Germany will defend their World Cup title in Russia after securing their qualification on Thursday with a 3-1 win over Northern Ireland, who will likely move on to the playoffs from UEFA Group C.
Sebastian Rudy quieted the crowd in Belfast with the opener inside two minutes as the hosts failed to fully clear their lines and the Bayern midfielder sent in a shot from 25 yards off the inside of the post.
It was 2-0 in the 21st minute when Sandro Wanger received Thomas Muller’s pass at the top of the box, turned and fired the ball past goalkeeper Michael McGovern.
Joshua Kimmich lashed home a volley in the 86th minute to seal the victory, ensuring Josh Magennis’ late goal for the hosts meant little.
Northern Ireland will finish in second place in the group, though with only eight of the nine group runners-up advancing to the playoffs, they may still need a point in Norway next week to be sure of their place.
Harry Kane scored deep into stoppage time to help England also claim their place at the World Cup with a 1-0 win against Slovenia in Group F.
The Three Lions were already going through with a draw with Kane’s 94th-minute goal saved some blushes in front of a paltry crowd at Wembley.
Kyle Walker’s low cross wasn’t dealt with and Kane, quiet all night, prodded home his 14th goal in his last nine games for club and country.
The result leaves Gareth Southgate’s men six points ahead of Scotland in second place with only one more qualifying game to play.
Scotland found a massive 89th-minute goal to secure a 1-0 win over 10-man Slovakia and put themselves in pole position for the playoffs.
Slovakia’s Robert Mak was sent off in the 23rd minute after diving while trying to draw penalty, earning his second yellow card six minutes after he was booked for a crunching tackle on James Forrest.
Martin and Leigh Griffiths both struck the bar within a matter of minutes in the second half, and only Slovakia keeper Martin Dubravka denied Griffiths from close range moments later.
But under pressure from Martin, Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel forced the ball over his own line a minute from time, and Gordon Strachan’s side moved two points clear in second ahead of both Slovakia and Slovenia, the latter of whom will be their opponents on Sunday.
Also in Group F, Malta earned their first point of the campaign with a 1-1 draw with Lithuania.
Andre Agius provided Malta’s opener with with a stunning, low rocket from over 40 yards out, but Vykintas Slivka drew the visitors level with a fine shot from just outside the box early in the second half.
Robert Lewandowski struck a hat trick to become Poland‘s leading goal scorer of all-time, overtaking Wlodzimierz Lubanski’s 48 goals and helping to seal a 6-1 win over Armenia that puts them on the brink of qualification from Group E.
Kamil Grosicki opened the scoring for Poland in just the second minute before Lewandowski, 29, sent a free kick over the wall to match the Poland record in the 18th minute, then went one better from an indirect free kick in the middle of the box after Armenia goalkeeper Grigor Meliksetyan picked up a back pass.
Hovhannes Hambardzumyan struck back for Armenia, who are already out of contention, but in the second half Jakub Blaszczykowski added another and Lewandowski netted his 50th international goal to seal his hat trick from close range.
Lewandowski’s goals took his tally during the campaign to 15, one ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the most in Europe and the most ever by a European player in a World Cup qualifying cycle.
Rafal Wolski added his first international goal late on to complete the rout for Poland, who were made to wait for qualification after Denmark beat Montenegro 1-0.
Christian Eriksen scored the only goal in the 16th minute by lashing home from 20 yards after the hosts failed to deal with Henrik Dalsgaard’s headed ball into the middle.
Denmark went three points clear of their opponents in second place and can wrap up their playoff spot with a draw against Romania on Sunday.
Constantin Budescu scored twice as Romania eased to a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan, with both teams already eliminated.
Budescu scored from a tight angle in the 33rd minute, then added a second goal from a penalty five minutes later, before Claudiu Keseru added Romania’s third in the second half. Baurzhan Turysbek found a late consolation for the visitors.
Also in Germany’s Group C, Mohamed Elyounoussi had a hat trick after Josh King scored two goals to lead Norway to a 8-0 win away to San Marino.
After Markus Henriksen’s shot deflected in off Davide Simoncini for an early own goal, King struck twice in the next 10 minutes — first from the penalty spot and then from close range at the near post.
Elyounoussi added a pair of goals either side of half-time and Ole Kristian Selnaes added a sixth before the hour mark, before Elyounoussi completed his hat trick. Martin Linnes capped the victory with Norway’s eighth in the 87th minute.
Czech Republic went above Azerbaijan into third place, though their 2-1 win still leaves them seven points behind Northern Ireland and out of contention.
Jan Kopic tapped home a rebound early but Afran Ismayilov equalised from the penalty spot in the second half before Antonin Barak netted the winner with a header following a corner in the 66th minute.