After failing to reach the 2002 World Cup and being made to wait until October of 2005 to qualify for the 2006 jamboree, the Netherlands made sure of their place at next year's tournament at the earliest opportunity on Saturday, a 2-1 victory over Iceland making them the first European side to secure their spot in South Africa next summer.
Strikes from Nigel de Jong – the Manchester City midfielder's first international goal – and Mark van Bommel gave the Dutch a 2-0 lead inside the first 15 minutes in Reykjavik. A late header from Kristjan Orn Sigurosson proved mere consolation as Bert van Marwijk's side emulated England and Spain in winning their opening six group games. "Everyone said it was an easy group, but when you win six in a row that deserves a big compliment," van Marwijk said. "I like the fact that we have qualified, that it is done. We now have a lot of time to prepare for the World Cup."
"I enjoyed the first half, but the second half a little less because we missed many chances. You ought to score at least four or five goals against this Iceland team, they are the weakest opponent we have played. Do we see this qualification as a prize? If you go by what happened in the changing room, yes. [There was] an enormous release of emotions. We have proven ourselves as a real team." Iceland's defeat left Scotland in pole position for the play-off spot from Group Nine. George Burley's side sit three points clear in second ahead of Iceland and Macedonia, who were held to a goalless draw by bottom side Norway in Skopje.
Two more of Guus Hiddink's former sides, South Korea and Australia, followed the Netherlands into December's World Cup draw, along with Japan who are already thinking big.
"I want my players to fight hard and aim to reach the semi-finals," said coach Takeshi Okada after the team's triumphant return from Uzbekistan. "The final whistle last night sounded the start of a new challenge for Japan."
"We've qualified for the World Cup but it's just a stepping stone," added the Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura. "We have to get ourselves back up for the real challenge ahead."
Barely two hours after Japan's success Australia confirmed their place in South Africa after a goalless draw with Qatar in Doha. "It's amazing ... it's an unbelievable achievement," said captain Lucas Neill. "It's a boyhood dream, second time in a row now Australia is going to the World Cup. "I can't wait, it's going to be fantastic."
"It's a respect thing if you make back-to-back World Cups," said Harry Kewell. "Only the great teams make it every four years."
South Korea won 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates to secure top place in Asian Group Two, while Japan prevailed 1-0 in Uzbekistan.
Five-times winners Brazil waltzed to a 4-0 victory over Uruguay in the South American group, goals from Daniel Alves, Juan, Luis Fabiano and a Kaka penalty securing victory, despite the second-half dismissal of Fabiano. Brazil coach Dunga defended his team's style of play afterwards. "From the moment that Brazil manages to equal other teams in terms of motivation and will to win, our technique will make the difference," Dunga said.
"That's why that we say that talent is not enough. Talent is extremely important, but it has to be united with other things to have any effect. History shows this. On a lot of occasions, Brazil have had players of very high quality but haven't got the results."
Argentina and Chile also moved closer to sealing qualification with wins over Colombia and Paraguay respectively. In the African zone, Gabon recorded a surprise 3-0 victory over ten-man Togo to leave the hopes of Emmanuel Adebayor's side hanging in the balance.
After four defeats in six matches, tournament hosts South Africa returned to winning ways with a 1-0 friendly success over Poland, Everton's Steven Pienaar helping set up the winner for Thembinkosi Fanteni.