Germany fired six past Norway while England fought back after an early scare to beat Slovakia in European World Cup qualifying on Monday.
Timo Werner scored a double in Germany’s 6-0 rout of the Norwegians in Stuttgart to leave Joachim Loew’s world champions with a perfect eight out of eight record atop Group C.
But with second-placed Northern Ireland beating the Czech Republic 2-0 in Belfast Germany will have to wait until their next match, away to the Irish on October 5, to seal automatic qualification to Russia.
Werner, booed by his own fans in Germany’s 2-1 win in Prague against the Czechs last Friday, came off to a standing ovation this time after netting in the 21st and 40th minutes.
After struggling to beat the Czechs, this was a far more polished performance, with Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil’s 10th minute opener sparking the rout.
Paris Saint-Germain star Julian Draxler netted the second with Werner’s brace putting them four goals up at the break.
Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka grabbed Germany’s fifth with Werner’s replacement, the 32-year-old veteran Mario Gomez, rounding off a productive night.
It was the perfect antidote after Friday’s laboured trip to Prague marred by a group of 200 right-wing German fans chanting Nazi-era slogans.
“That showed the beautiful side of football,” said head coach Loew, who had said Friday’s scenes in Prague “shamed Germany”, following Werner’s ovation after his two goals.
“It was a huge amount of fun to play here and we played our part in that with some great combinations and goals.”
– ‘seven clean sheets’ –
The Northern Irish guaranteed themselves at least a place in the play-offs thanks to Jonny Evans’ second international goal eight years after his first and his West Bromwich Albion teammate Chris Brunt’s 41st minute freekick.
“I thought I might have been offside,” Evans admitted. “I thought I’d head it anyway and see what happens. I saw it go into the net and I don’t remember much after that!”
Manager Michael O’Neill praised his men after yet another solid defensive display.
“”We’re in a great position now. We’re guaranteed second place and seven clean sheets out of eight is a phenomenal record.”
At Wembley, England were stunned when Stanislav Lobotka gave Slovakia a third-minute lead after a costly error by Marcus Rashford.
But the 19-year-old atoned in style when setting up the equaliser for Eric Dier and then netting a sumptuous 20-yard winner in the second half.
Victory sent England five points clear of Slovakia in Group F — Gareth Southgate’s side need only two points from their last two games against Slovenia and Lithuania to seal qualification.
“To come from behind against a side with very good footballers, particularly in midfield, we had to show character,” said Southgate.
“Marcus Rashford showed, like the rest of the team, great character. He made the mistake for their goal, but he kept persevering.”
Scotland kept alive their hopes of a play-off place with a 2-0 home win over Malta, the goals coming from Christophe Berra and Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths.
Gordan Strachan’s team are alive and kicking on the road to Russia in fourth place, on 14 points.
Elsewhere, Poland held on to the Group E summit, beating Kazakhstan 3-0, with Denmark going second on the strength of a 4-1 win in Armenia.
Paris, France | AFP