- Germany and England qualify for Russia 2018
- Poland, propelled by in-form Robert Lewandowski, on the verge
- Denmark and Scotland move closer to claiming a play-off spot
THE DAY REPLAYED – Germany and England secured their slots at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ on Thursday, the former via a comfortable 3-1 victory in Northern Ireland and the latter courtesy of a last-gasp strike versus Slovenia (1-0).
Poland have not yet officially obtained their ticket to next year’s tournament, but they took a massive step towards that goal by defeating Armenia 6-1 in Yerevan. The Poles enjoy a crucial three-point lead over Denmark and host third-placed Montenegro in three days’ time.
Scotland, meanwhile, scored a late winner in Glasgow to keep their play-off dreams alive.
FIFA.com reviews another eventful day of World Cup qualifying.
Group C: Azerbaijan 1-2 Czech Republic, Northern Ireland 1-3 Germany, San Marino 0-8 Norway
Group E: Armenia 1-6 Poland, Montenegro 0-1 Denmark, Romania 3-1 Kazakhstan
Group F: England 1-0 Slovenia, Scotland 1-0 Slovakia, Malta 1-1 Lithuania
Match of the day
Northern Ireland 1-3 Germany
*Although they only required a draw to reach the promised land of Russia 2018, Germany put in a professional and convincing performance to pocket all three points in Belfast. Against their principal rivals in Group C, Northern Ireland, who had not conceded a single goal at home during the campaign prior to this match, *Die Nationalelf triumphed 3-1 – their ninth win in as many games.
Right from the outset, it was clear that the Germans were approaching the encounter with the utmost seriousness, as Sebastian Rudy opened the scoring in the second minute with a jaw-dropping right-footed shot that rocketed into the top corner. Just before the break, Sandro Wagner put the result beyond doubt with a smart turn and finish.
All that remained for the reigning world champions was to manage the second half, which they did comfortably, even adding a third goal via a Joshua Kimmich volley five minutes from time. Northern Ireland consoled themselves with an injury-time goal by Josh Magennis, and with the thought of the play-offs to come.
Elsewhere Group C
With Northern Ireland and Germany having already clinched the top two spots, the other teams in the section were playing for pride on Thursday. Taking their lead from the Germans, both away sides picked up three points: Czech Republic defeated Azerbaijan 2-1 in Baku and in so doing leapfrogged their opponents into third place, while Norway made light work of San Marino, notching eight unanswered goals, equalling the combined number they had managed in eight previous qualifying matches.
Group E* *After beating Armenia 6-1 and their previous scoring record in World Cup qualifiers, Group E leaders Poland now have one foot in the finals. Had the Montenegro-Denmark encounter finished all square, then the Poles would have qualified, but Christian Ericksen kept the Danes in the hunt with his fourth goal in four games. The Scandinavians will guarantee themselves at least a play-off spot with a win over Romania – who beat Kazakhstan at home – on the final matchday.
Group F* *England made their fans wait, but they got there in the end. After coming up short against an in-form Jan Oblak for most of the game, Harry Kane prodded a cross past the Slovenian goalkeeper in injury time to secure a place in Russia for the Three Lions, much to the delight of the expectant Wembley crowd.
It was a similar story north of the border, as Scotland, who took control after Robert Mak was sent off for Slovakia, launched a number of determined attacks that were denied by top-class saves from Martin Dubravka. In the final seconds, an own goal by Martin Skrtel gave Gordon Strachan’s men a deserved win and sent the long-suffering fans at Hampden Park into raptures. The Scots now lie in second place ahead of Sunday’s crunch trip to Slovenia. At the bottom of the section, Malta acquired their first point of the campaign after a hard-fought draw with Lithuania.
Player of the day *In scoring his 48th, 49th and 50th goals for Poland versus Armenia, *Robert Lewandowski became his country’s all-time top scorer, moving two goals ahead of the former leader, Wlodzimierz Lubanski, who found the net 48 times between 1963 and 1980. In addition, the Bayern Munich striker’s remarkable hat-trick saw him claim top spot in the scoring charts for this European qualifying campaign with 15 goals, one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.