All six European contenders in Brazil were in with a chance of being among the eight teams to go through, by finishing in the top two of their groups. Yet while victories ensured the progress of holders Spain, Russia and Ukraine, the Czech Republic lost a game they needed to win against Iran and although Portugal defeated Thailand, they were ousted in a three-way tie after Italy were beaten 4-2 by Paraguay, a result that took both teams through.
Russia were the first European team to ensure their continued presence in the finals by beating Japan 9-1. Only requiring a draw, Russia took an early lead through Dmitri Prudnikov and two Damir Khamadiev goals made it 3-0 at the break. Kamadiev took 23 further seconds to complete his hat-trick and within three minutes Konstantin Agapov scored, Pula claimed his tournament-leading 12th finals goal and Konstantim Maevskiy increased the lead. Yuri Kanayama pulled one back but Prudnikov and Vladislav Shayakhmetov completed the scoring. Brazil finished top of Group A with a 9-0 win against Cuba.
In the other pool to finish on Wednesday, Italy finished second to move into the same group as Brazil after their loss to Paraguay. Sandro Zanetti gave Italy and early lead and although José Rotella equalised, José Luis Santander's own goal put the Azzurri 2-1 up at the break. That was good news for Portugal, but what happened after the break was a disaster as Fabio Alcaraz, René Villalba and Rotella gave Paraguay a 4-2 win which left them top. Portugal could not go through as they had only beaten Paraguay 3-2 and lost 3-1 to Italy, even though Orlando Duarte's side beat Thailand 3-2 with a Rotella goal two seconds from time. Earlier goals by Arnaldo and Israel had been cancelled out by Eekapong Suratsawang and Panuwat Janta. Duarte said: "All our hard work has been in vain."
On Thursday, Ukraine ensured they topped Group C by beating China 4-2, finishing on goal difference above Argentina, 2-1 victors against Guatemala. Hu Jie put China ahead late in the first half but Valeriy Zamyatin equalised just before the interval and scored again in the 33rd minute. Il'Dar Makayev and a Hu own goal increased the Ukraine advantage before Zheng Tao's consolation.
The tasks were different for Spain and the Czech Republic in Group D. While Spain only needed a draw against Uruguay, and won 3-0 through a Javi Rodríguez goal late in the first half and two Fernando efforts just after the interval, the Czech Republic fell to Asian champions Iran – who held the champions 3-3 earlier in the competition. Jan Janovský and Martin Dlouhý cancelled out goals by Ali Hassanzadeh and Vahid Shamsaee, but they could not force a winner and with 27 seconds left Hassanzadeh rolled the ball into an empty net to ensure a 3-2 Iran victory. "We played well but it just wasn't our day," said Czech player David Fric.
Iran finished below Spain on goal difference so the holders avoid Brazil and are in Group F with Russia – who they play on Saturday – Paraguay and Argentina. Ukraine and 2004 runners-up Italy are in Group E, and also meet first up, before facing Brazil and Iran. Those games are on Sunday and Tuesday, leading to the semi-finals two days later and the deciding games next weekend.