.
The finals draw will take place at the Kremlin in Moscow on Friday 1 December.
(Q) Russia, Belgium, Germany, England, Spain, Poland, Iceland, Serbia, France, Portugal
(P) Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Croatia; Sweden, Northern Ireland, Greece, Ireland
|(P) Northern Ireland||6||1||3||17||6||19|
CONMEBOL (South America)
(Q) Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia
(P) Peru v New Zealand in an inter-continental playoff
CONCACAF (North and Central America)
(Q) Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
(P) Honduras v Australia in an inter-continental playoff
|(Q) COSTA RICA||4||4||2||14||8||16|
|Trinidad & Tobago||2||0||8||7||19||6|
(Q) Nigeria, Egypt
(Q) Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia
|(Q) SOUTH KOREA||4||3||3||11||10||15|
|(Q) SAUDI ARABIA||6||1||3||16||10||19|
|United Arab Emirates||4||1||5||10||13||13|
Syria 1-1 Australia (played in Malaysia)
Australia 2-1 Syria aet
▪️ Australia won 3-2 on aggregate and will play Honduras in an inter-continental playoff