World champions Italy and Euro 2008 winners Spain took determined steps towards World Cup qualification with victories on Saturday but France and Portugal are struggling after being held to disappointing draws.
Nobody was in a position to join already-qualified Netherlands in securing a place at the finals in South Africa next year but Spain can make a provisional booking after seven wins out of seven following a 5-0 home thrashing of Belgium.
After forward David Villa missed an early penalty Spain scored three goals in the 10 minutes either side of halftime through David Silva, Villa and defender Gerard Pique.
Midfielder Silva added his second goal after 68 minutes and Villa completed the rout five minutes from time to leave Spain on 21 points with three games remaining in Group Five.
Bosnia, 2-0 winners in Armenia, are second on 15 points with Turkey on 11 after a 4-2 home win over Estonia.
Italy needed two own goals by Kakha Kaladze, who plays his club football for AC Milan, to secure a 2-0 win in Georgia.
It was enough to keep them top of Group Eight with 17 points, a point clear of Ireland who won 2-1 in Cyprus thanks to a late header by striker and captain Robbie Keane.
Bulgaria are also still in the hunt on 11 points after they thumped visitors Montenegro 4-1.
France, World Cup runners-up in 2006, still face a fight to reach South Africa after a disappointing 1-1 draw in their Group Seven match with Romania in Paris.
Thierry Henry's 48th minute effort was cancelled out by a Julien Escude own goal to leave France on 14 points, still four adrift of leaders Serbia who they visit on Wednesday.
With Austria third on 10 points after beating Faroe Islands 3-1, the 1998 champions risk not even making the playoffs.
Portugal are up against it in Group One even though Liedson cancelled out an excellent Nicklas Bendtner opener for Denmark.
Portugal, who have drawn four and lost one of their seven matches, are struggling in fourth place on 10 points.
Denmark lead the way on 17 with Hungary on 13 after losing 2-1 at home to Sweden. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the last minute for the Swedes, who are up to third on 12 points.
Switzerland scored twice in the last six minutes to beat 10-man Greece 2-0 and go top of Group Two.
Headers from Stephane Grichting and Marco Padalino took the Swiss to 16 points. Greece, who had Loukas Vyntra sent off late in the first half, have 13, as do Latvia who won 1-0 in Israel.
Roman Pavlyuchenko scored two penalties as Russia beat Liechtenstein 3-0 to keep up the pressure on Group Four leaders Germany, who beat South Africa 2-0 in a friendly.
Germany have 19 points with Russia one behind and Finland still in contention on 13.
Croatia and Ukraine remained in the hunt for a probable second spot behind England in Group Six with contrasting wins.
Ivan Rakitic's 24th-minute effort was enough for Croatia to beat Belarus 1-0 while Ukraine thumped Andorra 5-0.
England, who beat Slovenia 2-1 in a Wembley friendly, top the group with a maximum 21 points and host Croatia (17) on Wednesday. Ukraine have 14.
Group Three looks certain to go to the wire with five teams still in contention.
Wednesday's games did little to clear the log jam as leaders Slovakia were held 2-2 at home to Czech Republic and Poland drew 1-1 with visiting Northern Ireland.
Slovakia, who have 16 points, visit Northern Ireland (14) on Wednesday. Poland and Slovenia have 11 points while even the fifth-placed Czechs still have a slim chance on nine.
Netherlands long ago secured top spot in Group Nine but Scotland strengthened their grip on second place with a 2-0 home win over Macedonia.
However, the Scots must beat the Dutch in Glasgow on Wednesday and hope a lot of other results go their way to sneak through to the playoffs as one of the best eight runners-up.