Barcelona, 17 November 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Germany, Netherlands, Croatia and Austria sealed their qualification for Euro 2020 on Saturday.
Three-time winners Germany thrashed Belarus 4-0 in Monchengladbach, with Toni Kroos striking twice, to book their progress from Group C.
Netherlands also qualified for their first major tournament since 2014 after a nervy 0-0 draw in Northern Ireland, whom they will now stay ahead of no matter the result of the final group games.
World Cup 2018 runners-up Croatia came from behind to beat 10-man Slovakia 3-1 in Rijeka to qualify from Group E, while Austria’s 2-1 win over North Macedonia means they progress from Group G.
Joachim Loew’s dominant Germany kept Belarus penned deep, although Manuel Neuer made a fine diving save to deny Igor Stasevich in the 40th minute.
However moments later Matthias Ginter broke the deadlock, with a neat backheel flick from Serge Gnabry’s low cross.
Leon Goretzka drive home the second from the edge of the box and Real Madrid midfielder Kroos stroked home the third as the hosts took full control.
Neuer denied Stasevich from the penalty spot before Kroos hammered home the fourth to leave Germany on 18 points from seven games, two ahead of Netherlands.
“(It was Ginter’s) first Germany goal tonight? Well after 29 games it is about time,” joked Neuer. “No, he did very well to score in style.”
Ginter added: “Scoring a goal like this as a central defender, that goes to show that nothing is impossible. Manu (Neuer) is right, after 29 games it was about time.”
Germany will look to clinch first place against Northern Ireland on Tuesday.
Northern Ireland started positively against the Dutch and had the visitors’ defence shaking, although Steven Berghuis hit the crossbar for the Netherlands.
Steven Davis, who won his 116th cap, a record for a British midfielder, should have sent his side ahead but skied a penalty after half-an-hour, awarded when Joel Veltmans handled a cross.
Northern Ireland can no longer qualify from the group but have booked a place in the play-offs so could still reach the tournament.
“We had opportunities but when the whistle went it didn’t sink in with most of the players we’d qualified,” said Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk.
“The lads are very happy in the dressing room. We’re back at a major tournament.”
Croatia struggled at first against Slovakia with Robert Bozenik nudging home Stanislav Lobotka’s cross to send the visitors ahead in Rijeka.
However three second half goals ensured they would reach the finals, with Nikola Vlasic’s low effort creeping home to level in the 56th minute.
Bruno Petkovic added the second four minutes later with a powerful header from Luka Modric’s corner, before Slovakia’s Robert Mak saw a second yellow card and was sent off.
Ivan Perisic rounded off the win after 74 minutes with an emphatic sliding finish to send Croatia through as Group E winners.
Wales kept their hopes of finishing second alive with a 2-0 win at Azerbaijan.
Ryan Giggs’s team took an early lead in Baku when Kieffer Moore headed home Harry Wilson’s corner with the aid of a deflection.
Wilson nodded in the second after 34 minutes when Daniel James’s curling effort hit the bar and the post and bounced back to the Bournemouth midfielder with the goalkeeper stranded.
They are third, a point behind second-place Hungary, whom they face in their final qualifier on Tuesday, with both sides and Slovakia still able to qualify.
Group G leaders Poland, already qualified, beat Israel 2-1 and second place Austria joined them thanks to goals from David Alaba and Stefan Lainer.
Austria took the lead when Lainer threaded a ball through and Bayern Munich’s Alaba rounded the goalkeeper and finished.
Lainer doubled the lead from close range just after half-time in Vienna when a loose ball broke to him from a corner.
Vlatko Stojanovski pulled one back in stoppage time for the visitors, who will be in the play-offs.
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing we’ll be there next summer,” said Austria goalkeeper Xaver Schlager. “Now it’s up to us to vindicate our performances and show what we can do.”
Igors Tarasovs’s own goal gave Slovenia a 1-0 victory over Latvia in Ljubljana but Austria’s win later on stopped them from progressing.
Earlier Belgium sealed their passage as winners of Group I with a 4-1 win over Russia on Saturday, although both teams had already qualified for next summer’s tournament.
Thorgan Hazard broke the deadlock for Belgium before his elder brother and Real Madrid star Eden Hazard hit a double in St Petersburg.
Romelu Lukaku added the fourth for Roberto Martinez’s rampant Red Devils, with Georgi Dzhikiya notching a consolation for Russia.
Belgium maintained their 100 per cent record in qualifying with their ninth win from nine, which only Group J winners Italy can match.
Goals from Ryan Christie and John McGinn earned Scotland a 2-1 win at Cyprus in a dead rubber.
Scotland will be in the play-offs in March after Nations League success.
Kazakhstan, fifth, beat bottom of the table San Marino 3-1.