England, Spain, Chile and Ecuador were among the teams to book their place in next summer's World Cup while the likes of Nani, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Olivier Giroud must battle their way through the dreaded play offs before booking their tickets for Brazil.
World Cup holders Spain had to wait until their last game to confirm their right to defend their title, but did so with consummate ease as Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo and Chelsea's Juan Mata sealed a comfortable 2-0 win over Georgia.
Antonio Valencia's Ecuador lost 2-1 to Chile in Santiago with Cardiff City's Gary Medal striking what would turn out to be the winner in the first half.
There would be smiles all round at the final whistle however, as both sides confirmed their qualification alongside Argentina and Colombia as Ecuador edged ahead of Uruguay who missed the cut on goal difference.
Asmir Begovic and Edin Dzeko are also in line for a trip to South America this summer with Bosnia and Herzegovina, who qualified for the first time as an independent nation after beating Lithuania and finishing top of Group G having amassed an awesome return of 30 goals in 10 games.
As they did in 2010, France must bypass another play off to earn their place after beating Finland 3-0 to confirm second spot in Group I. Olivier Giroud added a second after Franck Ribery's opener before under-fire Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema struck an impressive third.
Tottenham's Gylfi Sigurdsson and Iceland made history as they qualified for a playoff spot for the first time in the nation's history with a 1-1 draw away to Norway to finish second in their group, helped immeasurably by the already qualified Switzerland fending off the challenge of Slovenia.
Without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani was given the captain's armband as Portugal confirmed their presence in the play off with a 3-0 win over Luxembourg.
Fabio Capello steered Russia to the automatic qualifying spot at the expense of the Portuguese, who will have to overcome another two-legged challenge just as they did four years ago.
Luis Suarez converted a penalty to help Uruguay record an impressive 3-2 victory over Argentina with a win that was only good enough to ensure a playoff spot, but an intercontinental play-off against minnows Jordan suggests South America's contingent will grow in the coming months.
In the absence of Lionel Messi, former Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez was on the scene to score both of Argentina's goals as part of an attacking line-up that included Tottenham's Erik Lamela.
Javier Hernandez and his Mexico teammates will be thanking the United States after two goals in injury time saw Jurgen Klinsmann's side take a last minute win over Panama.
With Mexico losing their own game away to Costa Rica a Panama win would have seen them earn a playoff berth, but a late turnaround ensured Mexico will take their place as they await a playoff encounter against West Ham United's Winston Reid and New Zealand.
It was a less stressful evening for the sides who have already confirmed their spot. Chelsea forward Andrea Schurrle struck a hat trick to help Germany conclude their campaign with a thrilling 5-3 win over Sweden.
Mesut Ozil also got on the score sheet just before half time but will have given Arsenal fans a sleepless night after limping off injured with just eight minutes of the game remaining. Fulham's Alexander Kacaniklic was also on target as Sweden confirmed a playoff spot of their own.
Another Chelsea man enjoyed a fruitful evening as Kevin De Bruyne struck for the already qualified Belgium before Aaron Ramsey continued his unprecedented run of goal scoring form with a late equaliser in Brussels.
Daniel Agger converted two penalties as Denmark cruised to a 6-0 win over Malta to confirm a second place finish behind Italy. Unfortunately Agger, Christian Eriksen and Nicklas Bendtner missed out on a playoff spot by virtue of the lowest points tally.
Ireland ended their disappointing campaign with a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan with John O'Shea nodding in Ireland's second after The Boys in Green fell behind after 13 minutes. Everton will be sweating over Darron Gibson or 'Giibson' as the name on his shirt shouted, after he was taken off after going down in some pain in the first half.