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Germany, Portugal close in on Euro 2016 qualification

Germany, Portugal close in on Euro 2016 qualification

LONDON: Germany and Portugal closed in on Euro 2016 qualification on Monday, while Northern Ireland missed the chance to book their place at next year’s tournament in France.

Thomas Mueller scored twice and set up the other for Germany to defeat Scotland 3-2 in Glasgow and move within touching distance of automatic qualification.

The world champions are assured of at least a playoff place but one point from their remaining two games — Ireland away or Georgia at home — will secure their place in France.

Portugal also need just one more point after Miguel Veloso scored in injury time to snatch a 1-0 win at Albania. The top two finishers from the nine groups qualify automatically for Euro 2016. The best third-place team also qualifies automatically, and the eight remaining third-place teams go to a playoff to contest the last four qualifying places.

Mueller scored twice in the first half either side of Mats Hummels’ own goal, and then set up Ilkay Gundogan for the winner after James McArthur had pulled Scotland level again.

Mueller now has five goals in three Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich and three goals in two qualifiers for Germany since the season began.

“I feel good,” Mueller said.

German coach Joachim Loew said that he felt his side had deserved the three points.

“This match was anything but easy for large stretches of the game but I think we largely controlled it and winning was well-deserved,” the World Cup winning coach said. “I’m proud to say we’ve taken a big step towards France 2016.”

His Scotland counterpart Gordon Strachan praised his players despite a return of no points from their last two games, the 1-0 loss to Georgia last Friday having been a hammer blow.

“Whatever you think, over the two games, they’ve put in some amount of work,” said Strachan. “There is something inside them all that drives them on. They can be proud of their performances.”

Also in Group ‘D’, Poland routed Gibraltar 8-1 to stay on course for a top-two finish, while John Walters’ 69th-minute goal was enough for the Republic of Ireland to boost their hopes of a playoff with a 1-0 win over Georgia in Dublin.

A sublime piece of trickery by Jeff Hendrick in the second-half proved the difference, as he outfoxed one defender, nutmegged another, beat yet another and then delivered the perfect ball for Walters to tuck away.

Ireland, who next play Germany at home then Poland away, have a five-point lead over Scotland, who play Poland at home then Gibraltar away.

Both Portugal and Albania hit the woodwork before Veloso headed in substitute Ricardo Quaresma’s pass for the visitors’ 92nd-minute winner.

It ensured that Portugal moved to 15 points from six games in Group ‘I’ and brought a measure of revenge for the side’s shock defeat to Albania in Aveiro in the opening round.

Elsewhere, Denmark were stymied at Armenia for a second 0-0 draw in four days, complicating the Danes’ chances to secure a berth for the 2016 tournament with a top-two finish.

Denmark have 12 points while Albania have 11, but both Portugal and Albania have a game in hand. Armenia moved onto two points with the draw with Denmark. Serbia are in last place with one point.

Northern Ireland needed an injury-time goal from Kyle Lafferty to draw 1-1 at home against Hungary after going down to 10 men.

A win would have ensured automatic qualification, but the draw leaves the team still top of Group ‘F’.

Hungary looked like closing to within a point of the leaders when Richard Guzmics volleyed in from close range in the 74th minute after goalkeeper Michael McGovern spilled a free kick.

Any chance of Northern Ireland at least taking a point looked to have disappeared with two moments of stupidity by experienced defender Chris Baird, who committed two fouls in as many minutes and was sent off by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir.

However, there was yet more drama to come as Lafferty snaffled an equaliser — his seventh of the campaign — as he seized on another goalkeeping error, this time by veteran Hungarian Gabor Kiraly, to keep the Northern Irishmen’s noses in front in the race to qualify for France.

“It wasn’t vintage,” Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, “but it was pure theatre.”

A win at home to hapless bottom of the table Greece next time will be enough for Northern Ireland to reach their first ever European Championships and first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

“We have two games left and we need one more push,” said Lafferty. “The squad are willing to fight to the end. This team doesn’t know when to stop working.”

Romania drew 0-0 at home to Greece and remained second, a point behind Northern Ireland with Hungary four points adrift while Finland beat Faroe Islands 1-0.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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