LONDON: Poland and Russia qualified for the 2020 European Championship on Sunday, while Gareth Bale’s goal forced Croatia to wait after a 1-1 draw with Wales and Germany and the Netherlands boosted their hopes of reaching the finals.
Robert Lewandowski set up both goals for Poland as midfielder Przemyslaw Frankowski and fellow substitute Arkadiusz Milik scored late in a hard-fought 2-0 win over North Macedonia.
Frankowski prodded home less than 60 seconds after coming on as a substitute in the 74th minute, before Milik made the points safe.
Poland are assured of finishing in the top two of Group ‘G’, where second-placed Austria boosted their hopes of qualifying with a 1-0 win at Slovenia.
Russia earlier routed Cyprus 5-0 to join Group ‘I’ winners Belgium in securing a place at next year’s tournament.
Valencia forward Denis Cheryshev scored twice and set up two more goals for the Russians — who only needed a draw to be sure of qualification — to take their tally to 21 points after seven wins from eight games.
With two games remaining, Russia have 11 points more than third-placed Cyprus and 12 more than fourth-placed Scotland, who thrashed San Marino 6-0 at a poorly attended Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Cheryshev fired in a ninth-minute opener for the visitors, before Magomed Ozdoev, who scored a fabulous long-range strike on Thursday against Scotland, made it two midway through the first half.
Any thoughts of a Cyprus comeback were ended in just the 28th minute when Kostas Laifis was dismissed for a nasty lunge on Russian full-back Sergei Petrov.
Striker Artem Dzyuba scored his third goal in two games in the 79th minute, before Aleksandr Golovin and Cheryshev’s second completed the rout late on.
Belgium already had secured their place at the finals, but Roberto Martinez’s team stayed perfect in qualifying with a 2-0 win over Kazakhstan in Astana.
Michy Batshuayi scored in the first half and Thomas Meunier wrapped up the win in the second, giving Belgium their eighth win from eight games. The Belgians have scored 30 goals and conceded just one.
Nikola Vlasic scored early to put Croatia on course for a win that would have secured qualification from Group ‘E’.
Bale’s equaliser in first-half injury time denied the visitors — including Real Madrid team-mate Luka Modric — and kept Welsh hopes of qualifying alive.
Last year’s World Cup runners-up Croatia lead the group by two points from Hungary, who defeated Azerbaijan 1-0 in Budapest thanks to Mihly Korhut’s early strike.
The top three in the group are Croatia (14 points), Hungary (12) and Slovakia (10). Wales are fourth on eight points with a game in hand over the top two.
Croatia will qualify if they avoid defeat against Slovakia in their final match on November 16, while Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales could join them with two closing wins, as long as Slovakia do not beat the Croatians.
“We’ve got to win both games and rely on others. But we’re in it. I wanted to be in it after these games,” Wales manager Ryan Giggs told Sky Sports.
NETHERLANDS, GERMANY CLOSE IN
Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands remained at the top of Group ‘C’ ahead of Germany on head-to-head record with a nervy 2-1 win over Belarus in Minsk.
The Dutch lead third-placed Northern Ireland by three points after beating Michael O’Neill’s side 3-1 on Thursday.
Georginio Wijnaldum headed the away team in front in the 32nd minute, shortly after Denis Laptev had spurned a golden chance to give Belarus a shock lead.
The Liverpool midfielder doubled the advantage before the break with a wonderful 25-yard strike into the top corner, and although Stanislav Dragun gave Belarus hope early in the second half, the Netherlands held on with relative comfort.
“We have to do better than we did in the second half, although in the end we had things under control,” Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk told television channel NOS. “We are now very close to qualifying for the finals, and ultimately that’s what counts.”
Victory in Belfast over the Northern Irish next month would secure the Oranje a first appearance at a major tournament since finishing third at the 2014 World Cup.
Germany eased to a 3-0 victory in Estonia despite seeing Emre Can sent off in the 14th minute. Ilkay Gundogan scored twice and set up another in the second-half in Tallinn.
“The whole week hasn’t been easy,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew, whose side was hit by injuries. “But we didn’t complain. The decisive thing was that we upped the pace in the second half. In the end it was satisfactory.”
Can, filling in at centre-back, was shown an early red card for bringing down Frank Liivak, who would have been through on goal.
Germany had never had a player sent off so early in a game before, with Can beating the mark set by Robert Huth’s 15th-minute ejection in a friendly game against Northern Ireland in 2005.
Gundogan finally broke the deadlock in the 51st when his effort from outside the penalty box took a slight deflection off Marco Reus’ heel. His second goal six minutes later also took a deflection, this time off a defender.
Gundogan’s long pass over the top allowed substitute Timo Werner to wrap up the win in the 71st.
Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2019