By DAN KARELL
Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium can all pack their bags. They’re going to Brazil.
The trio of nations each recorded victories on Friday that secured their automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, joining Italy and the Netherlands as entrants from Europe in the summer tournament.
Playing in Köln, Germany comfortably took care of the Republic of Ireland, 3-0, with Sami Khedira, Andre Schürrle, and Mesut Özil scoring for Die Mannschaft. Switzerland survived some late drama from Albania to win, 2-1, with Michael Lang’s 77th minute goal proving to be the difference. And earlier in the day, Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku scored two first half goals to propel Belgium over Croatia, 2-1, in the pouring rain of Zagreb.
Holland had an evening to remember with an 8-1 thrashing of woeful Hungary, with Robin Van Persie scoring a hat-trick and becoming the all-time top goalscorer for the Netherlands with 42 career international goals.
Here are the rest of the results from a busy Friday in UEFA qualifying:
With first place and automatic qualification on the line, the Belgium National Team came though in their most difficult match of the group with flying colors.
Belgium defeated Croatia in Zagreb, 2-1, thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku. Niko Kranjcar added a late goal to cut the deficit in half but it wasn’t enough as the Red Devils celebrated World Cup qualification. Meanwhile in Cardiff, Wales secured a rare win at home against Macedonia, with forward Simon Church providing the winner in the 67th minute.
Croatia 1, Belgium 2
Wales 1, Macedonia 0
Gianluigi Buffon and the other Juventus players on the Italian National Team must have been thinking Deja Vu in Copenhagen on Friday.
Not much different than when Juventus tied with FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League, Denmark tied Italy, 2-2, and it was only that result thanks to a 90th minute goal from Alberto Aquilani. Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner scored both of Denmark’s goals to give them a hope of qualifying through the playoff round.
Also in action in Group B, Armenia defeated Bulgaria, 2-1, and the Czech Republic defeated Malta on the road, 4-1.
Denmark 2, Italy 2
Malta 1, Czech Republic 4
Armenia 2, Bulgaria 1
Germany continued their near perfect run through qualifying with a 3-0 defeat of Ireland.
Sami Khedira put the home side up for good in the 12th minute, and London-based midfielders Andre Schürrle and Mesut Özil each scored in the second half to put Ireland out of their misery. Ireland was missing Robbie Keane to an ankle knock. In Stockholm, Sweden, an 86th minute goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic clinched a place in the playoff round with a 2-1 victory over Austria, that eliminates the visitors from the World Cup. Finally, the Faroe Islands tied Kazakhstan, 1-1.
Germany 3, Republic of Ireland 0
Sweden 2, Austria 1
Faroe Islands 1, Kazakhstan 1
It was a banner evening at the Amsterdam Arena as the Netherlands scored eight goals in an 8-1 thrashing of Hungary.
Robin Van Persie became the all-time top scorer for the Dutch with a hat-trick in the game, and Arjen Robben, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Jermaine Lens, and Kevin Strootman each entered the score sheet. Elsewhere in Group D, Turkey defeated Estonia, 2-0, and Romania defeated Andorra, 4-0.
Netherlands 8, Hungary 1
Estonia 0, Turkey 2
Andorra 0, Romania 4
For the third consecutive time, the tiny nation of Switzerland has qualified for the World Cup.
Playing in arguably the least difficult group in UEFA World Cup qualifying, Switzerland defeated Albania, 2-1, with goals from Bayern Munich stud youngster Xherdan Shaqiri and 22-year-old Michael Lang. Veteran Slovenian forward Milivoje Novaković scored a hat-trick as Slovenia topped Norway, and Iceland defeated Cyprus, 2-0.
Albania 1, Switzerland 2
Iceland 2, Cyprus 0
Slovenia 3, Norway 0
Unless Azerbaijan can shock Russia, they’ve just about secured qualification for the World Cup.
Against Luxembourg, Fabio Capello’s men scored four times in a 4-0 victory on the road, putting them at the top of the group with a three point lead over second place Portugal. The Portuguese could only draw, 1-1, with Israel at home despite holding a lead until the final five minutes of the match. The result ensured that Portugal would at least have a chance of moving on to the playoff round, while Israel was finally eliminated. In Baku, Azerbaijan defeated Northern Ireland, 2-0.
Luxembourg 0, Russia 4
Portugal 1, Israel 1
Azerbaijan 2, Northern Ireland 0
The battle for automatic qualification will in Group G will continue to the final day as both Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina won to stay tied at the top of the table, though Bosnia hold’s a massive goal differential lead.
Edin Dzeko scored a brace and Vedad Ibesevic added another in Bosnia’s 4-1 defeat of Liechtenstein, pushing their goals for mark to 29 in nine games. Greece defeated now-eliminated Slovakia, 1-0. Elsewhere in the group, Lithuania defeated Latvia, 2-0.
Bosnia and Herzegovina 4, Liechtenstein 1
Lithuania 2, Latvia 0
Greece 1, Slovakia 0
England boosted their chances of automatic qualification with a much-needed victory at Wembley Stadium on Friday.
After a nervous first half, England exploded with four goals in the second half of their 4-0 victory over Montenegro, with Wayne Rooney, Andros Townsend, and Daniel Sturridge scoring for the Three Lions. Montenegro’s Branko Boskovic scored an own goal for England. Elsewhere in the group, Ukraine defeated Poland, 1-0, leaving them just one point behind England, and Moldova defeated San Marino, 3-0.
England 4, Montenegro 1
Ukraine 1, Poland 0
Moldova 3, San Marino 0
While France played Australia in a friendly match, Spain was busy playing their penultimate World Cup qualifier, with Swansea City forward Michu receiving a start for La Roja with a number of players out injured.
Michu didn’t score but Spain did defeat Belarus, 2-1, as Xavi and Alvaro Negredo each scored in the second half to secure at least a place in the playoffs and likely automatic qualification.
Spain 2, Belarus 1
What did you think of these matches? Impressed with Holland’s impressive scoring night? Surprised with England’s result at home? Did you expect Germany to take care of business?
Share your thoughts below.