The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Switzerland beats Slovenia 1-0 in World Cup qualifying, helps Iceland advance to playoffs
BERN, Switzerland - Switzerland boosted its chances of being a top seed at the World Cup by beating Slovenia 1-0 in its final qualifying match on Tuesday, helping Iceland seal second place in Group E and advance to the playoffs.
Granit Xhaka's impressive 74th-minute goal ensured Switzerland will rise into the top 10 of FIFA's world rankings on Thursday.
With Italy only drawing 2-2 at home to Armenia, the Swiss looked likely to be among seven top-ranked teams joining host Brazil as seeds in the Dec. 6 draw. Switzerland's ranking could improve further depending on results for Colombia and Uruguay in South American qualifying later Tuesday.
Iceland's 1-1 draw in Norway kept alive its hopes of being the smallest nation ever to play at the World Cup.
Despite a population of just 315,000, Iceland advanced to the playoffs by finishing two points ahead of Slovenia.
Also in Group E, Cyprus and Albania drew 0-0.
Switzerland completed its 10-match program unbeaten with FIFA President Sepp Blatter present to watch his home country at the Stade de Suisse, which staged the 1954 World Cup final.
"Extending our unbeaten record was important. We achieved that," Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said.
Hitzfeld rested almost his entire first-choice starting lineup after clinching qualification last Friday with victory in Albania.
Xhaka was one of the few regulars to start Tuesday, and the Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder scored with a curling shot from 22 yards (meters) after taking a pass from Blerim Dzemaili in his stride.
Slovenia, which played at the 2010 World Cup, entered the last round one point behind Iceland, and seldom threatened to seize the playoffs place on offer.
Iceland led in the 12th minute in Oslo when Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scored after taking a pass from Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Norway, which never lived up to its top-seed status in qualifying, levelled in the 30th through Daniel Braaten.
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