The 136th and last FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 qualifying fixture in Europe also provided one of the most dramatic finishes, as England secured a 1-1 draw in France to claim the final UEFA berth at women football's premier event.
The team coached by Hope Powell, who return to the finals for the first time since 1995, earned exactly the result they required to edge out Group 5 favourites France, thus exacting fitting revenge for a qualifying play-off defeat four years ago.
France proved their own worst enemies when striker Hoda Lattaf steered a Rachel Yankey free kick past her own keeper to hand England a vital lead with an own-goal. Knowing they now needed at least two goals to salvage a trip to China, the French threw everything into attack and forced an equaliser in the 89th minute. However, it proved too little, too late for Elisabeth Loisel and her team, and only the width of a post prevented Eniola Aluko from handing the visitors all three points in stoppage time.
"It's just been a fantastic year," Powell declared afterwards. "There's a great deal for us to celebrate," the England coach continued, while heaping praise on her team's beaten opponents: "France were unlucky today. There's simply too much quality in Europe for us only to have five teams at the World Cup. It was a happy ending for us this time."
Powell's counterpart Elisabeth Loisel is already looking to the future. "Obviously we're disappointed at failing to qualify, but my team were outstanding and gave it their best shot. Let's not forget that most of our players are still very young."
The defeat also marked the end of the road for veteran striker Marinette Pichon, who announced her international retirement on a total of 112 caps: "I've experienced a great deal of emotion with the national team. Now I'm just going to take some time off and then start out on other things."
*Danes edge Finns, Swedes and Norwegians cruise
*Equally tense and dramatic was the all-Nordic meeting between Denmark and Finland. The Danes lost the first meeting between the sides 2-1 on Finnish soil, leaving them in need of at least a 1-0 home win to book their ticket to Far East.
In the event, Denmark secured the required result thanks to Maiken Pape's 56th minute strike. Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller made little secret of his relief afterwards: "The victory ultimately came down to mental strength, as we've won a crucial final despite the pressure. I'm delighted I've been able to see through the work begun by my predecessor Peter Bonde. We will begin planning for the World Cup right away."
Norway became the first European team to book a spot at the tournament with a 1-1 away draw in Ukraine a few weeks ago. The Scandinavians rounded off their imperious qualifying campaign with a 2-1 victory in Italy, to coach Bjarne Berntsen's deep satisfaction. "Even though we'd already qualified, my players showed impressive desire, and I was very pleased about that," he said. "We're hoping we can finish in the top three once we get to China."
Elsewhere, Sweden striker Hanna Ljungberg shrugged off a cold to fire her side to the FIFA Women's World Cup with both strikes in a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic. The goalscorer, sidelined for most of the year following a serious injury sustained at the Algarve Cup, was understandably thrilled afterwards. "This is just fantastic," she said. "We can really look forward to the next few months, as we have an enjoyable time ahead preparing for the World Cup."
Germany march on
Reigning world and European champions Germany were in no mood to allow a slip-up in their eighth and final qualifying fixture, taking a 3-0 lead in Russia before finally running out 3-2 winners.
Sandra Smisek (32), Kerstin Garefrekes (35) and Birgit Prinz (45+2) established a commanding half-time lead, before the Russians gave the scoreline an air of respectability with late goals from Natalia Barbaschina (84) and Olga Kremleva (90+2).
Coach Silvia Neid forgave her team their late lapses: "I'm definitely very satisfied about qualifying. We're unbeaten, and that doesn't happen by accident. But we were our own worst enemies today. We gave the Russians cause for hope."
Qualifying for the finals has earned the team a €200,000 bonus. "We're more than happy to pay up, because the team is a real plus for the German Football Association's image, and has become a figurehead for our association," German Football Association (DFB) President Dr Theo Zwanziger declared. "The bonus also recognises our outstanding performances in recent years, which this team has been able to maintain."
The pay-out represents the first time the DFB has rewarded the women's national team following qualification for a major tournament. The players collected a €15,000-per-head bonus for winning the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, followed by €10,000 each for the 2005 UEFA European Championship triumph.