- Poland suffered their first defeat in Russia 2018 qualifying
- Northern Ireland now find themselves on the brink of a play-off spot
- Slovakia secured a crucial late victory over Slovenia in Group F
THE DAY REPLAYED – The second instalment of the seventh round of European qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ was notable for a slow start in many of the matches, in which second-half goals proved decisive.
Friday’s results did not lead to any significant movement in the three sections in question, but things did tighten up considerably in Group E, where pace-setters Poland were brought back down to earth with a bump by Denmark.
It was a good day for the three British sides involved, and for Germany, despite their conceding a rare goal.
FIFA.com looks back on a day of exciting qualifying action.
*Group C: San Marino 0-3 Northern Ireland, Norway 2-0 Azerbaijan, Czech Republic 1-2 Germany
Group E: Kazakhstan 0-3 Montenegro, Romania 1-0 Armenia, Denmark 4-0 Poland
Group F: Lithuania 0-3 Scotland, Malta 0-4 England, Slovakia 1-0 Slovenia
Match of the day
*Denmark 4-0 Poland
* The Danes needed to win to stay in touch with Group E leaders Poland, and they made their intentions abundantly clear from the outset by almost taking the lead through Thomas Delaney after just 17 seconds. The Werder Bremen midfielder only had 15 minutes to wait before actually opening the scoring, and Andrea Cornelius, Nicolai Jorgensen and Christian Eriksen later added a further three goals that resulted in Poland's second heaviest defeat in World Cup qualifying history (after a 6-1 loss at the hands of Italy in 1965).
When Timo Werner scored in the fourth minute in Prague, another comfortable win for Germany seemed on the cards, but the home side got fans out of their seats 12 minutes from time with a sensational equaliser. Just when it appeared the Czechs had done enough for a draw, up popped Matt Hummels in the 88th minute to head home Tony Kroos’ free-kick and seal all three points for the visitors. The Czech Republic now trail seven points behind second-placed Northern Ireland, who eventually secured a 3-0 victory over San Marino, despite taking 70 minutes to break down the well-organised minnows.* *
Montenegro’s solid 3-0 win in Kazakhstan kept them very much in the hunt in Group E, where the top three teams are now separated by only three points. Romania maintained their slim hopes of qualifying by seeing off Armenia 1-0 in Bucharest.
The battle for second place in Group F looked to have taken an intriguing turn with Slovakia and Slovenia set for a 0-0 draw, but Adam Nemec's 81st minute tap-in ensured the home side would remain in second place for the next round of qualifiers. Scotland have not yet given up on their qualifying dream; they moved up to third after an excellent performance in Lithuania (0-3). England were surprisingly made to sweat in Malta (three of their four goals came in the last five minutes), but they nevertheless remain leaders of the pool. The top two meet at Wembley Stadium on Monday.
*Player of the day
*Slovenia goalkeeper *Jan Oblack *put in a fine display for his country on Friday evening, thwarting Slovakia’s incessant attacks for over 80 minutes. The Atletico Madrid shot-stopper made six noteworthy saves, demonstrating his impressive reflexes and athleticism throughout. The 24-year-old was eventually undone by a combination of poor defending and bad luck, as the ball rebounded off the bar to Nemec, who could not miss from point-blank range.
What they said
*“When you go out to play games like this, you know right from the start that it’s not going to be easy. We had to move the ball around a lot, but we knew that chances would present themselves. Winning 4-0 here is a good result; we had to really fight to break them down, because they often had 11 men behind the ball,” *Harry Kane, scorer of England’s opening goal against Malta in the 53rd minute.